lawsuit

Governor Rick Snyder’s Emergency Manager law was highly controversial even before it was passed - and yesterday, a coalition of twenty-eight teachers, union members and private citizens filed suit, claiming the law is unconstitutional.

In their view, it violates the state constitution because it gives the executive branch power over the legislative, violating the separation of powers, something fundamental to both the United States and Michigan constitutions. To me, the only thing surprising about this suit was that it took so long to be filed.

This is not the first of the governor’s sweeping reforms to face a constitutional challenge. Lawsuits have already claimed the taxing of pensions is unconstitutional. Such cases can often take months or even years to wend their way through the court system. But in the case of the pension tax, to his credit, the governor requested a speedy decision from the Michigan Supreme Court.

The justices have agreed to hear the case in September, which is lightning speed in high court terms.

Getting this resolved quickly makes perfect sense, partly so that the state can try to figure out budget alternatives just in case the ruling goes against them.

Deciding this early should also prevent the endless cycle of hearings, injunctions and motions to lift injunctions.

But as long as the high court has agreed to an expedited decision on the constitutionality of the pension tax, it should give us a speedy ruling on the emergency financial manager bill as well.

Everything I know about our state’s highest court, and the experts I have talked to about this, makes me think it is highly likely the justices will rule in Governor Snyder’s favor in both cases.

user the consumerist / Flickr

Governor Rick Snyder has signed a law that protects doctors from lawsuits if they express sympathy for the death of a patient.

Snyder says health care providers are often prohibited from saying “I’m sorry” when a medical procedure fails because it can be considered an admission of guilt in court.

Snyder said the new law will allow doctors to be more supportive, "and the opportunity for health care professionals to have a dialogue with families that have had some traumatic experiences," said Snyder. "So it’s great to have an opportunity to have that be done in a safe and thoughtful fashion so people can have good communication and good dialogue."

Snyder says studies show that when a doctor is allowed to say “I’m sorry,” people who are grieving are better able to heal.

Photo of Robert Bobb, Former Emergency Manager at DPS
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

The controversial emergency financial manager law gives broad powers to state-appointed officials who are brought in to help struggling cities and school districts.

It was signed into law last month by Governor Rick Snyder, now, as MPRN's Rick Pluta reports, two Detroit pension fund boards have filed a lawsuit challenging the state's emergency financial manager law. They say the law "illegally threatens contracts and collective bargaining agreements."

Under the law, emergency managers can strip power from locally elected officials and dissolve union contracts.

Pluta spoke with the emergency manager in charge of the Detroit Public Schools, Robert Bobb. He says these legal challenges won't help: 

"Because the legislation as it is is to kind of help escalate the resolution of problems and issues in localities and in school districts and any type of prolonged litigation does not really help advance what needs to be advanced to right the ship," says Bobb.

The Detroit News reports that the lawsuit was filed by Detroit's General Retirement System and the Police and Fire Retirement System:

The law "represents an imminent threat to the constitutional rights of plaintiffs and other members of the Detroit Retirement Systems," the funds' lawyer Ronald A. King wrote in the lawsuit.

Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management

Last May, oil and gas companies spent hundreds of millions of dollars buying up rights to drill in Michigan. By summer, private landowners in northern Michigan had signed leases promising record payments to drill on their land. But by the end of the year, the frenzy over the new gas play had fizzled. And, as Bob Allen found out, hundreds of people were claiming they’d been cheated.

The first person to file suit against the gas companies in Emmet County is Mildred Lutz.

A sturdy 92 years old, she still keeps a garden and cans her own vegetables.

Last summer, a man knocked on her door and offered to pay her almost a hundred thousand dollars for the oil and gas deep underground beneath her farm.

Mildred had just lost her husband of sixty-nine years, Carl. And she thought the money would come in handy for a whole list of expenses, including funeral costs. So after talking it over with her five children, she signed a lease and took the document to the bank in Alanson to be notarized.

She never heard another word from the oil and gas developers and she never got paid.

