Justia Michigan Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Procedure

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David and Helen Goyings designed and built a retirement home on a lakefront lot. Their neighbors insisted the Goyingses violated the subdivision’s restrictive covenants that barred “pre-fabricated or modular home[s]” and had to tear it down. After a three-day bench trial, the trial court found no cause of action and dismissed the case. But the Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court erred when it held that the covenants “did not contemplate a home of the type built by Defendants.” The Court of Appeals reasoned the Goyingses’ home unambiguously fit the commonly understood definition of “modular” but never construed the disputed term used in the covenants, “modular home.” The panel reversed and held that the trial court should have granted judgment in the neighbors’ favor and ordered the Goyingses to tear down their new home. After review, the Michigan Supreme Court disagreed: "The materials, workmanship, quality, and outward appearance of the defendants’ home are indistinguishable from a site-built home. And modular components don’t necessarily make a modular home. The covenants give us text and context to determine what a modular home is. A fair reading of those covenants prohibits a home that is more modular than not. And the Goyingses’ home is mostly not modular." The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the case. View "Thiel v. Goyings" on Justia Law

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Defendant Genesee County served as an administrator for certain employee health insurance plans. Plaintiff Genesee County Drain Commissioner Jeffrey Wright participated in this plan even though the office of drain commissioner had statutory autonomy from the county. The parties’ insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM), conducted a multi-year audit that revealed that the county’s collective insurance premiums, including those paid by the plaintiff, significantly exceeded the amount that should have been charged. The county held a public meeting about the overpayment -allegedly totaling millions of dollars - during which it accepted a refund from BCBSM. The county deposited the refund into its general fund. The plaintiff demanded a proportionate share of the refund; the county denied his request, and this lawsuit followed. The issue plaintiff’s case raised for the Michigan Supreme Court’s review reduced to whether a claim for unjust enrichment was barred by the governmental tort liability act (GTLA). The Court determined a claim for unjust enrichment was neither a tort nor a contract but rather an independent cause of action. And the remedy for unjust enrichment was restitution, not compensatory damages, the remedy for tort. For both reasons, the GTLA did not bar an unjust-enrichment claim. View "Genesee County Drain Commissioner v. Genesee County" on Justia Law

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Dwayne Wigfall brought an action against the city of Detroit for injuries he sustained in a motorcycle accident allegedly caused when he hit a pothole on a city street. On advice from the city’s Law Department, Wigfall sent a notice via certified mail addressed to the Law Department that included a description of the pothole, its location, and a description of plaintiff’s injuries. An adjuster from the Law Department acknowledged receipt of Wigfall’s claim. After Wigfall filed his complaint, the city moved for summary judgment, arguing that Wigfall’s claim was barred by governmental immunity because Wigfall failed to serve notice of his claim on the mayor, the city clerk, or the city attorney as required by MCL 691.1404(2) and MCR 2.105(G)(2). The court denied the city’s motion, and the city appealed. Faytreon West brought an action against the city of Detroit, for injuries she allegedly suffered when she tripped on a pothole and fell while walking on a city street. West’s counsel sent notice of the injury and highway defect to the city’s Law Department via certified mail, instructing the city to immediately contact West’s counsel if it believed that the notice did not comply with any applicable notice requirements. The Law Department received the letter, and an adjuster from the Law Department acknowledged receipt of West’s claim. After West filed her complaint, the city moved for summary judgment, also arguing West had failed to comply with the notice requirement in MCL 691.1404(2) because she had not served an individual who may lawfully be served with civil process. The trial court granted the motion in favor of the city and denied West’s motion for reconsideration. In both cases, the Michigan Supreme Court reversed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the city: Plaintiffs complied with the requirements of MCL 691.1404(2) by serving their notices on the city’s Law Department. The Supreme Court found the Law Department was an agent of defendant’s city attorney (also known as the Corporation Counsel) and was charged with receiving notice under the city’s charter and ordinances. View "Wigfall v. City of Detroit" on Justia Law

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The question presented in this case was whether the building inspection fees assessed by defendant, the city of Troy (the City), were “intended to bear a reasonable relation to the cost” of acts and services provided by the City’s Building Inspection Department (Building Department) under the Construction Code Act (CCA). The Michigan Supreme Court held the City’s use of the revenue generated by those fees to pay the Building Department’s budgetary shortfalls in previous years violated MCL 125.1522(1). “While fees imposed to satisfy the alleged historical deficit may arguably be for ‘the operation of the enforcing agency or the construction board of appeals,’ this does not mean that such fees ‘bear a reasonable relation’ to the costs of acts and services provided by the Building Department. Here, the Court was satisfied plaintiffs presented sufficient evidence to conclude that the City established fees that were not intended to “bear a reasonable relation” to the costs of acts and services necessary to justify the City’s retention of 25% of all the fees collected. Furthermore, the Supreme Court determined there was no express or implied monetary remedy for a violation of MCL 125.1522(1). Nonetheless, plaintiffs could seek declaratory and injunctive relief to redress present and future violations of MCL 125.1522(1). Because the City has presented evidence to justify the retention of a portion of these fees, the Supreme Court remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. Lastly, the Supreme Court concluded there was no record evidence establishing that plaintiffs were “taxpayer[s]” with standing to file suit pursuant to the Headlee Amendment. On remand, the trial court was mandated to allow plaintiffs’ members an opportunity to establish representational standing on plaintiffs’ behalf. View "Michigan Association of Home Builders v. City of Troy" on Justia Law

