Justia Michigan Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

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Two former employees of Michael Morse and his firm, Michael J. Morse, PC, sued Morse for workplace sexual harassment, including sexual assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligence, gross negligence, and wanton and willful misconduct; and civil conspiracy. In both cases, the firm moved to dismiss and compel arbitration on the basis that both women signed the firm’s Mandatory Dispute Resolution Procedure agreement (MDRPA) prior to accepting employment with the firm. The trial court granted defendants' motion in each case, concluding that the arbitration agreement was valid and enforceable and that the claims were related to the employees' employment and therefore subject to arbitration. A majority of the Court of Appeals concluded that plaintiffs’ claims of sexual assault were not subject to arbitration because sexual assault was not “related to” plaintiffs’ employment. Further, the Court of Appeals stated that the fact that the alleged assaults would not have occurred but for plaintiffs’ employment with the firm did not provide a sufficient nexus between the terms of the arbitration agreement and the alleged sexual assaults. "Defendants noted certain facts that supported connections between plaintiffs’ claims and their employment, including that the alleged assaults occurred at work or work-related functions. But those facts did not necessarily make plaintiffs’ claims relative to employment; rather, the facts had to be evaluated under a standard that distinguished claims relative to employment from claims not relative to employment. This analysis prevents the absurdity of an arbitration clause that bars the parties from litigating any matter, regardless of how unrelated to the substance of the agreement, and it ensures that the mere existence of a contract does not mean that every dispute between the parties is arbitrable. Neither the circuit courts nor the Court of Appeals considered this standard when evaluating defendants’ motions to compel arbitration." Rather than apply this newly adopted approach in the first instance, the Michigan Supreme Court vacated the judgments of the Court of Appeals and remanded the cases to the circuit courts so that those courts could analyze defendants’ motions to compel arbitration by determining which of plaintiffs’ claims could be maintained without reference to the contract or employment relationship. View "Lichon v. Morse" on Justia Law

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The defendant-employer, Steel Technologies, Inc., asked the Michigan Supreme Court to consider whether a medical professional’s conclusory declaration of a claimant’s total disability, without more, could provide competent, material, and substantial evidence of “disability,” as defined by the Worker’s Disability Compensation Act (WDCA), MCL 418.101 et seq. The Supreme Court declined to do so because under the facts of this case, it was unnecessary to reach that issue. The Court instead vacated Part IV of the Court of Appeals’ opinion discussing the issue, but affirmed its result: the magistrate relied on competent, material, and substantial evidence to find that the plaintiff-claimant, Ahmed Omer, had established a disability and was entitled to wage-loss benefits. View "Omer v. Steel Technologies Inc." on Justia Law

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David Maples sought compensation under the Michigan Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act (WICA) after his conviction of delivery of cocaine was vacated and the related criminal charges were dismissed. The Court of Claims granted summary judgment for the state, concluding that the testimony of a previously-unavailable witness was not new evidence and, alternatively that it was Maples’s trial counsel’s deficient performance and the speedy-trial violation that had resulted in the vacation of Maples’s conviction, not the proffered testimony. The Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding the testimony was not new evidence because it had been offered at the entrapment hearing, and that it was not new evidence because Maples had not offered any proof regarding how the witness would testify. Maples sought leave to appeal. The Michigan Supreme Court ordered and heard oral argument on whether to grant the application or take other action. The Michigan Supreme Court reversed the lower courts, finding there was an adequate offer of proof the witness' proposed testimony, and that the testimony was new under the WICA because it was not presented at a proceeding that adjudicated guilt. View "Maples v. Michigan" on Justia Law

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In 1992, plaintiff Desmond Ricks saw a man shoot and kill Gerry Bennett in Detroit. Ricks was on parole then; he began serving concurrent sentences for armed robbery and assault with intent to rob while armed in 1987 and was paroled in 1991. When he witnessed Bennett’s murder, Ricks still had 4 years and 118 days remaining on his armed-robbery and assault sentences. As he fled from the gunman, Ricks dropped his winter coat. It would later be discovered by the police, who used it to connect him to Bennett’s killing. Ricks was convicted of Bennett’s murder, based in large part on ballistics evidence fabricated by a Detroit police officer. The Michigan Innocence Clinic discovered that a Detroit Police Department officer had fabricated the ballistics evidence used to convict Ricks. A circuit court issued an order vacating his murder and felony-firearm convictions and sentences; Ricks was released from prison the same day, and the charges were dismissed. Ricks filed a Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act (WICA) complaint with the Michigan Court of Claims seeking compensation for the almost 25 years he was wrongfully imprisoned from October 13, 1992 to May 26, 2017. This case was about one of the exceptions enumerated in the Act: MCL 691.1755(4), which barred compensation for any time served under a consecutive sentence for another conviction. The question presented was whether this exception applied when a wrongful conviction alone triggered a parole revocation, which required the WICA claimant’s parole-revoked sentence to be served before the sentence for the wrongful conviction would begin to run. The Supreme Court held that it did not, because the time served under the parole-revoked sentence was not served under a consecutive sentence for another conviction. The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded this case to the Court of Claims for further proceedings. View "Ricks v. Michigan" on Justia Law

