Articles Posted in Michigan Supreme Court

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Plaintiff Clifton Arbuckle sustained a work-related back injury while working for General Motors Corporation (GM), and in May 1993 began receiving a disability pension. He retired that month and was subsequently awarded workers’ compensation benefits. Later, he also received Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits. GM and the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) had executed a letter of agreement in 1990 in which GM agreed not to coordinate workers’ compensation and disability pension benefits for its employees under MCL 418.354. This letter of agreement was incorporated into the 1990 collective-bargaining agreement (CBA) between GM and the UAW and was intended to remain in place until termination or amendment of the CBA, which expired in November 1993. When the CBA expired, however, the provision against coordination was continued in subsequent letters of agreement and incorporated into subsequent CBAs. In 2009, GM and the UAW adopted a formula (incorporated into the 2009 CBA) by which GM would coordinate benefits, using disability pension benefits to reduce the amount of workers’ compensation benefits for all workers and retirees, regardless of when they had retired. GM advised Arbuckle that effective January 1, 2010, his benefits would be reduced using the formula in the 2009 agreement. Arbuckle appealed to the Workers’ Compensation Agency, which ultimately concluded that GM was improperly using Arbuckle’s SSDI benefits to offset his workers’ compensation benefits, in violation of MCL 418.354(11). A workers’ compensation magistrate reversed the director’s ruling but nevertheless concluded that GM was prohibited from reducing Arbuckle’s workers’ compensation benefits by his disability pension benefits because Arbuckle had never agreed to coordination of benefits and no evidence established that the UAW had the authority to bargain on Arbuckle’s behalf after his retirement. The Michigan Compensation Appellate Commission (MCAC) reversed in part, holding that irrespective of the UAW’s authority to bind retirees, GM was permitted to coordinate Arbuckle’s disability pension benefits. Arbuckle sought leave to appeal, but after the Court of Appeals granted his application, he died. Robert Arbuckle, the personal representative of the estate, was substituted as plaintiff. The Court of Appeals reversed in an unpublished opinion per curiam and remanded the case for further proceedings. GM then appealed. The Supreme Court concluded after its review that the Court of Appeals erred in holding that GM lacked the authority to coordinate Arbuckle’s benefits under the 2009 CBA. The Court reversed and reinstated MCAC's order. View "Arbuckle v. General Motors, LLC" on Justia Law

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In 1993, plaintiff Dean Altobelli began working as an attorney for Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, P.L.C. (“the Firm”). Upon joining the Firm, plaintiff signed the “Miller Canfield Operating Agreement” (“Operating Agreement”), a document governing the Firm’s internal affairs. By January 2006, plaintiff had become a senior principal at the Firm. However, in late May or early June 2010, plaintiff decided he wanted to pursue a new opportunity as an assistant coach for the University of Alabama football team. Plaintiff proposed a 7- to 12-month leave of absence from the Firm to defendant Michael Hartmann, the Firm’s CEO, and defendant Michael Coakley, who was the head of the Firm’s litigation group but was not a managing director. Plaintiff suggested that the Firm permit him to maintain his ownership interest and return to the Firm as a senior principal any time before June 1, 2011. Plaintiff avers that Hartmann initially promised plaintiff that he could spend as much time at the University of Alabama as he wanted and still receive certain allocated income from his clients. Hartmann disputed this, claiming that plaintiff voluntarily withdrew from the partnership. Plaintiff claimed he was improperly terminated, and that the Firm shorted plaintiff's income as a result. Plaintiff's attempt to resolve the matter through the direct settlement and mediation process, as outlined in the arbitration clause of the Operating Agreement, was unsuccessful. In November 2011, plaintiff filed a demand for arbitration as provided for in the arbitration clause. Despite having made the demand for arbitration, he filed suit alleging that the seven individuals named as defendants were responsible for engaging in tortious conduct with regard to plaintiff's request for a leave of absence and retention of his equity ownership in the Firm. Defendants moved for summary judgment and a motion to compel arbitration as required by the arbitration clause. Plaintiff moved for summary judgment too. The circuit court denied defendants’ motions and granted plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment, finding as a matter of law that plaintiff did not voluntarily withdraw from the Firm. Rather, the circuit court concluded that defendants had improperly terminated plaintiff's ownership interest without authority. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed the part of the Court of Appeals’ opinion regarding the motion to compel arbitration and instead held that this case was subject to binding arbitration under the arbitration clause of the Operating Agreement. Accordingly, the lower courts should not have reached the merits of plaintiff’s motion for partial summary disposition, as the motion addressed substantive contractual matters that should have been resolved by the arbitrator. The case was remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Altobelli v. Hartmann" on Justia Law

