Justia Michigan Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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The Michigan Supreme Court granted leave to appeal to address the trial court’s resolution of a pair of Batson challenges, each concerning the others’ use of peremptory challenges to remove prospective jurors on the basis of race. Jacques Kabongo was convicted of carrying a concealed weapon. Two police officers testified that they had seen defendant cover a holstered handgun with his shirt and that defendant’s license to carry a concealed weapon had expired. Defendant appealed by right, arguing, among other things, that the trial court had erred by overruling his objections to the prosecutor’s use of peremptory challenges to excuse Prospective Jurors 2(a), 3(a), and 14(a), all of whom were Black, and by disallowing defendant’s use of a peremptory challenge to excuse Prospective Juror 5(a), who was white. The Court of Appeals affirmed. With regard to the State’s challenge of the three Black jurors, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court did not clearly err by finding the prosecution’s race-neutral explanation was not a pretext for improper purposeful discrimination. With regard to Kabongo’s Batson challenge, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court clearly erred by determining that defense counsel’s race-neutral explanation was a pretext to discrimination, “While defense counsel’s comments may have suggested that he was previously engaged in purposeful discrimination against white prospective jurors during voir dire and that defense counsel perhaps even intimated an intent to continue to do so, the record does not reflect that defense counsel actually engaged in purposeful discrimination against this particular prospective white juror. This prospective juror had extensive familial ties to law enforcement, and the sole evidence against defendant was to be the testimony of law enforcement officers.” The Supreme Court held the trial court’s erroneous denial of defendant’s peremptory challenges was not a structural error that required automatic reversal of his convictions under Michigan law. Applying harmless-error review, the Court found no harm resulted from the trial court’s denial of defendant’s peremptory challenges, and affirmed the denial of his request for a new trial. View "Michigan v. Kabongo" on Justia Law

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Victoria Pagano was charged with operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated with a child as a passenger, and having an open container in a vehicle. An anonymous caller phoned 911, alleging defendant was driving while intoxicated. Central dispatch informed a police officer of the call, and within 30 minutes, the officer observed defendant’s vehicle but did not see defendant commit any traffic violations. Although it appeared that a copy of the 911 call might have been preserved, a recording was not introduced into evidence, and the caller was not identified. According to the officer’s testimony, the anonymous caller informed dispatch that defendant was out of the vehicle, yelling at children, and appeared to be obnoxious. The caller believed defendant’s alleged intoxication was the cause of her behavior with the children, and provided the vehicle’s license plate number; the direction in which the vehicle was traveling; and the vehicle’s make, model, and color. The officer pulled defendant over strictly on the basis of the information relayed in the 911 call. Defendant was arrested and subsequently charged. Defendant moved for dismissal of the charges, arguing that the investigatory stop was unlawful and that, as a result, any evidence obtained pursuant to the stop should have been suppressed. The district court granted the motion, holding that there was no probable cause to stop defendant’s vehicle because the 911 call was not reliable. The Michigan Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "Michigan v. Pagano" on Justia Law

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2 Crooked Creek, LLC (2CC) and Russian Ferro Alloys, Inc. (RFA) filed an action against the Cass County Treasurer, seeking to recover monetary damages under the Michigan General Property Tax Act (the GPTA) in connection with defendant’s foreclosure of certain property. In 2010, 2CC purchased property for development, but failed to pay the 2011 real-property taxes and, in 2013, forfeited the property to defendant. From January through May 2013, defendant’s agent, Title Check, LLC, mailed via first-class and certified mail a series of notices to the address listed in the deed. The certified mail was returned as “Unclaimed—Unable to Forward,” but the first-class mail was not returned. Meanwhile, 2CC constructed a home on the property, obtaining a mortgage for the construction from RFA. A land examiner working for Title Check visited the property; determined it to be occupied; and being unable to personally meet with any occupant, posted notice of the show-cause hearing and judicial-foreclosure hearing on a window next to the front door of the newly constructed home. Title Check continued its notice efforts through the rest of 2013 and into 2014, mailing various notices as well as publishing notice in a local newspaper for three consecutive weeks. After no one appeared on 2CC’s behalf at the show-cause hearing or the 2014 judicial-foreclosure hearing, the Cass Circuit Court entered the judgment of foreclosure. The property was not redeemed by the March 31, 2014 deadline, and fee simple title vested with defendant. 2CC learned of the foreclosure a few weeks later. In July 2014, 2CC moved to set aside the foreclosure judgment on due-process grounds. These efforts failed because the circuit court concluded defendant’s combined efforts of mailing, posting, and publishing notice under the GPTA provided 2CC with notice sufficient to satisfy due process. In an unpublished per curiam opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed. 2CC moved to set aside the foreclosure judgment, filing a separate action in the Court of Claims for monetary damages under MCL 211.78l(1), alleging it had not received any notice required under the GPTA. After a bench trial at the Court of Claims and at the close of 2CC’s proofs, the court granted an involuntary dismissal in favor of defendant, holding, in relevant part, that 2CC had received at least constructive notice of the foreclosure proceedings when the land examiner posted notice on the home. 2CC appealed as of right, and the Court of Appeals also affirmed. Finding no reversible error, the Michigan Supreme Court affirmed too. View "2 Crooked Creek, LLC v. Cass Cty. Treas." on Justia Law

