Justia Michigan Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Education Law
Council of Organizations & Others for Ed. v. Michigan
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
Michigan Gun Owners, Inc. v. Ann Arbor Public Schools
Defendants, the Ann Arbor and Clio school districts, each had a policy banning firearms on school property. The plaintiffs, advocacy organizations supporting gun ownership and certain parents of children who attend school in the defendant districts, believed state law preempted these policies by implication. The Michigan Supreme Court found that while the Legislature plainly could preempt school districts from adopting policies like the ones at issue if it chose to, it did not do so here: "not only has our Legislature not preempted school districts’ regulation of guns by implication, it has expressed its intent not to preempt such regulation." View "Michigan Gun Owners, Inc. v. Ann Arbor Public Schools" on Justia Law
Winkler v. Marist Fathers of Detroit, Inc.
Defendant operated a parochial school to which plaintiff was denied admission. When plaintiff sued on the basis of disability discrimination, defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing among other things that, under the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine, the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over her claim. Central to defendant’s argument was Dlaikan v Roodbeen, 522 NW2d 719 (1994), which applied the doctrine to conclude that a circuit court had no such jurisdiction over a challenge to the admissions decisions of a parochial school. The circuit court denied defendant’s motion. The Court of Appeals, however, was convinced by defendant’s jurisdictional argument and reversed, thereby granting summary judgment in defendant’s favor. The Michigan Supreme Court disagreed with the appellate court’s determination: “[w]hile Dlaikan and some other decisions have characterized the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine as depriving civil courts of subject matter jurisdiction, it is clear from the doctrine’s origins and operation that this is not so. The ecclesiastical abstention doctrine may affect how a civil court exercises its subject matter jurisdiction over a given claim; it does not divest a court of such jurisdiction altogether. To the extent Dlaikan and other decisions are inconsistent with this understanding of the doctrine, they are overruled.” View "Winkler v. Marist Fathers of Detroit, Inc." on Justia Law
SBC Health Midwest, Inc. v. City of Kentwood
The Tax Tribunal erred by concluding that MCL 211.7n, a statute specifically exempting from taxation the real or personal property owned and occupied by nonprofit educational institutions, controlled over the more general statute, MCL 211.9(1)(a), which authorized a tax exemption for educational institutions without regard to the institution’s nonprofit or for-profit status. SBC Health Midwest, Inc., challenged the city of Kentwood’s denial of its request for a personal property tax exemption in the Tax Tribunal. SBC Health, a Delaware for-profit corporation, had requested a tax exemption under MCL 211.9(1)(a) for personal property used to operate the Sanford-Brown College Grand Rapids. The Michigan Supreme Court held the nonprofit requirement in MCL 211.7n did not negate a for-profit educational institution like SBC Health from pursuing an exemption under MCL 211.9(1)(a). The tax exemption outlined in the unambiguous language in MCL 211.9(1)(a) applies to all educational institutions, for-profit or nonprofit, that meet the requirements specified in MCL 211.9(1)(a). View "SBC Health Midwest, Inc. v. City of Kentwood" on Justia Law
Hecht v. National Heritage Academies, Inc.
Defendant, National Heritage Academies, Inc., was a company that owned and operated a number of public, independently operated schools, including Linden Charter Academy (LCA) located in Flint, Michigan. Plaintiff, Craig Hecht, was a white teacher who had been employed by defendant at LCA for approximately eight years, most recently serving as a third-grade teacher. The student body at LCA was predominantly black. This race discrimination case came about over the color of a computer table: an aide returned a brown table to plaintiff's classroom. Upon noticing her mistake, the aide asked plaintiff whether he'd prefer to have the brown table she brought, or the white table that had previously been in the room. Whether or not plaintiff's next statement in response to the computer table question was a "tasteless joke" with no racial animas ultimately lead to plaintiff's termination with defendant. Plaintiff sued under Michigan's Civil Rights Act (CRA), claiming that the employer's reason for firing him was racially motivated. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether the trial court erred by denying defendant’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV). After review, the Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeals did not err by affirming the trial court’s denial of defendant’s motion for JNOV on plaintiff’s claim of discrimination under the Civil Rights Act (CRA), "[t]his case turned on circumstantial evidence, on the credibility of plaintiff’s proofs that suggested there were racial reasons for his treatment and on the credibility of defendant’s nonracial justifications for firing him." The Court concluded based on the evidence presented and all the inferences that could be reasonably drawn from that evidence in favor of the jury’s liability verdict, that a reasonable jury could have concluded that defendant violated the CRA. The Court found error in the calculation of future damages and reversed the trial court on that ground. The Court remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Hecht v. National Heritage Academies, Inc." on Justia Law
Michigan Edu. Ass’n v. Michigan Sec’y of State
The Michigan Campaign Finance Act (MCFA) prohibits a "public body" from using public resources to make a "contribution or expenditure" for political purposes. At issue in this case what whether a public school district's administration of a payroll deduction plan that collects and remits political contributions from its employees to the Michigan Education Association's political action committee violates the MCFA. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that through the administration of a payroll deduction plan that remits funds to a partisan political action committee, a school district makes both a "contribution" and “expenditure" under the terms of the MCFA. View "Michigan Edu. Ass'n v. Michigan Sec'y of State" on Justia Law