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Defendant city of Lansing enacted an ordinance requiring contractors working on city construction contracts to pay employees a prevailing wage. Plaintiff Associated Builders and Contractors, a trade association, filed suit against Lansing, arguing that the ordinance was unconstitutional because municipalities did not have the authority to adopt laws regulating the wages paid by third parties, even where the relevant work is done on municipal contracts paid for with municipal funds. The Court of Appeals majority disagreed, and ruled that subsequent changes to state law had caused the controlling caselaw precedent, Attorney General ex rel Lennane v Detroit, to be “superseded.” The Supreme Court reversed, finding that the Court of Appeals erred by exceeding its powers for refusing to follow a decision from the Michigan Supreme Court that both applied and had not been overruled. Even so, the Supreme Court took the opportunity to overrule Lennane because subsequent constitutional changes "undercut its viability." The Court therefore vacated the Court of Appeals’ decision but affirmed the result. View "Associated Builders & Contractors v. City of Lansing" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court's review in this matter focused on the application of Michigan's Whistleblowers' Protection Act (WPA) to an employee who alleged that she was terminated because she reported a coworker’s plan to violate the law. Because "a violation or a suspected violation" refers to an existing violation of a law, the plain language of MCL 15.362 contemplated an act or conduct that has actually occurred or was ongoing. "MCL 15.362 contains no language encompassing future, planned, or anticipated acts amounting to a violation or a suspected violation of a law." Because plaintiff in this case merely reported another’s intent to violate a law in the future, plaintiff had no recourse under the WPA. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ contrary decision and remanded this case to that court for further proceedings. View "Pace v. Edel-Harrison" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented to the Supreme Court centered on the application of Michigan’s Whistleblowers’ Protection Act (WPA) to a contract employee whose contract was not renewed ostensibly because of the employee’s whistleblowing activities. A contract employee whose term of employment has expired without being subject to a specific adverse employment action identified in the WPA and who sought reengagement for a new term of employment occupied the same legal position as a prospective employee. The WPA, by its express language, only applied to current employees; the statute offered no protection to prospective employees. Because the WPA did not apply when an employer decided not to hire a job applicant, it likewise had no application to a contract employee whom the employer declined to rehire for a new term of employment. "The plaintiff in this case has no recourse under the WPA because he alleges only that his former employer declined to renew his contract, not that the employer took some adverse action against him during his contractual term of employment." View "Wurtz v. Beecher Metropolitan District" on Justia Law