And how does she feel about that?

“Well, not very good. I don’t know, I’ve always kind of had the feeling of trusting a lot of people, I guess. I hate to see people being dishonest. When you do that, you’re just really hurting a lot of people that were depending on this.”

Attorney Bill Rolinski says he’s heard from a lot of people who ended up in the same boat as Mildred Lutz.

Photo courtesy of Michigan's Attorney General office / michigan.gov

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed a brief against Eastern Michigan University, alleging the university violated a student’s civil rights. 

Julea Ward was a student in EMU’s masters program for counseling. When she refused to counsel gay students because she’s morally against homosexuality, she tried to refer them to another counselor.

EMU says she violated the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics, and removed her from the program. Ward sued EMU in 2009 for violating her constitutional rights.

A federal court in Detroit dismissed the case saying EMU did not discriminate against Ward. Now the Michigan Attorney General’s office is filing an appeal on behalf of Ward.

John Selleck is with the AG’s office. He says this case "would set a standard going forward for other students who have religious objections in any Michigan college case going forward. We think that was a very important reason for us to get involved."

Photo courtesy of U.S. Forest Service

The U.S. Forest Service has to consider making 70,000 acres off limits to firearm hunting and snowmobiling in the Huron-Manistee National Forest. That’s about seven percent of the Huron-Manistee.

It’s doing this because the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the Service to do so... and that’s because of a lawsuit brought by a guy named Kurt Meister. Meister is an attorney, representing himself in the case. He’s trying to get areas that are already designated as non-motorized set aside for quiet recreation. 

“There ought to be some place in the forest where you can go cross-country skiing or snow-shoeing or kayaking or hiking or ride your horse without having to listen to the noise of other people and the guns and machines they use.”

This week, the Michigan House and Senate are discussing three resolutions. Those resolutions express opposition to any potential ban on hunting and snowmobiling in the Huron-Manistee. The resolutions couldn’t stop the federal agency – but it's basically a show of hands against a ban.

The resolutions are:

  • House Concurrent Resolution 2: sponsored by State Rep. Bruce Rendon (R-Lake City) - Passed the House Committee on Natural Resources, Outdoor Recreation and Tourism on Tuesday
  • House Resolution 17: sponsored by State Rep. Peter Pettalia (R-Alpena) - Passed the House Committee on Natural Resources, Outdoor Recreation and Tourism on Tuesday
  • Senate Resolution 6: sponsored by State Senator Goeff Hansen (R-Hart) - Being considered today in the Senate Committee on Outdoor Recreation and Tourism

A case that pinpoints a key issue in Michigan’s water law could come back before the state Supreme Court. The office of Attorney General Bill Schuette has asked the court to rehear the Anglers of the Au Sable case. The issue is: whether citizen groups can take state agencies to court to protect the environment.

Here's the nut of the case:

  • The Anglers group won their suit in the lower court to protect one of the state’s prime trout streams. The Department of Environmental Quality had given Merit Energy permission to pump more than a million gallons a day of treated wastewater into a creek at the headwaters of the Au Sable River.
  • The Court of Appeals upheld the ruling against the oil company but exempted the Department of Environmental Quality from the lawsuit. The Appeals Court said the issuing of a permit doesn’t cause harm to the environment... it’s the person with the permit that could do that.

So Anglers asked the Michigan Supreme Court to review that part of the ruling.

And in December the high court overturned the lower court and said state agencies that issue permits that result in harm can be named in a citizen suit.

The Court upheld clear language in the Michigan Environmental Protection Act that says any person can bring suit to protect the environment.

Jim Olson, an attorney for the Anglers, says the decision upholds state environmental law that’s been in place for more than forty years.

“Permits that cause harm can be brought into Circuit Court and people can bring it out into the open and judges can make decisions so agencies can’t hide behind the cloak of bureaucracy.”

Since December, a conservative majority is back in control of the Supreme Court.

