Justia Michigan Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative 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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Plaintiff Fred Paquin served the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians (the Tribe), a federally recognized Indian tribe whose territory was located within the geographic boundaries of Michigan, in two capacities: as the chief of police for the tribal police department and as an elected member of the board of directors, the governing body of the Tribe. In 2010, plaintiff pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to defraud the United States by dishonest means in violation of 18 USC 371, for which he was sentenced to a year and a day in prison. The underlying conduct involved the misuse of federal funds granted to the tribal police department. In both 2013 and 2015, plaintiff sought to run for a position on defendant’s city council in the November general election. Plaintiff was rebuffed each time by defendant’s city manager, who denied plaintiff’s request to be placed on the ballot. In each instance, defendant’s city manager relied on Const 1963, art 11, sec. 8 to conclude that plaintiff’s prior felony conviction barred him from running for city council. Plaintiff brought the underlying declaratory action in the Mackinac Circuit Court, seeking a ruling that his position in tribal government did not constitute employment in “local, state, or federal government” under Const 1963, art 11, sec. 8. The Michigan Supreme Court determined that tribal government did not constitute "local...government." Accordingly, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded this matter back to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "Paquin v. City of St. Ignace" on Justia Law

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The Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission filed a formal complaint against 53rd District Court Judge Theresa Brennan alleging 17 counts of judicial misconduct related to both her professional conduct and to her conduct during her divorce proceedings. After a hearing, the master concluded by a preponderance of the evidence that respondent had committed misconduct in office with respect to all but one count of the second amended complaint. In particular, the master found that respondent had: (1) failed to disclose when she presided over Michigan v. Kowalski (No. 08-17643-FC) that she was involved in a romantic relationship with the principal witness, and did not disqualify herself from the case on that basis; (2) failed to immediately disqualify herself from hearing her own divorce case and destroyed evidence even though she knew that her then-estranged husband had filed an ex parte motion to preserve evidence; (3) failed to disclose her relationship with attorney Shari Pollesch or to disqualify herself from hearing cases in which Pollesch or her firm served as counsel for a party; (4) made false statements under oath when deposed in her divorce case; (5) made false statements during certain cases over which she presided regarding her relationships with Furlong and Pollesch; (6) made false statements under oath to the commission; (7) verbally abused attorneys, litigants, witnesses, and employees; (8) directed employees to perform personal tasks for her during work hours; (9) directed employees to perform work for her judicial campaign during work hours; and (10) interrupted two depositions she attended during her divorce case. The Michigan Supreme Court found the commission’s findings of fact were supported by the record, and its conclusions of law and analysis of the appropriate sanctions was correct. Respondent was ordered removed from her current office and suspended from holding judicial office for six years; the commission was ordered to submit an itemized bill of costs, fees, and expenses incurred in prosecuting the complaint. View "In re Theresa Brennan, Judge" 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

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Plaintiffs were financing companies that sought tax refunds under Michigan’s bad-debt statute, MCL 205.54i, for taxes paid on vehicles financed through installment contracts. Defendant Department of Treasury (the Department) denied the refund claims on three grounds: (1) MCL 205.54i excluded debts associated with repossessed property; (2) plaintiffs failed to provide RD-108 forms evidencing their refund claims; and (3) the election forms provided by plaintiff Ally Financial Inc. (Ally), by their terms, did not apply to the debts for which Ally sought tax refunds. The Court of Claims and the Court of Appeals affirmed the Department’s decision on each of these grounds. The Michigan Supreme Court held the Court of Appeals erred by upholding the Department’s decision on the first and third grounds but agreed with the Court of Appeals’ decision on the second ground. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals was affirmed as to the second ground, and the matter reversed in all other respects. The case was remanded to the Court of Claims for further proceedings. View "Ally Financial, Inc. v. Michigan State Treasurer" on Justia Law