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Donna Livings slipped on ice in her employer’s parking lot as she headed in to begin her shift. Generally, when an injury occurs because of an open and obvious condition, landowners in Michigan were not liable because they have no duty to protect against those hazards. An exception existed, however, when the hazard was effectively unavoidable. The question presented here was whether a hazard one must confront to enter his or her place of employment should be considered effectively unavoidable. The Michigan Supreme Court held that an open and obvious condition could be deemed effectively unavoidable when a plaintiff must confront it to enter his or her place of employment for work purposes. However, in assessing the question, it was still necessary to consider whether any alternatives were available that a reasonable individual in the plaintiff’s circumstances would have used to avoid the condition. Here, the Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals that a genuine issue of material fact existed regarding whether the snow and ice were effectively unavoidable. View "Livings v. Sage's Investment Group, LLC" on Justia Law

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Wesley Zoo Yang brought an action against Everest National Insurance Company (Everest) and Motorist Mutual Insurance Company (Motorist), seeking to recover personal protection insurance (PIP) benefits under a no-fault insurance policy issued by Everest to Yang and his wife. Everest issued Yang a six-month no-fault insurance policy, the term of which ran from September 26, 2017, through March 26, 2018. On October 9, 2017, Everest mailed Yang a bill for the second monthly payment, stating that if Yang failed to pay the amount due by October 26, 2017, the policy would be canceled, effective October 27, 2017; the policy provided that the cancellation notice did not apply if Yang paid the premium on time. Yang did not pay the premium on time, and Everest sent Yang an offer to reinstate, explaining that the policy was canceled but that Yang could reinstate the policy with a lapse in coverage. On November 15, 2017, plaintiffs were struck by a car when they were walking across a street; Motorist insured the driver of the vehicle that struck plaintiffs. Two days later, on November 17, 2017, Yang sent the monthly premium payment to Everest; the policy was reinstated effective that day, and the notice informed Yang that there had been a lapse in coverage from October 27, 2017, through November 17, 2017. Plaintiffs sued when Everest refused plaintiffs’ request for PIP benefits under the policy. Everest moved for summary judgment, maintaining the policy had been canceled and was not in effect at the time of the accident, and that the policy’s cancellation provision was not inconsistent with MCL 500.3020(1)(b); Motorist disagreed with Everest’s motion and argued that it was entitled to summary disposition under MCR 2.116(I)(2) because it was not the insurer responsible for the payment of PIP benefits. The trial court denied Everest’s motion and granted summary judgment in favor of Motorist, reasoning that Everest’s notice of cancellation was not valid because it was sent before the nonpayment occurred and that Everest was therefore responsible for the payment of PIP benefits; the court thus dismissed Motorist from the action. Everest appealed. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s order, concluding that the cancellation notice was not valid under MCL 500.3020(1)(b) because Everest sent the notice before the premium was due and that the notice did not satisfy the terms of plaintiffs’ no-fault policy itself. Finding no reversible error, the Michigan Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeal. View "Yang v. Everest National Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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In 2016, plaintiff Jennifer Buhl and her husband went to a party store in Oak Park, Michigan. As she was walking, plaintiff saw a raised crack in the sidewalk outside the store and tried to step over it. Because plaintiff did not notice that the sidewalk was uneven on the other side of the crack, she fell and fractured her left ankle. The specific question this case raised for the Michigan Supreme Court’s review was whether an amendment to the governmental tort liability act (GTLA) that went into effect after plaintiff’s claim accrued but before plaintiff filed her complaint could be retroactively applied. The Supreme Court held that the amended provision did not apply retroactively. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals’ judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Buhl v. City of Oak Park" on Justia Law

