Justia Michigan Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative 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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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

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Keith Bronner sued the City of Detroit seeking no-fault benefits. Bronner was a passenger on a city-operated bus when the bus was involved in an accident with a garbage truck operated by GFL Environmental USA Inc. The city self-insured its buses under the no-fault act, MCL 500.3101 et seq. Under the city’s contract with GFL, GFL agreed to indemnify the city against any liabilities or other expenses incurred by or asserted against the city because of a negligent or tortious act or omission attributable to GFL. The city paid Bronner about $58,000 in benefits before the relationship broke down and Bronner sued the city. Shortly after Bronner sued the city, the city filed a third-party complaint against GFL pursuant to the indemnification agreement in their contract. GFL moved for summary judgment, arguing that the city was attempting to improperly shift its burden under the no-fault act to GFL contrary to public policy. The circuit court denied GFL’s motion and granted summary judgment for the city. GFL appealed as of right, arguing that the indemnification agreement was void because it circumvented the no- fault act. The Court of Appeals agreed with GFL and reversed in an unpublished opinion, citing the comprehensive nature of the no-fault act and concluding that the act outlined the only mechanisms by which a no-fault insurer could recover the cost of benefits paid to beneficiaries. The Michigan Supreme Court reversed, finding that regardless of the differing opportunities for an insurer to reach an indemnification agreement with a vendor, such agreements were enforceable. View "Bronner v. City of Detroit" on Justia Law

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Lakeshore Camping, Gary Medler, and Shorewood Association petitioned for contested case hearings before an administrative-law judge (ALJ), to challenge permits and a special exception granted by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (now the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE)) to Dune Ridge SA LP. In February 2014, Dune Ridge, a real estate developer, had purchased a 130-acre plot of land along the shore of Lake Michigan located in a critical dune area and therefore was subject to certain regulations under the sand dunes protection and management act (SDPMA). EGLE issued the requisite permits and special exceptions needed for development of the property to Dune Ridge, and in October 2014, Lakeshore Camping, Medler, and Shorewood filed their petitions under MCL 324.35305(1). Around September 2015, other individuals moved to intervene in the case as aggrieved adjacent property owners. The ALJ also allowed Lakeshore Group, an unincorporated nonprofit association, to intervene after determining that it had “representational standing” through Charles Zolper, one of its members. The ALJ denied intervention to some of these parties and ultimately dismissed the matter, concluding that the remaining petitioners and intervenors lacked standing. Lakeshore Camping and other petitioners were eventually dismissed from the case, leaving Jane Underwood, Zolper, and Lakeshore Group as the sole remaining petitioners. Dune Ridge then moved for partial summary disposition, seeking to dismiss Underwood because she no longer owned property immediately adjacent to Dune Ridge’s property. In July 2016, the ALJ granted the motion. In September 2016, Dune Ridge sold 15 acres of its property, including the land immediately adjacent to Zolper’s property, to Vine Street Cottages, LLC. Dune Ridge then moved for summary disposition as to Zolper, and the ALJ dismissed Zolper and Lakeshore Group, finding that they no longer had standing because Zolper was no longer an immediately adjacent property owner. Underwood, Zolper, Lakeshore Group, and others appealed the ALJ’s decision to the circuit court. The issue this case presented for the Michigan Supreme Court’s review centered on whether the dismissed petitioners lost their eligibility for a contested hearing based on the facts presented. To this, the Supreme Court answered “no:” because the statute provides no means to deprive an eligible petitioner of a contested hearing, petitioners were entitled to a contested case hearing. Judgment was reversed and remanded to the administrative tribunal for a formal contested case hearing. View "Lakeshore Group v. Dept. of Enviro. Quality" 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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Water users and property owners in Flint, Michigan (plaintiffs) brought a class action at the Court of Claims against defendants Governor Rick Snyder, the state of Michigan, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (the MDEQ), and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (collectively, the state defendants) and against defendants Darnell Earley and Jerry Ambrose (the city defendants). Plaintiffs alleged the Governor and these officials had knowledge of a 2011 study commissioned by Flint officials that cautioned against the use of Flint River water as a source of drinking water. In 2014, under the direction of Earley and the MDEQ, Flint switched its water source from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD) to the Flint River. Less than a month after the switch, state officials began to receive complaints from Flint water users about the quality of the water coming out of their taps. Plaintiffs alleged state officials failed to take any significant remedial measures to address the growing health threat and instead continued to downplay the health risk, advising Flint water users that it was safe to drink the tap water while simultaneously arranging for state employees in Flint to drink water from water coolers installed in state buildings. The state and city defendants separately moved for summary disposition on all four counts, arguing that plaintiffs had failed to satisfy the statutory notice requirements in MCL 600.6431 of the Court of Claims Act, failed to allege facts to establish a constitutional violation for which a judicially inferred damages remedy was appropriate, and failed to allege facts to establish the elements of any of their claims. The Court of Claims granted defendants’ motions for summary disposition on plaintiffs’ causes of action under the state-created-danger doctrine and the Fair and Just Treatment Clause of the 1963 Michigan Constitution, art 1, section 17, after concluding that neither cause of action was cognizable under Michigan law. However, the Court of Claims denied summary disposition on all of defendants’ remaining grounds, concluding that plaintiffs satisfied the statutory notice requirements and adequately pleaded claims of inverse condemnation and a violation of their right to bodily integrity. The Court of Appeals affirmed the Court of Claims. After hearing oral argument on defendants’ applications, a majority of the Michigan Supreme Court expressly affirmed the Court of Appeals’ conclusion regarding plaintiffs’ inverse-condemnation claim. The Court of Appeals opinion was otherwise affirmed by equal division. View "Mays v. Snyder" 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