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Consolidated cases involved constitutional challenges to amendments to Michigan's Election Law. The Michigan Supreme Court determined the challenges did not present a justiciable controversy. A few months after the amendments took effect, the Michigan Attorney General issued a written opinion that they violated the state and federal Constitutions. Plaintiffs, League of Women Voters of Michigan (LWV), Michiganders for Fair and Transparent Elections (MFTE), Henry Mayers, Valeriya Epshteyn, and Barry Rubin (collectively, the LWV plaintiffs), sued the Secretary of State, seeking a declaratory judgment that the amendments were unconstitutional along the same lines as the Attorney General suggested. LWV was described in the complaint as a nonpartisan group focused on voting and democratic rights. The individual plaintiffs were Michigan voters and MFTE was a ballot-question committee that, at the time the complaint was filed, intended to circulate petitions to amend the Constitution. A few weeks after the LWV plaintiffs brought their action, the Legislature also filed suit against the Secretary of State, requesting a declaratory judgment that the amendments were constitutional. The Michigan Supreme Court granted the Legislature’s motion to intervene, and held the Legislature had standing to appeal when the Attorney General abandons her role in defending a statute against constitutional attack in court. Then the Supreme Court concluded that case was moot as to the lead plaintiff, MFTE, because it no longer pursued its ballot initiative. As no other plaintiff had standing to pursue the appeal, the Supreme Court vacated the lower-court decisions. Finally, in light of this analysis, the Court affirmed on alternative grounds the Court of Appeals’ holding that the Legislature had no standing in its case against the Secretary of State, Docket No. 160908. Accordingly, both cases were remanded back to the trial court for dismissal. View "League of Women Voters of Michigan v. Secy. of State" on Justia Law

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In June 2016, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed into law 2016 PA 249 (codified at MCL 388.1752b), appropriating $2.5 million in funds for the 2016–2017 school year “to reimburse costs incurred by nonpublic schools” for compliance with various state health, safety, and welfare mandates identified by the Department of Education, such as state asbestos regulations and vehicle inspections. In July 2016, the Governor asked the Michigan Supreme Court for an advisory opinion as to whether MCL 388.1752b violated Const 1963, art 8, sec. 2, which generally prohibited “aid” to “nonpublic schools.” The Court declined this request. In March 2017, plaintiffs sued the state defendants in the Court of Claims, alleging that MCL 388.1752b violated Const 1963, art 8, sec. 2 and Const 1963, art 4, sec. 30, which provided that “[t]he assent of two-thirds of the members elected to and serving in each house of the legislature shall be required for the appropriation of public money or property for local or private purposes.” The parties stipulated not to disburse any funds under the statute until the Court of Claims resolved the case. In July 2017, the Legislature amended MCL 388.1752b to appropriate additional funds for the 2017–2018 school year. Also in that month, the Court of Claims issued a preliminary injunction against disbursing the appropriated funds. Defendants sought leave to appeal in the Court of Appeals, and the panel denied the application. The Supreme Court also declined review. In April 2018, the Court of Claims entered a permanent injunction against disbursing the appropriated funds, concluding the statute was unconstitutional. Meanwhile, in June 2018, the Legislature again amended MCL 388.1752b to appropriate funds for the 2018–2019 school year. In October 2018, the Court of Appeals reversed the Court of Claims and remanded for further proceedings, finding the statute did not violate the state Constitution to the extend that a reimbursed mandate satisfied a three-part test. The Supreme Court concluded MCL 388.1752b was indeed in accordance with both the religion clauses of the First Amendment of the federal Constitution and Article 8, sec. 2, as amended by Proposal C in 1970, of the Michigan Constitution. The Court of Appeals was affirmed and the matter remanded to the Court of Claims for further proceedings. View "Council of Organizations & Others for Ed. v. Michigan" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Michigan Supreme Court in this case was whether defendant, Troy Antonio Brown, was entitled to a new trial because the detective who conducted defendant’s police interview testified falsely against him. The Court concluded: (1) the detective’s testimony against defendant was false; (2) the prosecutor failed to correct the false testimony; and (3) there was a reasonable likelihood that the uncorrected false testimony affected the judgment of the jury. Therefore, judgment of the Court of Appeals was reversed, defendant’s conviction was vacated, and the matter remanded to the trial court for a new trial. View "Michigan v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Keith Wood was convicted by jury of jury tampering, for having distributed a pamphlet promoting the concept of jury nullification outside the courthouse at which the pretrial hearing of a man named Andrew Yoder was scheduled to begin. The pamphlet asserted that jurors could vote their conscience, that jurors could not be forced to obey a juror oath, and that a juror had the right to hang a jury if he or she did not agree with other jurors. Defendant handed the pamphlet to two women who told him that they had been summoned to the court for jury selection. The case against Yoder never went to trial because Yoder entered into a plea agreement. After being charged in district court with obstruction of justice, and jury tampering, defendant moved to dismiss both charges, arguing with regard to the jury-tampering charge that the term “juror” in MCL 750.120a(1) did not include people who were summoned for jury duty but never selected or sworn. The district court dismissed the obstruction charge, but denied the motion to dismiss the tampering charge. The circuit court and Court of Appeals affirmed the district court. The Michigan Supreme Court reversed, finding that individuals who were merely summoned for jury duty and have not yet participated in a case were not jurors for purposes of MCL 750.120a(1). Therefore, defendant did not attempt to influence the decision of any “juror” as that term was used in MCL 750.120a(1). View "Michigan v. Wood" on Justia Law