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The Law Offices of Jeffrey Sherbow, PC, brought an action against Fieger & Fieger, PC (the Fieger firm), asserting that the Fieger firm breached its referral- fee contract with plaintiff when the Fieger firm refused to pay plaintiff 20% of a contingent fee that the Fieger firm had received after it successfully represented several clients in a personal- injury and no-fault action related to an automobile accident in Ohio. The primary question in this case was whether, in order to enforce a fee- splitting agreement, MRPC 1.5(e) required the referring attorney to have an attorney-client relationship with the individual he or she refers. The Michigan Supreme Court held that it does but that the relationship could be limited to the act of advising the individual to seek the services of the other attorney if the referring attorney and client expressly or impliedly demonstrate their intent to enter into a professional relationship for this purpose. Consequently, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ judgment to the extent that it held to the contrary. The Supreme Court agreed with the appellate court, however, that the defendant bore the burden of proving noncompliance with MRPC 1.5(e) when the defendant raised the violation of the rule as a defense against enforcement of the referral agreement. The result in this case was that the trial court properly instructed the jury that an attorney-client relationship was required but erroneously instructed the jury about the burden of proof. This error required a new trial as to only one of the potential clients at issue. View "Law Offices of Jeffrey Sherbow v. Fieger & Fieger, PC" on Justia Law

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This case stemmed from a dispute over the unemployment-insurance tax rate applicable to Great Oaks Country Club, Inc (Great Oaks). The Department of Talent and Economic Development/Unemployment Insurance Agency (the Agency) determined that Great Oaks was not entitled to the new-employer tax rate under the Michigan Employment Security Act (the MESA), specifically MCL 421.13m(2)(a)(i)(A) and (B). An ALJ determined that because Great Oaks had eight quarters of no employment or payroll before January 1, 2014, it was entitled to the new-employer tax rate. The ALJ further ruled that the phrase “beginning January 1, 2014” in MCL 421.13m(2)(a)(i)(A) and (B) was the date by when a client employer must have accrued eight quarters of not reporting employees or payroll. The Agency appealed the ALJ’s decision to the Michigan Compensation Appellate Commission (the MCAC), and the MCAC affirmed the ALJ’s decision. The Court of Appeals adopted the interpretation of Section 13m offered by the Agency, which maintained that a client employer must have switched to client-level reporting before January 1, 2014, to be assessed the new-employer tax rate (the conversion-date interpretation). The Michigan Supreme Court disagreed, holding that in this context, Section 13m was best understood according to the interpretation offered by Great Oaks: that a client employer must have accrued the relevant number of calendar quarters in which it reported “no employees or no payroll” by January 1, 2014, to be assessed the new-employer tax rate (the accrual-date interpretation). And because Great Oaks reported no employees or payroll for eight consecutive calendar quarters before January 1, 2014, the Supreme Court held that Great Oaks was entitled to be assessed the new-employer tax rate under Section 13m of the MESA. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals’ decision was reversed and the matter remanded to the Agency for further proceedings. View "Dept. of Talent & Econ. Dev. v. Great Oaks Country Club" on Justia Law

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In consolidated cases, the issue presented for the Michigan Supreme Court’s consideration was whether the Court of Appeals correctly decided Streng v Bd of Mackinac Co Rd Comm’rs, 890 NW2d 680 (2016), and, if so, whether it should apply retroactively to all cases pending on appeal. the estate of Brendon Pearce filed a negligence action in the Eaton Circuit Court against the Eaton County Road Commission and others, arguing, in part, that the commission breached its duty under MCL 691.1402 of the governmental tort liability act (GTLA), MCL 691.1401 et seq., to maintain the road on which the accident occurred. In one of the cases, Lynn Pearce, acting as the personal representative of Brendon’s estate, served notice on the commission fewer than 60 days after Brendon was killed in the accident. The commission moved for summary judgment, arguing the notice was deficient under MCL 224.21(3) of the County Road Law, MCL 224.1 et seq., because the estate did not serve the notice on the county clerk. The trial court denied the motion. The commission appealed, and the estate moved to affirm the trial court’s written opinion, arguing that the notice was sufficient. The Court of Appeals granted the estate’s motion to affirm in an unpublished order. The Supreme Court denied leave to appeal. In the interim, the Court of Appeals issued Streng. The commission returned to the trial court and moved for summary judgment, arguing that the estate’s notice was insufficient under MCL 224.21(3). The parties disputed whether Streng applied retroactively and whether MCL 224.21(3), as applied in Streng, or MCL 691.1404(1) governed the estate’s notice. The Michigan Supreme Court found the Streng panel erred by failing to follow Brown. It therefore overruled Streng, vacated the decisions of the Court of Appeals, and remanded these cases to the respective circuit courts for further proceedings. View "Estate of Pearce v. Eaton Cty. Road Comm'n." on Justia Law