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Anthony Henry and Keith White filed suit against Laborers’ Local 1191, Michael Aaron (the union’s business manager), and Bruce Ruedisueli (the union’s president), alleging that their indefinite layoff from employment at the union was unlawful retaliation under the Whistleblowers’ Protection Act (WPA). Henry and White had worked as business agents for the union until their terminations. They alleged that defendants asked several union members to repair the façade of the Trade Union Leadership Council building. The union recorded payments for the work as picket duty even though the members did not engage in picket duty on those days. Henry and White believed that Aaron was involved in criminal activity, including fraud, an illegal kickback scheme, and misappropriation of union funds. They also believed that the union had required members to work without proper safety precautions and without receiving union wages. Henry and White subsequently contacted the United States Department of Labor with their suspicions and informed the union of their decision to report the allegations. The Department of Labor investigated the allegations and referred the matter to an assistant United States attorney, who declined to intervene. Aaron later notified Henry and White that they had been indefinitely laid off from employment at the union. During the pendency of Henry and White’s action, Michael Dowdy and Glenn Ramsey (also business agents for the union) were terminated from their employment. Dowdy and Ramsey filed a separate WPA action against the union, Aaron, claiming that they had been terminated for their cooperation in the Department of Labor’s investigation and disclosing to investigators facts substantiating the allegations of criminal misconduct. Defendants moved for summary disposition in the Henry/White lawsuit and for partial summary disposition in the Dowdy/Ramsey lawsuit, alleging that the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) preempted plaintiffs’ WPA claims and that, as a result, the court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction to hear them. The court denied both motions, concluding that the WPA’s protection of an employee against an employer’s retaliatory employment actions did not contravene the LMRDA. Defendants appealed in each case, reasserting their claim of LMRDA preemption and raising the new defense that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) independently preempted the circuit court from exercising subject-matter jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals consolidated the appeals and affirmed in an unpublished opinion. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that neither the NLRA nor the LMRDA preempted WPA claims premised on reporting suspected criminal misconduct. The NLRA did not cover the reporting of suspected criminal misconduct, while the LMRDA does not provide a union official with discretion to cover up suspected criminal misconduct by retaliating against employees who report their allegations. However, plaintiffs’ allegations of retaliation for their reporting of improper wages and an unsafe work environment cover conduct "arguably prohibited" by the NLRA and, as a result, must be litigated exclusively before the NLRB. As such, the Court affirmed in part the decision of the Court of Appeals and remanded this case to the Circuit Court for further proceedings. View "Henry v. Laborers Local 1191" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Hurticene Hardaway sued Wayne County in circuit court seeking a declaratory judgment, and claiming breach of contract and promissory estoppel in relation to the denial of certain lifetime benefits granted to certain former County employees. Plaintiff worked in the County's office of corporation counsel. The trial court concluded that due to language in the Wayne County Commission Resolution 94-903, plaintiff did not qualify for the benefits. The trial court ultimately granted the County's motion for summary judgment, but the Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the language in question was ambiguous. In its review of the resolution in question, the Supreme Court concluded its language was not ambiguous, therefore affirming the trial court's interpretation and judgment. View "Hardaway v. Wayne County" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Robert Smitter applied for workers' compensation benefits after being injured on the job working as a firefighter for Thornapple Township. At the time of his injury, Petitioner also worked for General Motors. He earned eleven percent of his income from the township and 89 from GM. The township did not reduce its workers’ compensation obligation by coordinating Petitioner's benefits with his disability benefits under MCL 418.354(1)(b). The township sought reimbursement from the Second Injury Fund under the dual-employment provisions for the entirety of Petitioner's wage-loss benefits. The fund agreed to pay the amount it would have owed if the township had coordinated Petitioner's benefits. The township filed an application for a hearing with the Worker’s Compensation Board of Magistrates, seeking reimbursement from the fund for the uncoordinated amount. The magistrate ordered the fund to reimburse the township for 89 percent of Petitioner's uncoordinated benefits. The Workers’ Compensation Appellate Commission (WCAC) affirmed. The Court of Appeals denied the fund’s application for leave to appeal. After its review, the Supreme Court concluded that when the injury employment provided less than 80 percent of the employee’s wages, the fund is required to reimburse its portion of the coordinated amount of benefits. Because the Township did not coordinate in this case, the appellate court erred in its analysis. Accordingly the appellate court was reversed and the case remanded to the magistrate for further proceedings. View "Smitter v. Thornapple Township" on Justia Law

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Several union groups filed unfair labor practice complaints against Macomb County and the Macomb County Road Commission over a change in the method for calculating pension benefits. The groups argued the County lowered benefits without bargaining on the issue as required by Michigan labor law. Upon review, the Supreme Court found that disputes over terms or conditions of employment covered by a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) are subject to arbitration through a grievance process. When the CBA grants the retirement commission discretion to use actuarial tables to establish pension benefits, the decision to change a long-standing method of calculating those benefits does not (by itself) constitute the clear and unmistakable evidence needed to overcome the CBA's coverage, nor does it create a new condition of employment that would trigger the need to bargain. As a result, none of the unfair labor practices alleged in this case could be sustained, and the remedy for this dispute should have gone through the grievance process called for in the CBA. View "Macomb County v. AFSCME Council 25 Locals 411 & 893 " on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Cheryl Debano-Griffin sued Lake County and the Lake County Board of Commissioners alleging, in part, that she had been terminated from her position as the director of Lake County’s 911 department in violation of the Whistleblowers’ Protection Act (WPA) after she raised concerns about a potentially improper transfer of county funds from the county’s ambulance account and regarding the ambulance service provided to the county. Defendants moved to dismiss. The court denied the motion, and the jury returned a verdict in plaintiff’s favor. Defendants appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for entry of an order granting summary judgment to defendants. In lieu of granting leave to appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case for consideration of an additional argument that had been raised by defendants. On remand, the Court of Appeals, held that plaintiff had failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact regarding the causation element of her claim and again reversed the trial court’s order denying defendants’ motion for summary judgment. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court concluded that plaintiff presented sufficient evidence that reasonable minds could differ regarding the board’s true motivation for eliminating her position and raised a genuine issue of material fact regarding causation. Defendants were not entitled to summary judgment. View "Debano-Griffin v. Lake County" on Justia Law