Corvair Owner / Flickr

The state's new Attorney General Bill Schuette says he will continue Michigan's role in a legal challenge to the federal health care overhaul.  In a statement released yesterday,  Schuette said, "I will fight Obamacare tooth-and-nail to protect our citizens from this constitutional overreach."

As the Associated Press reports:

Schuette ... said Wednesday he will add his name to the lawsuit challenging the law. That continues a legal strategy from former Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox. Both Schuette and Cox are Republicans. Attorneys for 20 states are challenging the new federal health care law in a case before a federal court in Florida. The states argue the law violates people's rights by forcing them to buy health insurance by 2014 or face penalties.

Schuette was sworn in as the state's Attorney General on Saturday.

Michigan Supreme Court
Photo by larrysphatpage, Flickr

The Michigan Supreme Court says anyone can sue the state if they believe it's acting in a way that harms the environment. 

Michigan Radio's Jennifer Guerra talked with Nick Schroeck with the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center to find out what this decision means. He says if a company wants to do something like discharge treated wastewater into a creek or a river, for example, it needs a permit from the state to do so:

“The way our environmental law works, you have to have a permit to pollute, as it were. That means that the state regulates the amount of pollution that’s allowed into the waters of the state.”

Golfer teeing off
flickr user - easywebsitesky

When most people hit the links with their buddies, they don't anticipate getting sued for their shanks.

I guess it is America, so you can sue for just about anything. But it doesn't mean you'll win.

The New York Court of Appeals struck down an unfortunate case between two Doctors.

One one expert calls it "the biggest auto verdict in the state this year."

Danielle Salisbury of the Jackson Citizen Patriot reports a jury awarded James Fairly and his wife Kimberley Fairley $3.5 million in pain and suffering as a result of traffic accident Mr. Fairly was in.

York Salvaton Army Headquarters
Pamela Eisenberg / flickr

A new lawsuit claims the Salvation Army and Wayne State University discriminated against a student because she was pregnant and unmarried.Tina Valresi was a graduate student in Wayne State’s social work program. She had to finish an internship with the Salvation Army to complete her degree. Lawyer Deborah Gordon says as soon as Valresi’s supervisors at the Salvation Army found out she was pregnant, her work atmosphere became “hostile.” She says the Salvation Army then gave her an “unsatisfactory” review, causing her to be dismissed from her graduate program. Gordon says the Salvation Army was “punishing” Valresi for being pregnant.

“They could have just been honest and said at the very beginning this is not acceptable. We want Wayne to put you elsewhere. Instead they kept her on and then failed her as a punishment.”

Gordon says Valresi only filed the lawsuit after trying unsuccessfully to resolve things with Wayne State. Neither the Salvation Army nor Wayne State could be reached for comment.

Michigan Supreme Court
Michigan Supreme Court / court.mi.gov

The Associated Press reports "the Michigan Supreme Court, in a 4-3 order, has refused to throw out Sheri Schooley's lawsuit against Texas Roadhouse in suburban Detroit."

Schooley sued the restaurant after a mishap with a toilet paper dispenser.  Schooley said she was injured in the restroom at the Texas Roadhouse.

Marijuana plant.
USFWS

The Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union announced today that it will sue the cities of Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, and Livonia. The ACLU is suing on behalf of Linda Lott, a 61 year-old from Birmingham who is suffering from multiple sclerosis.

In the ACLU's press release Lott is quoted as saying:

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

 Federal and state prosecutors are suing Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan.

 The non-profit health insurance company is accused of violating anti-trust laws. 

When Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Michigan negotiates a contract with a hospital, it includes a provision giving it a discounted rate compared to other health insurance companies. 

Blue Cross insists that allows it to provide its members with discounted hospital stays.    But the US Justice Department and Michigan’s Attorney General’s office disagree.

(photos by Steve Carmody) / Michigan Radio

Michigan’s Attorney General is welcoming a federal judge’s decision to allow a lawsuit challenging the new health care reform law to move forward.

20 states, including Michigan, filed suit against the law, in particular one key provision that requires everyone to purchase health insurance.

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