Justia Michigan Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
Lichon v. Morse
Two former employees of Michael Morse and his firm, Michael J. Morse, PC, sued Morse for workplace sexual harassment, including sexual assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligence, gross negligence, and wanton and willful misconduct; and civil conspiracy. In both cases, the firm moved to dismiss and compel arbitration on the basis that both women signed the firm’s Mandatory Dispute Resolution Procedure agreement (MDRPA) prior to accepting employment with the firm. The trial court granted defendants' motion in each case, concluding that the arbitration agreement was valid and enforceable and that the claims were related to the employees' employment and therefore subject to arbitration. A majority of the Court of Appeals concluded that plaintiffs’ claims of sexual assault were not subject to arbitration because sexual assault was not “related to” plaintiffs’ employment. Further, the Court of Appeals stated that the fact that the alleged assaults would not have occurred but for plaintiffs’ employment with the firm did not provide a sufficient nexus between the terms of the arbitration agreement and the alleged sexual assaults. "Defendants noted certain facts that supported connections between plaintiffs’ claims and their employment, including that the alleged assaults occurred at work or work-related functions. But those facts did not necessarily make plaintiffs’ claims relative to employment; rather, the facts had to be evaluated under a standard that distinguished claims relative to employment from claims not relative to employment. This analysis prevents the absurdity of an arbitration clause that bars the parties from litigating any matter, regardless of how unrelated to the substance of the agreement, and it ensures that the mere existence of a contract does not mean that every dispute between the parties is arbitrable. Neither the circuit courts nor the Court of Appeals considered this standard when evaluating defendants’ motions to compel arbitration." Rather than apply this newly adopted approach in the first instance, the Michigan Supreme Court vacated the judgments of the Court of Appeals and remanded the cases to the circuit courts so that those courts could analyze defendants’ motions to compel arbitration by determining which of plaintiffs’ claims could be maintained without reference to the contract or employment relationship. View "Lichon v. Morse" on Justia Law
Omer v. Steel Technologies Inc.
The defendant-employer, Steel Technologies, Inc., asked the Michigan Supreme Court to consider whether a medical professional’s conclusory declaration of a claimant’s total disability, without more, could provide competent, material, and substantial evidence of “disability,” as defined by the Worker’s Disability Compensation Act (WDCA), MCL 418.101 et seq. The Supreme Court declined to do so because under the facts of this case, it was unnecessary to reach that issue. The Court instead vacated Part IV of the Court of Appeals’ opinion discussing the issue, but affirmed its result: the magistrate relied on competent, material, and substantial evidence to find that the plaintiff-claimant, Ahmed Omer, had established a disability and was entitled to wage-loss benefits. View "Omer v. Steel Technologies Inc." on Justia Law
Livings v. Sage’s Investment Group, LLC
Donna Livings slipped on ice in her employer’s parking lot as she headed in to begin her shift. Generally, when an injury occurs because of an open and obvious condition, landowners in Michigan were not liable because they have no duty to protect against those hazards. An exception existed, however, when the hazard was effectively unavoidable. The question presented here was whether a hazard one must confront to enter his or her place of employment should be considered effectively unavoidable. The Michigan Supreme Court held that an open and obvious condition could be deemed effectively unavoidable when a plaintiff must confront it to enter his or her place of employment for work purposes. However, in assessing the question, it was still necessary to consider whether any alternatives were available that a reasonable individual in the plaintiff’s circumstances would have used to avoid the condition. Here, the Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals that a genuine issue of material fact existed regarding whether the snow and ice were effectively unavoidable. View "Livings v. Sage's Investment Group, LLC" on Justia Law
Dept. of Talent & Econ. Dev. v. Great Oaks Country Club
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
El-Khalil v. Oakwood Health Care, Inc.
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
Kendzierski v. Macomb County.
