Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Michigan Supreme Court
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Vectren Infrastructure Services Corporation, the successor in interest to Minnesota Limited, Inc. (ML), sued the Department of Treasury (the Department) in the Michigan Court of Claims, alleging that the Department had improperly assessed a tax deficiency against ML after auditing ML’s Michigan Business Tax returns for 2010 and part of 2011. Following an audit, the Department determined that ML had improperly included its gain from a sale of its assets in the sales-factor denominator, resulting in an overstatement of its total sales and the reduction of its Michigan tax liability. The auditor excluded ML’s sale of assets from the sales factor and included it in ML’s preapportioned tax base, which increased ML’s sales factor from 14.9860% to 69.9761% and consequently increased its tax liability. ML asked the Department for an alternative apportionment for the period in 2011 before the sale, January 1, 2011 to March 31, 2011 (the short year), but the Department denied ML’s request and determined that ML had not overcome the presumption that the statutory apportionment fairly represented ML’s business activity in Michigan for the short year. The Court of Appeals ultimately held the Court of Claims had correctly analyzed the relevant statutes and applied the apportionment formula; however, the Court of Appeals concluded that Vectren was entitled to an alternative apportionment because applying the formula extended Michigan’s taxing powers beyond their acceptable scope, and ordered the parties to work together to determine an alternative method of apportionment. The Michigan Supreme Court held: (1) the income from the asset sale was properly attributable under the MBTA; and (2) the MBTA formula, as applied, did not impermissibly tax income outside the scope of Michigan’s taxing powers. The Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded this case to the Court of Claims for further proceedings. View "Vectren Infrastructure Services Corp v. Department Of Treasury" on Justia Law

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Two freelance journalists, Spencer Woodman and George Joseph, brought separate actions at the Michigan Court of Claims against the Michigan Department of Corrections (the MDOC), arguing that the MDOC wrongfully denied their requests under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Plaintiffs sought video and audio recordings of a prisoner altercation that resulted in the death of inmate Dustin Szot. The MDOC denied their FOIA requests, claiming the records were exempt from disclosure. Plaintiffs and the MDOC both moved for summary judgment. The Court of Claims ordered the MDOC to disclose the audio recording to plaintiffs and to produce the videos for an in camera review. The trial court permitted the MDOC to submit the videos in a format that obscured the faces of the employees and prisoners in the videos to protect those individuals. However, the MDOC provided the unredacted videos for in camera review. The Court of Claims ultimately ordered the MDOC to disclose the unredacted videos to plaintiffs. The MDOC moved for reconsideration, arguing that it did not need to disclose the videos or, alternatively, that it should have been allowed to redact the videos by blurring the faces of the individuals in the videos. The Court of Claims denied the motion but nevertheless permitted the MDOC to make the requested redactions and permitted plaintiffs’ counsel to view both the redacted and unredacted videos. Plaintiffs challenged the trial court’s reduced amount of attorney fees and the denial of punitive damages. The MDOC cross-appealed, challenging only the trial court’s determination that plaintiffs prevailed in full and thus were entitled to attorney fees under FOIA. The Michigan Supreme Court determined plaintiffs prevailed under MCL 15.240(6) because the action was reasonably necessary to compel the disclosure of the records and because plaintiffs obtained everything they initially sought; accordingly, the court was required to award reasonable attorney fees. Furthermore, pro bono representation was not an appropriate factor to consider in determining the reasonableness of attorney fees; accordingly, the Court of Claims abused its discretion by reducing the attorney-fee award to plaintiffs' law firm on the basis of the firm's pro bono representation of plaintiffs. View "Woodman v. Department Of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs brought this action after the defendant modified a storm water drainage system, allegedly causing flooding onto their property. The plaintiffs raised two distinct claims that remained at issue on appeal: a claim under the sewage-disposal-system- event (SDSE) exception to governmental immunity under the governmental tort liability act (GTLA), and a common-law trespass-nuisance claim seeking injunctive relief. The trial court dismissed both claims as untimely under the applicable three-year statute of limitations. Like the Court of Appeals, the Michigan Supreme Court disagreed, holding the SDSE claim, which sought relief only in connection with flooding that occurred within the three-year window, was timely. However, unlike the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court concluded that because the defendant was immune with respect to the plaintiffs’ common-law trespass-nuisance claim, that claim was properly dismissed. In light of this holding, the Court vacated as unnecessary the Court of Appeals’ holding that the trespass-nuisance claim was timely. Finally, because the plaintiffs only sought injunctive relief in connection with that claim, their request for an injunction was invalid. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendant with respect to the plaintiff’s SDSE claim, affirmed with respect to the common-law trespass-nuisance claim, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Sunrise Resort Association, Inc. v. Cheboygan County Road Commission" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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Grant Bauserman, Karl Williams, and Teddy Broe, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, brought a putative class action in the Michigan Court of Claims against the Unemployment Insurance Agency, alleging that the Agency violated their due-process rights, and that the Agency also engaged in unlawful collection practices. Plaintiffs, who were all recipients of unemployment compensation benefits, specifically alleged defendant had used an automated fraud-detection system, the Michigan Integrated Data Automated System (MiDAS), to determine that plaintiffs had received unemployment benefits for which they were not eligible and then garnished plaintiffs’ wages and tax refunds to recover the amount of the alleged overpayments, interest, and penalties that defendant had assessed without providing meaningful notice or an opportunity to be heard. Among other remedies for this constitutional violation, plaintiffs sought monetary damages. Although the Michigan Supreme Court had never specifically held that monetary damages were available to remedy constitutional torts, the Court now held that they were. “Inherent in the judiciary’s power is the ability to recognize remedies, including monetary damages, to compensate those aggrieved by the state, whether pursuant to an official policy or not, for violating the Michigan Constitution unless the Constitution has specifically delegated enforcement of the constitutional right at issue to the Legislature or the Legislature has enacted an adequate remedy for the constitutional violation. Because enforcement of Const 1963, art 1, § 17 has not been delegated to the Legislature and because no other adequate remedy exists to redress the alleged violations of plaintiffs’ rights, we agree that plaintiffs have alleged a cognizable constitutional-tort claim for which they may recover money damages and we agree with the lower courts that defendant was properly denied summary disposition.” View "Bauserman v. Unemployment Insurance Agency" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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