Justia Civil Procedure Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Michigan Supreme Court
Elia Companies, LLC v. University Of Michigan Regents
Elia Companies, LLC, filed suit against the University of Michigan Regents, alleging breach of contract; violations of Michigan’s anti-lockout statute; breach of covenant for quiet possession; constructive eviction; conversion; and unjust enrichment. In 2013, plaintiff entered into a 10-year lease with defendant to obtain space at the Michigan Union for establishing a coffee shop. In March 2017, defendant disclosed its plans to renovate the Union. Plaintiff’s complaint alleged that the parties’ lease required that they negotiate a relocation of the leased premises. However, defendant terminated the lease on April 20, 2018, based on plaintiff’s alleged default and ordered plaintiff to vacate the premises. Plaintiff filed this action in August 2018, and defendant, over plaintiff’s objection, filed a notice of transfer removing the case to the Court of Claims pursuant to MCL 600.6404(3) and MCL 600.6419(1) of the Court of Claims Act (the COCA). Defendant moved for summary disposition, arguing that plaintiff’s action had to be dismissed because plaintiff failed to comply with the notice and verification requirements of MCL 600.6431 of the COCA. The Court of Claims agreed and dismissed plaintiff’s case. Plaintiff appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part. The panel affirmed the dismissal of plaintiff’s ancillary claims on governmental-tort-immunity grounds but reversed the dismissal of plaintiff’s contract claim. The Michigan Supreme Court determined the Court of Appeals erred when it excused plaintiff’s failure to timely comply with MCL 600.6431. “All parties with claims against the state, except those exempted in MCL 600.6431 itself, must comply with the requirements of MCL 600.6431.” Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded to the Court of Claims for reinstatement of summary judgment granted in defendant’s favor. View "Elia Companies, LLC v. University Of Michigan Regents" on Justia Law
Christie v. Wayne State University
In 2019, Susan Christie filed suit against Wayne State University, asserting age and disability discrimination under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (the ELCRA); and the Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act (the PWDCRA). Christie took a medical leave of absence in February 2017 and returned to work on May 1, 2017. Plaintiff alleged that after her return to work, her supervisors questioned her about her age, asked her when she intended to retire, and had conversations with others in her presence regarding the ages of employees. Plaintiff received a negative job-performance review on September 22, 2017, allegedly the first negative review she had ever received, and defendant terminated her from her job on November 27, 2017. Defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that MCL 600.6431(1) of the Court of Claims Act (the COCA), required plaintiff to file either a verified complaint with the Court of Claims or notice of intent to file suit with the Court of Claims within one year of the accrual of her claim; defendant maintained plaintiff’s claim was barred by governmental immunity because she failed to do either. The court denied the motion, concluding that MCL 600.6431(1) did not preclude plaintiff from filing her claim in the circuit court because the COCA notice requirements only applied to claims litigated in the Court of Claims. Defendant appealed that decision to the Court of Appeals. While the Court of Appeals ultimately concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the appeal as a matter of right, it treated the appeal as though leave had been granted and affirmed the trial court’s order in an unpublished per curiam opinion. The Michigan Supreme Court reversed, finding the trial court erred by denying defendant’s motion for summary judgment. View "Christie v. Wayne State University" on Justia Law
Stirling v. County of Leelanau
Plaintiff-appellant Mack Stirling lived in Leelanau County, Michigan since 1990. Petitioner’s wife, Dixie, owned two rental properties in Utah. The Stirlings filed joint tax returns for the pertinent tax years of 2016 to 2019. Neither Mack nor Dixie ever resided at the Utah properties. Instead, Dixie rented the properties to tenants who used the properties as their primary residences. Dixie claimed an applicable Utah tax exemption during the relevant tax years. Plaintiff applied for a principal residence exemption (PRE) on his Michigan home. Leelanau County denied the application because it concluded the Utah exemption rendered the Stirlings ineligible for the PRE. The Michigan Supreme Court disagreed: the Utah tax exemption at issue, which was available to landowners who rented their property to tenants, was not substantially similar to Michigan’s PRE, which was available only for a landowner’s principal residence. Accordingly, Plaintiff was eligible to claim the Michigan PRE. View "Stirling v. County of Leelanau" on Justia Law
Jordan v. Dep’t. of Health & Human Servs.
