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Thursday, December 9, 2004

Case Summaries

Including summaries of two Michigan Court of Appeals published opinions and one Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals opinion in the following practice areas: Constitutional Law Environmental Law, Insurance, Litigation, and Municipal.

Case Summaries

    Constitutional Law

    This summary also appears under Municipal

    Issues: Claims alleging § 1983 violation of plaintiff's civil rights by defendants county, the sheriff, and employees of the sheriff's department; Alleged violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments for failure to provide prompt medical treatment for appendicitis for over two days while plaintiff was detained in the county jail; Whether defendants were "deliberately indifferent" to plaintiff's medical condition; Estelle v. Gamble; Williams v. Mehra; Farmer v. Brennan; The "obviousness rule"; Napier v. Madison County; "Sufficiently culpable state of mind"; "Sufficiently serious" medical need; Liability of the county
    Court: U.S. Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit
    Case Name: Blackmore v. Kalamazoo County
    e-Journal Number: 25418
    Judge(s): Haynes, Moore, and Clay

    Distinguishing the facts in the case from Napier, the court held where a plaintiff's claims arise from an injury or illness "so obvious that even a layperson would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention," the plaintiff need not present verifying medical evidence to show that even after receiving the delayed necessary treatment, his medical condition worsened or deteriorated. Instead, it is sufficient to show he actually experienced the need for medical treatment, and the need was not addressed within a reasonable time frame, which occurred here. Plaintiff, who was being held in the county jail following an arrest for driving on a suspended license, presented sufficient evidence from which a jury could infer his obvious need for medical care was "sufficiently serious" and the defendants-officers had a "sufficiently culpable state of mind." The constitutional violation is premised on the delay alone in providing medical care, which creates a substantial risk of serious harm. Plaintiff was arrested and then jailed about 5:25 am. Within an hour of his arrival he began having abdominal pain, requested medical care, and continued to complain about his pain. About 5:00 pm, he was given antacids. The next day, plaintiff filed a "Request for Medical Care" in which he complained of "sharp" and "extreme a[b]dominal pain in the lower area" lasting 26 hours for which he needed medical attention "right away." Plaintiff continued to complain and vomited. The jail officials placed him in an observation cell, but did not provide medical treatment. At 6:30 the next morning, over two days after plaintiff first complained, a jail nurse examined him and diagnosed him as "showing classic signs of appendicitis," and doctors performed an appendectomy. Summary judgment for defendants was reversed and the case was remanded.

    Full Text Opinion

    Criminal Law

    Issues: Habeas corpus; Whether petitioner's right to due process was violated when his video arraignments were conducted without counsel and an interpreter for the hearing impaired; Hamilton v. Alabama; Lundberg v. Buckhoe; Whether petitioner's no contest pleas were voluntarily and intelligently made; Alleged breach of sentencing agreement; Ineffective assistance of counsel; Claim petitioner's sentences were based on false information; Claim sentences were grossly disproportionate and violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment
    Court: U.S. District Court Eastern District of Michigan
    Case Name: Doyle v. Scutt
    e-Journal Number: 25412
    Judge(s): Gadola

    While petitioner was arraigned in videotaped proceedings without counsel or an interpreter for the hearing impaired, the court concluded he failed to show any deprivation of a constitutional right occurred and petitioner did not establish the state courts' denial of his claims on this issue was contrary to or an unreasonable application of federal constitutional law. Petitioner did not allege he made any incriminating statement at his arraignments or lost any available defenses by failing to plead them at the arraignments. Even assuming petitioner's arraignment was a "critical stage" of the proceedings, he did not plead guilty, no statement of alleged facts was made against him, and no questions were asked of him regarding the charged crimes. Petitioner did not make any incriminating statement and he was not called upon to waive assistance of counsel or any other constitutional right. While the Michigan Court of Appeals determined the district court erred in not providing petitioner an interpreter for his arraignments, in violation of state law, it found the error was harmless since he failed to demonstrate any resulting prejudice. Erroneous rulings on matters of state law cannot lead to habeas corpus relief. The court further concluded petitioner's other claims also failed, and denied his petition for habeas corpus.

