Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Michigan Supreme Court
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
Bauserman v. Unemployment Insurance Agency
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
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
Michigan Unemployment Ins. Agy. v. Lucente
The Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) brought actions against claimants Frank Lucente and Michael Herzog, respectively, to appeal the decisions of the Michigan Compensation Appellate Commission (MCAC) that claimants were not required to pay restitution and fraud penalties under the Michigan Employment Security Act (MESA) despite the fact that they had improperly received unemployment benefits after becoming employed full-time and providing inaccurate responses to certification questions concerning their new employment. The Michigan Supreme Court found the Court of Appeals correctly held that MCL 421.62 authorized the UIA to issue original fraud and restitution determinations that were not subject to the constraints of MCL 421.32a. However, it erred by concluding that the UIA’s decision to issue “redeterminations” in these cases was of no substantive effect. "The UIA must issue an original determination alleging fraud, and its failure to do so was grounds for invalidating the 'redeterminations' in this case. On this issue, the payment of benefits cannot serve as an original 'determination' on the alleged fraud, and the UIA’s issuance of determinationless 'redeterminations' deprives claimants of their right to protest. When UIA-initiated review of a past-paid benefit results in a decision that the claimant received benefits during a period of ineligibility or disqualification and owes restitution as a result, the UIA must begin with an original 'determination' as described in MCL 421.62. The Court of Appeals' judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Michigan Unemployment Ins. Agy. v. Lucente" on Justia 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