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Progress Michigan filed a complaint against then Attorney General Bill Schuette in his official capacity, alleging that defendant violated the Michigan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and failed to preserve state records under the Management and Budget Act. Plaintiff sought certain e-mail messages between Attorney General Schuette and his staff that were sent using personal e-mail accounts. Defendant denied the request on October 19, 2016, and on November 26, 2016, defendant denied plaintiff’s subsequent departmental appeal of that decision. Seeking to compel disclosure, plaintiff filed its complaint in the Court of Claims. Defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that dismissal was appropriate because plaintiff failed to comply with the signature and verification requirement of MCL 600.6431 of the Court of Claims Act. Plaintiff amended its complaint which contained allegations identical to those in the original complaint, but was also signed by plaintiff’s executive director and sworn to before the Ingham County Clerk. Defendant again moved for summary judgment, this time arguing that the amended complaint was untimely because it was filed outside FOIA’s 180-day period of limitations. The Court of Claims dismissed plaintiff’s Management and Budget Act claim but denied the summary-judgment motion with respect to defendant’s FOIA claim, holding that plaintiff had complied with the MCL 600.6431 signature and verification requirement and that the complaint was timely filed within that statute’s one-year limitations period. The Court concluded that the amended complaint complied with FOIA’s statute of limitations because the amendment related back to the filing of the original complaint, which had been timely filed. The Court of Appeals reversed, reasoning that the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision in Scarsella v. Pollak, 607 NW2d 711 (2000), rendered plaintiff’s initial complaint a nullity, such that it could not be amended, and that the statutory period of limitations elapsed before the second complaint was filed. The Supreme Court reversed the appellate court, finding Scarsella did not apply in this context, and plaintiff complied with the statutory requirements necessary to sustain its claim under the FOIA. View "Progress Michigan v. Schuette" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Davontae Sanford filed suit against the state of Michigan, seeking compensation under the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act (WICA). Another man confessed to the crimes committed in 2007 to which plaintiff had pled guilty when he was 15 years old: four counts of second-degree murder and carrying a firearm during the commission of a felony. In 2008, plaintiff was sentenced to concurrent terms of 37 to 90 years in prison for the murder convictions, plus a consecutive two-year term for the felony-firearm conviction, with credit for the 198 days he spent in the Wayne County Juvenile Detention Facility. After an investigation into the other man’s confession and with the stipulation of the prosecutor, the circuit court vacated plaintiff’s convictions and sentences on June 6, 2016, and plaintiff was released from the Michigan Department of Corrections June 8, 2016. Defendant admitted that plaintiff was entitled to $408,356.16 in compensation for the 8 years and 61 days he spent in a state correctional facility pursuant to the WICA’s damages formula set forth in MCL 691.1755(2)(a), but defendant disputed whether plaintiff was entitled to $27,124.02 in compensation for the 198 days he spent in local detention. The Court of Claims held that the time plaintiff spent in local detention was not compensable under the WICA, and it awarded plaintiff $408,356.16. Plaintiff appealed as of right, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Michigan Supreme Court concurred with the appellate court that the WICA did not authorize compensation for the time plaintiff spent in detention before he was wrongfully convicted of a crime, and affirmed that court's judgment. View "Sanford. v. Michigan" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellee Derek Smith was convicted by jury on two counts of assault with intent to do great bodily harm (AWIGBH); three counts of assault with a dangerous weapon (felonious assault); one count of possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony; one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm; and two counts of misdemeanor assault and battery. Defendant appealed in the Court of Appeals, which affirmed his convictions but remanded to the trial court for resentencing on the basis that two offense variables had been incorrectly scored. Upon reconsideration, the Court of Appeals found no merit to defendant's argument the trial court erred by having imposed the felony-firearm sentence to run consecutively with the AWIGBH sentences when the jury had not explicitly found that he possessed a firearm during the commission of the AWIGBH offenses. The appellate court ultimately ordered resentencing, finding the felony-firearm sentence could not be imposed to run consecutively with the AWIGBH sentences. The Court of Appeals remanded the case to the trial court for it to determine whether felonious assault or felon-in-possession was the predicate felony for the felony-firearm conviction and to amend Smith’s judgment of sentence so that the felony-firearm sentence was consecutive only with the predicate offense. The prosecutor appealed that decision to the Michigan Supreme Court. Finding no reversible error, the Michigan Supreme Court affirmed, finding the Court of Appeals appropriately remanded the case to the trial court to impose the two-year felony-firearm sentence to run consecutively with a single felony sentence. View "Michigan v. Smith" on Justia Law