    Full Text Opinion

    This summary also appears under Native American Law

    Issues: Whether MCL 333.7403(2) (statute making marijuana possession a misdemeanor) violates the Title-Object Clause of the Michigan Constitution; People v. Kidd; People v. Trupiano; Claim the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Police lacked the authority to act as peace officers under the laws of Michigan; Whether the prosecution established the fourth prerequisite in MCL 28.609(6); Sentencing; Imposition of an enhanced sentence
    Court: Michigan Court of Appeals (Unpublished)
    Case Name: People v. Groulx
    e-Journal Number: 25401
    Judge(s): Per Curiam—Meter, Wilder, and Schuette

    Noting it had rejected this argument in Kidd and several other cases, the court held MCL 333.7403(2), which makes marijuana possession a misdemeanor, does not violate the Title-Object Clause of the Michigan Constitution. Defendant unsuccessfully argued the statute is a provision of the public health code and possession with intent to personally use marijuana could not affect the "public health." The court also rejected defendant's contention his sentence should be vacated on the basis the law enforcement officers of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Police lacked the authority to act as peace officers under the laws of Michigan. Among other things, defendant argued the prosecution did not establish the fourth prerequisite provided in MCL 28.609(6) for a tribal police officer to exercise the authority of a peace officer under Michigan law. While the prosecution stipulated the self-determination contract did not "specifically" mention the contract between the tribe and the county, the chief of the tribe, referring to the self-determination contract, testified the contract between the tribe and the county was incorporated. Affirmed, but remanded for correction of the judgment of sentence.

    Full Text Opinion

    Issues: Whether the trial court's earlier evidentiary ruling was violated; Hearsay; Decision to delete an endorsed witness from the prosecution's witness list; Failure to give missing witness jury instruction
    Court: Michigan Court of Appeals (Unpublished)
    Case Name: People v. Lesley
    e-Journal Number: 25400
    Judge(s): Per Curiam—Meter, Wilder, and Schuette

    The trial court's earlier evidentiary ruling prohibiting the investigating officer from testifying to an informant's statements was not violated when the trial court, after the officer testified, asked certain questions posed by the jurors, some of which related to the information received from the informant. The officer testified only that he received information concerning the suspects, their vehicle, and their possible whereabouts, which led him to another witness's apartment. Pursuant to the trial court's questioning, the officer explained how he came to get this information, but he did not recount the informant's statements or testify the informant said he had observed defendant leaving the scene. Since the trial court's questions did not elicit improper inadmissible hearsay testimony, defendant did not show plain error in admission of the evidence. The court also held the trial court did not err in excusing the prosecution from producing an endorsed witness and in not giving a missing witness instruction. The record supported the trial court's finding of due diligence. Affirmed.

    Full Text Opinion

    Issues: Sentencing; Motion for a downward departure; Whether defendant's equal protection rights were violated when the government failed to certify the Eastern District of Michigan as a "fast track" district pursuant to USSG § 5K3.1; Wade v. United States
    Court: U.S. District Court Eastern District of Michigan
    Case Name: United States v. Calixto-Bravo
    e-Journal Number: 25414
    Judge(s): Feikens

    Explaining its previous denial of defendant's motion for a downward departure, the court held the government's failure to institute an Early Disposition (or "fast track") program that would benefit him by the government perhaps moving for a reduction in his sentence, was not a violation of defendant's constitutional rights. Defendant argued his equal protection rights were violated because if he had committed the same crime in a district with a "fast track" program, the government might have moved for a reduction in his sentence pursuant to § 5K3.1. While the Sixth Circuit has not addressed the issue, three other circuits have held it is inappropriate to grant a downward departure where sentencing disparities arise from individual U.S. Attorneys' varying charging and plea-bargaining policies. Although those cases were decided before the effective date of § 5K3.1, the court did not believe codification of the Early Disposition programs as part of the Sentencing Guidelines created a constitutional mandate all U.S. Attorneys institute such a program and offer it to all defendants. Since defendant did not allege the government had an impermissible motive, such as racial discrimination, in deciding not to institute such a program, the government's decision not to move for a downward departure was not reviewable because it was within the U.S. Attorney's discretion.