Helen Jordan, a nurse who was formerly employed by the predecessor to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, challenged in the Michigan Compensation Appellate Commission (MCAC) the decision of a magistrate that she was not entitled to disability benefits under the Worker’s Disability Compensation Act (WDCA). In 1995, plaintiff was working for defendant’s predecessor when she was injured during an altercation with a patient. Plaintiff was prescribed opioid medication to treat leg and back pain that she said resulted from the 1995 injury, and she used the opioid medication continuously after the incident and became dependent upon it. Plaintiff began receiving disability benefits under the WDCA in 1996. In 2015, plaintiff underwent an independent medical examination at defendant’s request pursuant to MCL 418.385. The doctor who conducted the examination concluded that any disability experienced by plaintiff was not the result of the 1995 incident, and defendant subsequently discontinued plaintiff’s benefits. Plaintiff applied for reinstatement of her benefits under the WDCA. The Michigan Supreme Court determined the agency record was too incomplete to facilitate “meaningful” appellate review: “Despite the MCAC’s conclusion, whether the experts agreed that plaintiff had a limitation of her wage-earning capacity in work suitable to her qualifications and training was not clear from the record.” Therefore, the Court concluded the Court of Appeals erred by deciding this case as a matter of law because further administrative proceedings were needed. View "Jordan v. Dep’t. of Health & Human Servs." on Justia Law
Rouch World LLC v. Department Of Civil Rights
Rouch World, LLC, and Uprooted Electrolysis, LLC, brought an action before the Michigan Court of Claims against the Department of Civil Rights and its director, seeking, among other relief, a declaratory judgment that the prohibition of sex discrimination in places of public accommodation under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) did not bar discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The owners of Rouch World had denied a request to host the same-sex wedding of Natalie Johnson and Megan Oswalt at their facility, claiming that doing so would violate their religious beliefs. The owner of Uprooted Electrolysis had denied hair-removal services to Marissa Wolfe, a transgender woman, on the same basis. Johnson, Oswald, and Wolfe filed complaints with the Department of Civil Rights, which had issued an interpretive statement in 2018 indicating that the ELCRA’s prohibition against discrimination based on sex included sexual orientation and gender identity. The Department of Civil Rights opened an investigation into both of these incidents, but the investigations were stayed when plaintiffs brought this action. The Michigan Supreme Court held that the ELCRA encompasses discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The Court overruled the Court of Appeals decision in Barbour v. Dept. of Social Servs, 497 NW2d 216 (1993), and reversed in part the Court of Claims decision below. View "Rouch World LLC v. Department Of Civil Rights" on Justia Law
Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance v. Saugatuck Twp.
Appellant Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance, argued that lower courts erred when they found that the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act (MZEA) denied it standing to appeal the decisions of the Saugatuck Township Planning Commission (Commission). Prior Court of Appeals decisions relied on by the Saugatuck Township Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) and lower courts repeatedly and erroneously read the term “party aggrieved” too narrowly. The Michigan Supreme Court held that the MZEA did not require an appealing party to own real property and to demonstrate special damages only by comparison to other real-property owners similarly situated. The Supreme Court overruled several Court of Appeals decisions to the limited extent that they required: (1) real-property ownership as a prerequisite to being “aggrieved” by a zoning decision under the MZEA; and (2) special damages to be shown only by comparison to other real-property owners similarly situated. The Supreme Court explained, to be a “party aggrieved” under MCL 125.3605 and MCL 125.3606, the appellant must meet three criteria: (1) the appellant must have participated in the challenged proceedings by taking a position on the contested proposal or decision; (2) the appellant must claim some protected interest or protected personal, pecuniary, or property right that will be or is likely to be affected by the challenged decision; and (3) the appellant must provide some evidence of special damages arising from the challenged decision in the form of an actual or likely injury to or burden on their asserted interest or right that is different in kind or more significant in degree than the effects on others in the local community. A portion of the Court of Appeals' judgment was vacated, and the case was remanded back to the circuit court for reconsideration in light of the Supreme Court's holding here. View "Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance v. Saugatuck Twp." on Justia Law
Champine v. Department of Transportation
Norman Champine brought an action against the Michigan Department of Transportation in the Court of Claims alleging that defendant had breached its duty to maintain I-696. Plaintiff was driving on I-696 in Macomb County when a large piece of concrete dislodged from the road and crashed through the windshield of his car, causing serious injuries. The Court of Claims granted summary judgment in favor of defendant on the basis that plaintiff had failed to provide proper notice under MCL 691.1404. The court reasoned that plaintiff’s separate notice to defendant was inadequate because it was not filed in the Court of Claims, the complaint itself could not serve as notice, and the complaint had not identified the exact location of the highway defect. Plaintiff appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed in an unpublished per curiam opinion, holding that the filing of a complaint could not satisfy the statutory notice requirements. The Court of Appeals declined to address whether plaintiff also failed to adequately describe the location of the incident, even assuming plaintiff’s complaint could serve as proper notice. The Michigan Supreme Court determined “notice” was not defined by MCL 691.1404, so courts were permitted to consider its plain meaning as well as its placement and purpose in the statutory scheme. "The plain meaning of the word 'notice' in the context of the statute indicates only that the governmental agency must be made aware of the injury and the defect. The statute does not require advance notice beyond the filing of the complaint, and the Court of Appeals erred by holding otherwise. Plaintiff properly gave notice by timely filing his complaint in the Court of Claims." Nonetheless, the case had to be remanded to the Court of Appeals for that Court to address whether the complaint adequately specified the exact location and nature of the defect as required by MCL 691.1404(1). View "Champine v. Department of Transportation" on Justia Law
