Justia Civil Rights Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Michigan Supreme Court
Pueblo v. Haas
Carrie Pueblo brought an action against her former domestic partner, Rachel Haas seeking joint custody and parenting time for a child whom Haas conceived through in vitro fertilization and gave birth to in 2008, during the parties’ relationship. Haas moved for summary judgment, arguing that because the parties had never married and Pueblo had no biological or adoptive relationship to the child, Pueblo lacked standing to sue and also failed to state a claim for which relief could be granted. The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the case without prejudice. After Haas moved for reconsideration, the trial court dismissed the action with prejudice. Pueblo then filed her own motion for reconsideration, arguing that she had standing as a natural parent, despite the lack of genetic connection, following the Court of Appeals decision in LeFever v. Matthews, 336 Mich App 651 (2021), which expanded the definition of “natural parent” to include unmarried women who gave birth as surrogates but shared no genetic connection with the children. Pueblo also argued the trial court order violated her Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection, as well as those of the child. Furthermore, Pueblo argued that any dismissal should have been without prejudice. The trial court denied reconsideration, distinguishing LeFever on the ground that Pueblo had not given birth to the child. Pueblo appealed, reasserting her previous arguments and further asserting that the equitable-parent doctrine should extend to the parties’ relationship, which had been solemnized in a civil commitment ceremony when it was not yet legal in Michigan for same-sex partners to marry. The Court of Appeals rejected these arguments and affirmed the trial court. Because Michigan unconstitutionally prohibited same-sex couples from marrying before Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 US 644 (2015), the Michigan Supreme Court narrowly extended the equitable-parent doctrine as "a step toward righting the wrongs done by that unconstitutional prohibition. A person seeking custody who demonstrates by a preponderance of the evidence that the parties would have married before the child’s conception or birth but for Michigan’s unconstitutional marriage ban is entitled to make their case for equitable parenthood to seek custody." The trial court's judgment was reversed and the case remanded for that court to apply the threshold test for standing announced here. View "Pueblo v. Haas" 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
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
Johnson v. Vanderkooi
This was the second time these consolidated cases went before the Michigan Supreme Court. Previously, the Court considered whether a decades-long procedure used by the Grand Rapids Police Department (the GRPD) was a policy or a custom attributable to the city of Grand Rapids (the City). At issue here was the constitutionality of the GRPD’s policy of photographing and fingerprinting individuals stopped without probable cause, referred to as the “photograph and print” (P&P) procedure. In considering the fingerprint component of the P&P procedure, the Court held that the P&P procedure was unconstitutional: "Fingerprinting an individual without probable cause, a warrant, or an applicable warrant exception violates an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights." View "Johnson v. Vanderkooi" on Justia Law
American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan v. Calhoun County
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan (the ACLU) filed a complaint against the Calhoun County Jail and Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office (the CCSO), alleging CCSO violated Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) when it denied the ACLU’s request for documents. The ACLU sought disclosure of all records related to the December 2018 detention of United States citizen Jilmar Benigno Ramos-Gomez. Ramos-Gomez’s three-day detention at the Calhoun County Correctional Facility occurred pursuant to an Intergovernmental Service Agreement executed between United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the jail. The CCSO denied the ACLU’s request, asserting that the requested records were exempt from disclosure under MCL 15.243(1)(d) because they related to an ICE detainee. The Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal, finding the records at issue were exempt public records from disclosure under the statute. The Michigan Supreme Court reversed the appellate court, finding error in that court holding a federal regulation had the legal force of a federal statute; "federal regulation is not a federal statute." The case was remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan v. Calhoun County" 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
Johnson v. Vanderkooi