    Full Text Opinion

    Environmental Law

    This summary also appears under Litigation

    Issues: Jurisdiction; Standing; Yee v. Shiawassee County Bd. of Comm'rs; Anson v. Barry County Drain Comm'r; Wortelboer v. Benzie County; Modification of lake level order; Inland Lake Level Part (ILLP); Waiver; Whether the trial court's findings of fact were clearly erroneous; Whether the trial court erred in ordering the DEQ and the NPS to participate in the technical committee
    Court: Michigan Court of Appeals (Published)
    Case Name: Glen Lake-Crystal River Watershed Riparians v. Glen Lake Ass'n
    e-Journal Number: 25420
    Judge(s): Bandstra, Whitbeck, and Jansen

    The court held the trial court had continuing jurisdiction to modify the lake level and plaintiffs, private party riparian property owners, had standing to invoke the trial court's jurisdiction. Defendant did not just fail to raise the standing issue early, before discovery and attempts at settlement, it also affirmatively acquiesced to plaintiffs' right to sue by entering into a stipulation agreeing to the entry of a modified lake level order, specifying the issues to be decided at trial, and the mechanisms by which lake level determinations would be implemented. Because the matter did not involve an original action to establish a lake level, defendant's reliance on Yee was misplaced. This case involved plaintiffs' right to invoke the trial court's continuing jurisdiction over a matter already the subject of an existing lake level order. Consistent with Anson and Wortelboer, plaintiffs had standing under the ILLP to invoke continuing jurisdiction. The trial court order modifying the established normal level of Glen Lake under the ILLP of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act was not clearly erroneous on the merits and was affirmed.

    Full Text Opinion

    Family Law

    Issues: Termination of parental rights pursuant to § 19b(3)(l); Child's best interests
    Court: Michigan Court of Appeals (Unpublished)
    Case Name: In re Smith
    e-Journal Number: 25405
    Judge(s): Memorandum—Meter, Wilder, and Schuette

    The trial court did not clearly err in finding § 19b(3)(l) was established by clear and convincing evidence and in terminating the respondent-mother's parental rights. It was undisputed respondent's parental rights to the child's older siblings were terminated after one of the siblings suffered lasting and serious injuries consistent with shaken baby syndrome. Under the statute's plain language, no further proof was required. The evidence also did not demonstrate termination was clearly not in the child's best interests. The child was removed from respondent's care when she was two months old and respondent, although she had been offered several services for years, before and after the child's birth, was still insufficiently ready to properly care for the child. Affirmed.

    Full Text Opinion

    Insurance

    This summary also appears under Litigation

    Issues: Claims related to the defendant-insurer's denial of coverage for emergency health care services based on the final diagnosis; MCL 550.1418; MCL 550.1402; Whether the trial court properly denied defendant's motion to decertify the class; Whether plaintiff's class definition required consideration of the merits of each potential class member's claim to determine class membership; The court's jurisdiction; The clear error standard of review for motions for decertification; Burden of proof; Neal v. James; Whether individual questions of fact predominated over questions common to the class; MCR 3.501(A)(1)(b); Zine v. Chrysler Corp.; Sprague v. General Motors Corp.
    Court: Michigan Court of Appeals (Published)
    Case Name: Tinman v. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mich.
    e-Journal Number: 25419
    Judge(s): Wilder, Markey, and Meter

    The trial court clearly erred in concluding class certification was warranted under MCR 3.501 and in denying defendant's motion to decertify the class in this case where plaintiffs alleged defendant improperly denied coverage for emergency health care services based on the final diagnosis. The court held it had jurisdiction over defendant's appeal of the trial court's denial of the motion for decertification, and reviewed the trial court's decision for clear error, rather than an abuse of discretion. Defendant's motion was considered by the court as a motion to decertify the class and not as an untimely motion for reconsideration. Further, defendant was not required to demonstrate a change in circumstances before the trial court could properly decertify the class. The burden of proof remains on the party requesting certification (the plaintiff here) to establish the prerequisites to class certification are satisfied. Since plaintiff could not demonstrate the requirements of MCR 3.501 were satisfied because the highly individualized questions as to each claim were essential to determining defendant's liability predominated over the common questions presented, the trial court clearly erred by denying defendant's motion for decertification. Reversed and remanded.