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AK Steel operated a steel mill within the Ford Rouge Manufacturing complex in Dearborn, Michigan. The steel mill was subject to air pollution control and permitting requirements under the federal Clean Air Act, and the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA). South Dearborn Environmental Improvement Association, Inc. (South Dearborn) and several other environmental groups petitioned for judicial review of a decision of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to issue a permit to install (PTI) for an existing source under NREPA. In 2006, the DEQ issued Severstal Dearborn, LLC (the mill's prior owner) a PTI that authorized the rebuilding of a blast furnace and the installation of three air pollution control devices at the steel mill. In the years that followed, the permit was revised twice; each successive permit modified and replaced the preceding permit. Emissions testing performed in 2008 and 2009 revealed that several emission sources at the steel mill exceeded the level permitted. The DEQ sent Severstal a notice of violation, and after extended negotiations, they entered into an agreement, pursuant to which Severstal submitted an application for PTI 182- 05C, the PTI at issue in this case. The DEQ issued the permit on May 12, 2014, stating that the purpose of PTI 182-05C was to correct inaccurate assumptions about preexisting and projected emissions and to reallocate emissions among certain pollution sources covered by the PTI. On July 10, 2014, 59 days after PTI 182-05C was issued, South Dearborn and several other environmental groups appealed the DEQ’s decision in the circuit court. The issue for the Michigan Supreme Court's review reduced to how long an interested party has to file a petition for judicial review of a DEQ decision to issue a permit for an existing source of air pollution. The Supreme Court held MCL 324.5505(8) and MCL 324.5506(14) provided that such a petition must be filed within 90 days of the DEQ’s final permit action. Therefore, the circuit court correctly denied AK Steel Corporation’s motion to dismiss pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(1) because the petition for judicial review was timely filed 59 days after the final permit action in this case. View "South Dearborn Environmental Improvement Assn. v. Dept. of Env. Quality" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Bruce Millar brought an action against the Construction Code Authority (CCA), Elba Township, and Imlay City, alleging violation of the Whistleblowers’ Protection Act (WPA); wrongful termination in violation of public policy; and conspiracy to effectuate wrongful termination and violate the WPA. Millar had performed mechanical and plumbing inspection services for the CCA, which had contracts with Imlay City and Elba Township to provide licensed inspections. Imlay City and Elba Township each wrote letters to the CCA directing it to terminate Millar’s inspection services within their communities. In response, the CCA drafted a letter to Millar stating that he would no longer perform inspections in those communities, but it was not until Millar arrived at work on March 31 that he was given a copy of the CCA. That same day, he was prevented from working in Imlay City. The circuit court granted summary judgment on all counts to defendants, ruling that the WPA claim was time-barred because the WPA violation occurred, at the latest, on March 27, when the CCA drafted its letter, and therefore Millar had filed his claim one day after the 90-day limitations period in MCL 15.363(1) had run. The court also concluded that the WPA preempted Millar’s public-policy claim. The Court of Appeals affirmed in an unpublished per curiam opinion. The Michigan Supreme Court reversed, finding the limitations period on plaintiff's WPA claim did not begin to run until the CCA letter was given to him, or March 31. Because plaintiff's complaint was filed 87 days later, it was timely filed under MCL 15.36.(1). View "Millar v. Construction Code Authority" on Justia Law

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In several cases consolidated for review, the issue common to all was whether the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services could recover from beneficiaries’ estates an amount equivalent to certain Medicaid benefits paid to, or on behalf of, those beneficiaries during their lifetimes. Pursuant to the Michigan Medicaid estate-recovery program (MMERP), DHHS asserted creditor claims in the amount of those benefits against the estates of four deceased beneficiaries. In each case, the estate prevailed in the probate court and DHHS appealed. The Court of Appeals consolidated the appeals and reversed in part, concluding that DHHS could pursue its claims for amounts paid after MMERP’s July 1, 2011 implementation date, but not for amounts paid between that date and the program’s effective date, July 1, 2010. One estate appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, arguing due process barred DHHS from recovering any amount paid before 2013, when the agency had directly notified the estate’s decedent of MMERP. DHHS applied for leave to appeal in all four cases, arguing that the Court of Appeals had erred in concluding that the agency was not entitled to recover the amounts paid between July 1, 2010, and July 1, 2011. The Supreme Court concluded DHHS was not barred from pursuing estate recovery for amounts paid after July 1, 2010. View "In re Gorney Estate" on Justia Law