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Matthew Dye brought an action against Esurance Property and Casualty Insurance Company and GEICO Indemnity Company, seeking personal protection insurance (PIP) benefits under the no-fault act, MCL 500.3101 et seq., for injuries he sustained in a motor vehicle accident while driving a vehicle he had recently purchased. At plaintiff’s request, plaintiff’s father had registered the vehicle in plaintiff’s name and obtained a no-fault insurance policy from Esurance. The declarations page of the policy identified only plaintiff’s father as the named insured. At the time of the accident, plaintiff was living with his wife, who owned a vehicle that was insured by GEICO. After Esurance and GEICO refused to cover plaintiff’s claim, plaintiff filed a breach-of-contract claim against both insurers along with a declaratory action, alleging that either Esurance or GEICO was obligated to pay his no-fault PIP benefits and requesting that the trial court determine the parties’ respective rights and duties. The issue this case presented for the Michigan Supreme Court’s review centered on whether an owner or registrant of a motor vehicle involved in an accident was excluded from receiving statutory no-fault insurance benefits under the no-fault act when someone other than an owner or registrant purchased no-fault insurance for that vehicle. The Court of Appeals concluded that “[a]t least one owner or registrant must have the insurance required by MCL 500.3101(1), and ‘when none of the owners maintains the requisite coverage, no owner may recover [personal injury protection (PIP)] benefits.’ ” The Supreme Court concluded an owner or registrant of a motor vehicle was not required to personally purchase no-fault insurance for his or her vehicle in order to avoid the statutory bar to PIP benefits. Rather, MCL 500.3101(1) only requires that the owner or registrant “maintain” no-fault insurance. The Court reversed in part the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded this case to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "Dye v. Esurance Property & Casualty Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Ali A. El-Khalil sue his former employer and several individuals (collectively, defendants): Oakwood Healthcare, Inc.; Oakwood Hospital–Southshore; Oakwood Hospital–Dearborn; Dr. Roderick Boyes, M.D.; and Dr. Iqbal Nasir, M.D.. Plaintiff alleged breach of contract based on an alleged breach of medical staff bylaws that were part of plaintiff’s employment agreement. Plaintiff amended the complaint, adding a claim of unlawful retaliation in violation of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA). Plaintiff alleged defendants unlawfully retaliated against him by failing to renew his hospital privileges because of a previous lawsuit that plaintiff brought in August 2014 in which plaintiff had alleged racial discrimination on the basis of his Arabic ethnicity in violation of the ELCRA, tortious interference with an advantageous business relationship, and defamation. Defendants moved for summary judgment, and the trial court granted it without specifically identifying which rule supported its decision. Plaintiff appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed in an unpublished per curiam opinion. The Court of Appeals determined that the trial court reviewed the summary disposition motion under MCR 2.116(C)(10), affirmed the decision under that subrule, and found it unnecessary to reach the issues of immunity or release under Subrule (C)(7). Plaintiff appealed again, and the Michigan Supreme Court vacated the appellate court's opinion and remanded for review under MCR 2.116(C)(7) and (C)(8). On remand, the Court of Appeals held in an unpublished per curiam opinion that summary disposition of plaintiff’s ELCRA-retaliation and breach-of-contract claims was appropriate under MCR 2.116(C)(8) and found it unnecessary to address whether summary disposition of either claim was appropriate under MCR 2.116(C)(7) based on immunity or release. Plaintiff again sought review from the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court emphasized that a motion for summary judgment under MCR 2.116(C)(8) had to be decided "on the pleadings alone and that all factual allegations must be taken as true." In this case, the Court of Appeals erroneously conducted an MCR 2.116(C)(10) analysis instead of a (C)(8) analysis because it considered evidence beyond the pleadings and required evidentiary support for plaintiff’s allegations rather than accepting them as true. The Court therefore reversed the Court of Appeals, which had affirmed under MCR 2.116(C)(8) the trial court’s order granting summary disposition of plaintiff’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) and breach-of-contract claims, and remanded to that Court for consideration of those claims under MCR 2.116(C)(7). View "El-Khalil v. Oakwood Health Care, Inc." on Justia Law