McMaster v. DTE Energy Company
Dean McMaster brought a negligence action against DTE Energy Company, Ferrous Processing and Trading Company (Ferrous), and DTE Electric Company (DTE), seeking compensation for injuries he sustained when a metal pipe fell out of a scrap container and struck him in the leg. DTE, the shipper, contracted with Ferrous to sell scrap metal generated by its business. DTE and Ferrous moved for summary judgment, and the trial court granted the motion as to DTE but denied the motion as to Ferrous. McMaster settled with Ferrous and appealed with regard to DTE. The Court of Appeals affirmed, reasoning that DTE did not have a duty to warn of or protect McMaster from a known danger, relying on the open and obvious danger doctrine. McMaster sought leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court peremptorily vacated Part III of the opinion and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for consideration of DTE’s legal duty under the law of ordinary negligence. On remand, the Court of Appeals again affirmed the trial court, finding that the common-law duty of a shipper was abrogated by Michigan’s passage of MCL 480.11a, which adopted the federal motor carrier safety regulations as part of the Motor Carrier Safety Act (the MCSA). The Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the common-law duty of care owed by a shipper to a driver was not abrogated by MCL 480.11a. As an issue of first impression, the Court adopted the “shipper’s exception” or “Savage rule” to guide negligence questions involving participants in the trucking industry, as this rule was consistent with Michigan law. Applying this rule, the Supreme Court affirmed on alternate grounds, the grant of summary disposition to DTE Electric Company (DTE) because there existed no genuine issue of material fact that DTE did not breach its duty to plaintiff. View "McMaster v. DTE Energy Company" on Justia Law
Sole v. Michigan Economic Development Corp.
David Sole brought an action against the Michigan Economic Development Corporation under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), seeking the disclosure of information regarding the tax credits that defendant had allowed General Motors LLC (GM) to claim under the Michigan Economic Growth Authority Act (the MEGA Act), which gave defendant the authority to award businesses tax credits through the Michigan Strategic Fund. Defendant had provided plaintiff with a 2016 agreement between GM and defendant regarding the tax credits, but it had redacted the amount of the “tax credit cap,” which defendant claimed was exempt from disclosure under the Michigan Strategic Fund Act. The Court of Claims granted summary judgment in favor of defendant on the basis that the information was exempt from disclosure under MCL 125.2005(9). The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Michigan Supreme Court found that while the “tax credit cap” fit within the terms of MCL 125.2005(9), it was nonetheless subject to disclosure under MCL 125.2005(11). Accordingly, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ judgment to the contrary. View "Sole v. Michigan Economic Development Corp." on Justia Law
Township of James v. Rice
James Township, Michigan filed a nuisance action against Daniel Rice , alleging Rice violated the township’s blight ordinance as well as the Michigan Residential Code by having junk cars, unpermitted construction, and fences of an improper height on his property. Rice moved to dismiss the portions of the citation related to the improper height of his fence and the unpermitted construction, arguing that, under the Right to Farm Act (RTFA), the township was prohibited from enforcing against farms or farm operations local ordinances governing those structures. The township opposed the motion, arguing that the property was not protected by the RTFA because it had not previously been used for farming. Following a hearing, the district court, found that Rice’s use of the property constituted a “farm” or “farm operation” for purposes of the RTFA and that the RTFA was an affirmative defense to those portions of the civil citation. The district court dismissed the specified portions of the citation and denied the parties’ individual requests for costs and fees. Rice moved for reconsideration, arguing that, under MCL 286.473b, he was entitled to costs and expenses, as well as reasonable and actual attorney fees; the district court denied the motion. The district court later dismissed the remaining portions of the citation and dismissed the action with prejudice. Rice appealed and the circuit court affirmed the district court’s order. The Court of Appeals denied Rice’s application for leave to appeal the circuit court’s order. In lieu of granting leave to appeal, the Michigan Supreme Court remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for consideration as on leave granted. On remand, in an unpublished per curiam opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court’s legal conclusions, holding that an award of costs , expenses, and fees was not mandatory under MCL 286.473b, but the Court of Appeals remanded the case to the district court for articulation of the district court’s reasons for the discretionary denial. The Michigan Supreme Court found no such discretion under the RTFA, and Rice was entitled to his fees. The appellate court’s judgment was reversed. View "Township of James v. Rice" on Justia Law