Two cases were consolidated, both arising from separate incidents where plaintiffs were individually stopped and questioned by Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) officers. During these stops, plaintiffs’ photographs and fingerprints were taken in accordance with the GRPD’s “photograph and print” (P&P) procedures. Alleging that the P&Ps violated their constitutional rights, plaintiffs filed separate civil lawsuits against the city of Grand Rapids (the City), as well as against the individual police officers involved. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of all defendants in both cases. Plaintiffs each appealed by right, and the Court of Appeals affirmed in separate opinions. Relevant here, both opinions affirmed summary judgment in favor of the City on plaintiffs’ municipal-liability claims on grounds that a policy that does not direct or require police officers to take a specific action cannot give rise to municipal liability under 42 USC 1983. The Michigan Supreme Court disagreed with the Court of Appeals with regard to that issue and held that a policy or custom that authorizes, but does not require, police officers to engage in specific conduct may form the basis for municipal liability. “Additionally, when an officer engages in the specifically authorized conduct, the policy or custom itself is the moving force behind an alleged constitutional injury arising from the officer’s actions.” Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed in part the judgments of the Court of Appeals, and remanded these cases to the Court of Appeals for further consideration. View "Johnson v. Vanderkooi" on Justia Law
Michigan Gun Owners, Inc. v. Ann Arbor Public Schools
Defendants, the Ann Arbor and Clio school districts, each had a policy banning firearms on school property. The plaintiffs, advocacy organizations supporting gun ownership and certain parents of children who attend school in the defendant districts, believed state law preempted these policies by implication. The Michigan Supreme Court found that while the Legislature plainly could preempt school districts from adopting policies like the ones at issue if it chose to, it did not do so here: "not only has our Legislature not preempted school districts’ regulation of guns by implication, it has expressed its intent not to preempt such regulation." View "Michigan Gun Owners, Inc. v. Ann Arbor Public Schools" on Justia Law
Winkler v. Marist Fathers of Detroit, Inc.
Defendant operated a parochial school to which plaintiff was denied admission. When plaintiff sued on the basis of disability discrimination, defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing among other things that, under the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine, the circuit court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over her claim. Central to defendant’s argument was Dlaikan v Roodbeen, 522 NW2d 719 (1994), which applied the doctrine to conclude that a circuit court had no such jurisdiction over a challenge to the admissions decisions of a parochial school. The circuit court denied defendant’s motion. The Court of Appeals, however, was convinced by defendant’s jurisdictional argument and reversed, thereby granting summary judgment in defendant’s favor. The Michigan Supreme Court disagreed with the appellate court’s determination: “[w]hile Dlaikan and some other decisions have characterized the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine as depriving civil courts of subject matter jurisdiction, it is clear from the doctrine’s origins and operation that this is not so. The ecclesiastical abstention doctrine may affect how a civil court exercises its subject matter jurisdiction over a given claim; it does not divest a court of such jurisdiction altogether. To the extent Dlaikan and other decisions are inconsistent with this understanding of the doctrine, they are overruled.” View "Winkler v. Marist Fathers of Detroit, Inc." on Justia Law
Hecht v. National Heritage Academies, Inc.
Defendant, National Heritage Academies, Inc., was a company that owned and operated a number of public, independently operated schools, including Linden Charter Academy (LCA) located in Flint, Michigan. Plaintiff, Craig Hecht, was a white teacher who had been employed by defendant at LCA for approximately eight years, most recently serving as a third-grade teacher. The student body at LCA was predominantly black. This race discrimination case came about over the color of a computer table: an aide returned a brown table to plaintiff's classroom. Upon noticing her mistake, the aide asked plaintiff whether he'd prefer to have the brown table she brought, or the white table that had previously been in the room. Whether or not plaintiff's next statement in response to the computer table question was a "tasteless joke" with no racial animas ultimately lead to plaintiff's termination with defendant. Plaintiff sued under Michigan's Civil Rights Act (CRA), claiming that the employer's reason for firing him was racially motivated. The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review was whether the trial court erred by denying defendant’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV). After review, the Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeals did not err by affirming the trial court’s denial of defendant’s motion for JNOV on plaintiff’s claim of discrimination under the Civil Rights Act (CRA), "[t]his case turned on circumstantial evidence, on the credibility of plaintiff’s proofs that suggested there were racial reasons for his treatment and on the credibility of defendant’s nonracial justifications for firing him." The Court concluded based on the evidence presented and all the inferences that could be reasonably drawn from that evidence in favor of the jury’s liability verdict, that a reasonable jury could have concluded that defendant violated the CRA. The Court found error in the calculation of future damages and reversed the trial court on that ground. The Court remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Hecht v. National Heritage Academies, Inc." on Justia Law