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The respondents had several children together. Their youngest, a daughter, JF, was born in 2003. JF had spina bifida, and as a result, had trouble ambulating without the aid of a mobility device. Also related to spina bifida, JF has neurogenic bladder, and she must use a catheter to urinate. JF required medical care and supervision for her entire life. In October 2015, the petitioner, the Department of Health and Human Services (the Department), petitioned to remove JF from the respondents’ care. The Department alleged that the respondents had failed to adequately attend to JF’s medical needs. At a preadjudication status conference, respondents admitted certain things about their care of JF; these admissions allowed the trial court to exercise jurisdiction over JF. In taking the respondents’ pleas, the court did not advise them that they were waiving any rights. Nor did the court advise them of the consequences of their pleas. The court ultimately terminated respondents' parental rights to JF. The Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding In re Hatcher, 443 Mich 426 (1993), prohibited it from considering respondents’ claim that the trial court violated their due-process rights by failing to advise them of the consequences of their pleas. The Michigan Supreme Court held the Hatcher rule rested on the legal fiction that a child protective proceeding was two separate actions: the adjudication and the disposition. "With that procedural (mis)understanding, we held that a posttermination appeal of a defect in the adjudicative phase is prohibited because it is a collateral attack. This foundational assumption was wrong; Hatcher was wrongly decided, and we overrule it." It reversed the Court of Appeals, vacated the trial court's order of adjudication and order terminating the respondents’ parental rights, and remanded this case to the trial court for further proceedings. Because the trial court violated the respondents’ due-process rights by conducting an unrecorded, in camera interview of the subject child before the court’s resolution of the termination petition, a different judge was ordered to preside on remand. View "In re Ferranti" on Justia Law

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This case was a class action brought on behalf of approximately 1600 unionized Macomb County, Michigan employee retirees who worked for defendant Macomb County under various CBAs dating back to 1989. Plaintiffs claimed that in 2009 and 2010, defendant breached these agreements by reducing and altering their healthcare benefits. Plaintiffs sought both monetary damages and injunctive relief. It was undisputed that each CBA contained an express three-year durational provision and that none of the CBAs contained a provision expressly granting a vested right to lifetime and unalterable retirement healthcare benefits. The trial court granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that while plaintiffs were entitled to lifetime healthcare benefits under the agreements, defendant was permitted to make reasonable modifications to those benefits. The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, concluding that while plaintiffs were entitled to lifetime healthcare benefits, those benefits could not be modified absent plaintiffs’ consent. The Michigan Supreme Court determined after review of the CBAs at issue the agreements did not grant plaintiffs a vested right to lifetime and unalterable benefits. Therefore, the Court reversed the appellate court and remanded to the circuit court for entry of summary judgment in favor of defendant. View "Kendzierski v. Macomb County." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Paulette Stenzel was injured after her new refrigerator began to spray water out of its water dispenser onto her kitchen floor, causing her to slip and fall. She filed a timely complaint alleging negligence, breach of contract, and breach of warranty against defendant Best Buy Co., Inc., which had sold and installed the refrigerator. Best Buy filed a notice of nonparty fault, identifying defendant-appellant Samsung Electronics America, Inc., as the refrigerator’s manufacturer. Plaintiff added a claim against Samsung in an amended complaint, and Samsung moved for summary judgment, arguing that plaintiff’s claim against it was untimely because plaintiff had not first moved to amend under MCL 600.2957(2) and therefore was not entitled to the relation-back privilege set forth in that statute. The trial court granted Samsung’s motion, but the Court of Appeals reversed. The Michigan Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals: a party may amend a pleading upon receipt of notice of nonparty fault pursuant to MCR 2.112(K) without filing a motion for leave to amend, and the amended pleading relates back to the original action pursuant to MCL 600.2957(2). View "Stenzel v. Best Buy Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs were former recipients of unemployment compensation benefits who allege that the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (the Agency) unlawfully seized their property without affording due process of law. The issue their appeal presented for the Michigan Supreme Court’s review centered on whether plaintiffs gave timely notice of their due-process claims to the Agency, and therefore were entitled to consideration of the merits of their claims. More specifically, the issue concerned whether plaintiffs filed notices of intention to file their claims or the claims themselves “within 6 months following the happening of the event giving rise to the cause of action.” The Supreme Court held that the “happening of the event giving rise to the cause of action” for a claim seeking monetary relief was when the claim accrued, and a procedural-due-process claim seeking monetary relief accrued when the deprivation of life, liberty, or property occurred. Here, plaintiffs were deprived of their property when their tax refunds were seized or their wages garnished. As a result, plaintiffs Bauserman and Broe timely filed their claims within six months following the deprivation of their property, while plaintiff Williams did not. Accordingly, the Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded to that court for further proceedings. View "Bauserman v. Unemployment Insurance Agency" on Justia Law