Supreme Court Denies Application to Consider Whether Noneconomic Damages are Available Under No-Fault Act Against Governmental Entities

In Hodges.v.City of Dearborn et al, the Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s decision to allow a suit to proceed against a governmental entity in a wrongful death, liability suit involving a collision between a police vehicle responding to a reported fire and the plaintiff’s decedent’s vehicle.  The Court of Appeals held the plaintiff’s estate could not proceed against the governmental entity and the individual police officer on several fronts.  Most remarkable at this point is the Court’s reference to the decision in Hunter v. Sisco, et al., which I wrote about in a previous blog post Hunter v. Sisco, et al. Application Filed in Supreme Court, for the proposition that noneconomic, emotional / pain and suffering damages are not available in actions against the government under the motor vehicle exception to governmental immunity.  MCL 691.1405.  As mentioned, the application to address that issue is currently pending in the Supreme Court in Hunter.  The Supreme Court also recently granted an application to address the “scope” of “bodily injury” damages available under the motor vehicle exception – to consider whether that term encompasses economic damages that are ordinarily available to plaintiff’s in motor vehicle accident cases.  Read my blog post about that case here:  Hannay v. MDOT – Supreme Court Grants to Consider Scope of Available Damages Under Motor Vehicle Exception to Governmental Immunity

The Supreme Court’s order denying leave is here:  Hodges v. City of Dearborn.SC.Order

Feel free to call Carson J. Tucker, Chair of the Appeals and Legal Research Group at Lacey & Jones, LLP at (248) 283-0763 if you have any questions about any of these cases.

Throughout its storied history, Lacey & Jones has distinguished itself from other law firms by maintaining a robust Appeals and Legal Research Group.  Effective appellate representation demands different skills than those required by litigation attorneys.  Our appellate attorneys are adept at analyzing the intricacies of each case from an objective and critical perspective.  From reviewing and preparing the lower court record, identifying appealable errors, and developing a strategy to raise issues that will be addressed by appellate courts, our seasoned appellate team is capable of handling the most complex appeals from the application stage to oral advocacy before the highest courts.  Our research abilities and knowledge of current issues in nearly all major subject-matter areas of the law provide our clients with efficient and immediate assistance with complex and high-exposure cases.   We are experienced at navigating through the Michigan Court of Appeals and Supreme Court to shepherd the appeal in the most expeditious fashion possible so that it can be reviewed and quickly ruled upon.  During the last three decades alone, the Appeals and Legal Research Group at Lacey & Jones has been responsible for over 150 published decisions in the Michigan Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, including seminal decisions in workers’ compensation, governmental immunity, employment and labor law, civil rights law and insurance coverage.  Because of its specialized knowledge and focus on appellate law and its recognized expertise, the Appeals and Legal Research Group at Lacey & Jones has been asked to participate as amicus curiae writing briefs for the Supreme Court or as special counsel to the Michigan Attorney General and other governmental entities in some of the most significant cases in the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court.   Below are some of the recent significant cases in which Lacey & Jones, LLP’s Appeals and Legal Research Group has participated.

  • State Farm v. MMRMA, ___ Mich App ___ (2013), amicus curiae for Oakland County in support of MMRMA application, by Carson J. Tucker
  • Hannay v MDOT, ___ Mich ___ 201_), application granted, amicus curiae to be filed for MTA, et al., by Carson J. Tucker
  • Yono v. MDOT, ___ Mich ___ (201_), oral argument on application granted, amicus curiae for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne County filed by Carson J. Tucker in support of the state’s application
  • Huddleston v. Trinity Health, et al., ___ Mich ___ (201_), oral argument on application granted, amicus curiae with Lawrence Garcia, Esq., for MDTC
  • Ashley, LLC v Pittsfield Twp., 494 Mich 875 (2013), application granted, for Pittsfield Township by Carson J. Tucker (resolved by settlement)
  • Bailey v. Schaaf, ___ Mich ___ (2013), amicus curiae for MDTC by Carson J. Tucker
  • Atkins v. SMART, 492 Mich 707 (2012), oral argument on application, Court of Appeals case reversed by opinion, Carson J. Tucker
  • Hagerty v Manistee, 493 Mich 933 (2013), amicus curiae for Michigan Municipal League, et al., by Carson J. Tucker
  • McMurtrie v Eaton Corp, 490 Mich 976 (2011)
  • Findley v DaimlerChrysler Corp., 490 Mich 928 (2011)
  • Brewer v. AD.Transport Express, Inc, 486 Mich 50 (2010)
  • Stokes v Chrysler, 481 Mich 266 (2008)
  • Brackett v Focus Hope, Inc, 482 Mich 269 (2008)
  • Rakestraw v Gen Dynamics, 469 Mich 220 (2003)