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
Bauserman v. Unemployment Insurance Agency
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
McQueer v. Perfect Fence Company
Plaintiff David McQueer brought a negligence action against his employer, Perfect Fence Company, to recover damages after he was injured on the job. Perfect Fence moved for summary judgment on the ground that the exclusive-remedy provision of the Worker’s Disability Compensation Act (WDCA), MCL 418.101 et seq., barred plaintiff’s action. Plaintiff responded that his action was not barred because defendant had violated MCL 418.611 by failing to procure workers’ compensation coverage for him and had violated MCL 418.171 by encouraging him to pose as a nonemployee. Plaintiff additionally moved to amend his complaint to add claims of intentional tort and breach of an employment contract. Plaintiff argued that the evidence raised a question of fact about whether defendant intended to injure him in a way that brought plaintiff’s claim within the scope of the intentional tort exception to the exclusive-remedy provision of the WDCA. The trial court granted Perfect Fence’s motion, concluding that the company had not violated MCL 418.611 because defendant had provided workers’ compensation coverage. The court also ruled that MCL 418.171 was not applicable to plaintiff’s claims. The court denied plaintiff’s motion to amend his complaint, concluding that amendment would be futile because the undisputed facts did not demonstrate that defendant intended to injure plaintiff. Plaintiff appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment and denial of plaintiff’s motion to amend his complaint in an unpublished per curiam opinion. The panel agreed with the trial court that defendant had not violated MCL 418.611, but concluded that plaintiff had established a question of fact regarding whether defendant had improperly encouraged him to pose as a contractor for the purpose of evading liability under WDCA in violation of MCL 418.171(4). The panel also concluded that because plaintiff had presented sufficient evidence to create a question of fact regarding whether an intentional tort had occurred, the trial court abused its discretion by not allowing plaintiff to amend his complaint. The Michigan Supreme Court held MCL 418.171 did not apply in this case: because plaintiff was not the employee of a contractor engaged by defendant, he had no cause of action under MCL 418.171. For this reason, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals judgment only as to whether MCL 418.171 applied. View "McQueer v. Perfect Fence Company" on Justia Law
Millar v. Construction Code Authority
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
Arbuckle v. General Motors, LLC
Plaintiff Clifton Arbuckle sustained a work-related back injury while working for General Motors Corporation (GM), and in May 1993 began receiving a disability pension. He retired that month and was subsequently awarded workers’ compensation benefits. Later, he also received Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. GM and the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) had executed a letter of agreement in 1990 in which GM agreed not to coordinate workers’ compensation and disability pension benefits for its employees under MCL 418.354. This letter of agreement was incorporated into the 1990 collective-bargaining agreement (CBA) between GM and the UAW and was intended to remain in place until termination or amendment of the CBA, which expired in November 1993. When the CBA expired, however, the provision against coordination was continued in subsequent letters of agreement and incorporated into subsequent CBAs. In 2009, GM and the UAW adopted a formula (incorporated into the 2009 CBA) by which GM would coordinate benefits, using disability pension benefits to reduce the amount of workers’ compensation benefits for all workers and retirees, regardless of when they had retired. GM advised Arbuckle that effective January 1, 2010, his benefits would be reduced using the formula in the 2009 agreement. Arbuckle appealed to the Workers’ Compensation Agency, which ultimately concluded that GM was improperly using Arbuckle’s SSDI benefits to offset his workers’ compensation benefits, in violation of MCL 418.354(11). A workers’ compensation magistrate reversed the director’s ruling but nevertheless concluded that GM was prohibited from reducing Arbuckle’s workers’ compensation benefits by his disability pension benefits because Arbuckle had never agreed to coordination of benefits and no evidence established that the UAW had the authority to bargain on Arbuckle’s behalf after his retirement. The Michigan Compensation Appellate Commission (MCAC) reversed in part, holding that irrespective of the UAW’s authority to bind retirees, GM was permitted to coordinate Arbuckle’s disability pension benefits. Arbuckle sought leave to appeal, but after the Court of Appeals granted his application, he died. Robert Arbuckle, the personal representative of the estate, was substituted as plaintiff. The Court of Appeals reversed in an unpublished opinion per curiam and remanded the case for further proceedings. GM then appealed. The Supreme Court concluded after its review that the Court of Appeals erred in holding that GM lacked the authority to coordinate Arbuckle’s benefits under the 2009 CBA. The Court reversed and reinstated MCAC's order. View "Arbuckle v. General Motors, LLC" on Justia Law