Michigan Supreme Court Issues 3-2 Decision on Meaning of “Absolute Immunity” for Executive Level Government Officials Under MCL 691.1407(5)

On June 20, 2013, the Michigan Supreme Court issued a 3-2 Opinion (Justices McCormack and Viviano not participating) holding that “absolute immunity” for executive level government officials applied as well to the performance by these officials of the duties and powers that subordinate governmental employees have in the same governmental department.  This is a remarkable holding that provides some context and extends further the scope and breadth of “absolute” executive immunity under MCL 691.1407(5) of the Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA).  Here the Chief of Police of Port Sanilac conducted an ordinary public arrest of an individual under somewhat controversial circumstances.  The individual who was arrested filed suit alleging counts in negligence and intentional tort (false arrest and assault and battery), and claiming the police chief was acting in both his individual and official capacity.

The legal issue concerned whether the “absolute immunity” to which executive level officials are entitled under the GTLA would shield the police chief as an “executive” exercising “executive authority” in a situation in which he acted in a capacity analogous to a “lower level” governmental employee.  In the latter circumstances, such employees are entitled to immunity from suit unless it is plead and proved that they acted with “gross negligence” under MCL 691.1407(2) and (7), or that they committed an “intentional tort” under MCL 691.1407(3).

After my successful defense of a deputy sheriff in the case of Odom v. Wayne County, 482 Mich. 459 (2008), this latter “immunity” came to be known as “good faith” immunity.  This case is discussed extensively in the instant case by both the majority and dissent.

Here, the slim majority holds that an executive level official is entitled to “absolute” immunity under MCL 691.1407(5) even if he or she is performing his executive authority in a manner that is similar to the performance of the duties of lower level employees within his or her governmental department.

Justice Cavanagh writes a very detailed and well-researched dissent.  Joined by Justice Markman, Justice Cavanagh explains the anomaly in providing “absolute” tort immunity to executive officials performing lower-level employee functions.  In cases in which such officials commit “gross negligence” or “intentional torts”, they are not subject to suit under MCL 691.1407(5)’s grant of “absolute immunity” according to the majority’s interpretation and holding.

This is an extremely critical case.  Much like my case, Odom, it provides a modern (perhaps overreaching) interpretation of the meaning of “absolute” immunity.  Now, rather than such immunity being extended to the executive, judicial or legislative official acting and performing his “official” executive duties only, the immunity now extends to his or her acts and conduct that would ordinarily be subject to the “gross negligence” and “intentional tort” exceptions to immunity explored in Odom as applied to lower-level governmental employees.

Given the split nature of the opinion, the rare joinder in dissent between Justices Cavanagh and Markman, and that Justices McCormack and Viviano sat out, it is difficult to suggest this case, although precedent for the time being, will survive as a lasting interpretation of MCL 691.1407(5)’s grant of “absolute immunity”.

Perhaps this is an instance in which the Legislature should step in to clarify the true breadth and extent of “absolute” immunity for the highest-level officials serving the three branches of government.  It would seem unwise to extend “absolute” immunity to these officials when performing the actions of lower-level employees, when the latter would be subject to suit if they acted with “gross negligence” or committed an intentional tort in the asserted performance of the very same functions and duties.

Read the opinion here:  Petipren v Jaskowski.Opinion.06.20.2013