    Full Text Opinion

    Litigation

    This summary also appears under Environmental Law

    Issues: Jurisdiction; Standing; Yee v. Shiawassee County Bd. of Comm'rs; Anson v. Barry County Drain Comm'r; Wortelboer v. Benzie County; Modification of lake level order; Inland Lake Level Part (ILLP); Waiver; Whether the trial court's findings of fact were clearly erroneous; Whether the trial court erred in ordering the DEQ and the NPS to participate in the technical committee
    Court: Michigan Court of Appeals (Published)
    Case Name: Glen Lake-Crystal River Watershed Riparians v. Glen Lake Ass'n
    e-Journal Number: 25420
    Judge(s): Bandstra, Whitbeck, and Jansen

    The court held the trial court had continuing jurisdiction to modify the lake level and plaintiffs, private party riparian property owners, had standing to invoke the trial court's jurisdiction. Defendant did not just fail to raise the standing issue early, before discovery and attempts at settlement, it also affirmatively acquiesced to plaintiffs' right to sue by entering into a stipulation agreeing to the entry of a modified lake level order, specifying the issues to be decided at trial, and the mechanisms by which lake level determinations would be implemented. Because the matter did not involve an original action to establish a lake level, defendant's reliance on Yee was misplaced. This case involved plaintiffs' right to invoke the trial court's continuing jurisdiction over a matter already the subject of an existing lake level order. Consistent with Anson and Wortelboer, plaintiffs had standing under the ILLP to invoke continuing jurisdiction. The trial court order modifying the established normal level of Glen Lake under the ILLP of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act was not clearly erroneous on the merits and was affirmed.

    Full Text Opinion

    This summary also appears under Insurance

    Issues: Claims related to the defendant-insurer's denial of coverage for emergency health care services based on the final diagnosis; MCL 550.1418; MCL 550.1402; Whether the trial court properly denied defendant's motion to decertify the class; Whether plaintiff's class definition required consideration of the merits of each potential class member's claim to determine class membership; The court's jurisdiction; The clear error standard of review for motions for decertification; Burden of proof; Neal v. James; Whether individual questions of fact predominated over questions common to the class; MCR 3.501(A)(1)(b); Zine v. Chrysler Corp.; Sprague v. General Motors Corp.
    Court: Michigan Court of Appeals (Published)
    Case Name: Tinman v. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mich.
    e-Journal Number: 25419
    Judge(s): Wilder, Markey, and Meter

    The trial court clearly erred in concluding class certification was warranted under MCR 3.501 and in denying defendant's motion to decertify the class in this case where plaintiffs alleged defendant improperly denied coverage for emergency health care services based on the final diagnosis. The court held it had jurisdiction over defendant's appeal of the trial court's denial of the motion for decertification, and reviewed the trial court's decision for clear error, rather than an abuse of discretion. Defendant's motion was considered by the court as a motion to decertify the class and not as an untimely motion for reconsideration. Further, defendant was not required to demonstrate a change in circumstances before the trial court could properly decertify the class. The burden of proof remains on the party requesting certification (the plaintiff here) to establish the prerequisites to class certification are satisfied. Since plaintiff could not demonstrate the requirements of MCR 3.501 were satisfied because the highly individualized questions as to each claim were essential to determining defendant's liability predominated over the common questions presented, the trial court clearly erred by denying defendant's motion for decertification. Reversed and remanded.

    Full Text Opinion

    Municipal

    This summary also appears under Constitutional Law

    Issues: Claims alleging § 1983 violation of plaintiff's civil rights by defendants county, the sheriff, and employees of the sheriff's department; Alleged violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments for failure to provide prompt medical treatment for appendicitis for over two days while plaintiff was detained in the county jail; Whether defendants were "deliberately indifferent" to plaintiff's medical condition; Estelle v. Gamble; Williams v. Mehra; Farmer v. Brennan; The "obviousness rule"; Napier v. Madison County; "Sufficiently culpable state of mind"; "Sufficiently serious" medical need; Liability of the county
    Court: U.S. Court of Appeals Sixth Circuit
    Case Name: Blackmore v. Kalamazoo County
    e-Journal Number: 25418
    Judge(s): Haynes, Moore, and Clay

    Distinguishing the facts in the case from Napier, the court held where a plaintiff's claims arise from an injury or illness "so obvious that even a layperson would easily recognize the necessity for a doctor's attention," the plaintiff need not present verifying medical evidence to show that even after receiving the delayed necessary treatment, his medical condition worsened or deteriorated. Instead, it is sufficient to show he actually experienced the need for medical treatment, and the need was not addressed within a reasonable time frame, which occurred here. Plaintiff, who was being held in the county jail following an arrest for driving on a suspended license, presented sufficient evidence from which a jury could infer his obvious need for medical care was "sufficiently serious" and the defendants-officers had a "sufficiently culpable state of mind." The constitutional violation is premised on the delay alone in providing medical care, which creates a substantial risk of serious harm. Plaintiff was arrested and then jailed about 5:25 am. Within an hour of his arrival he began having abdominal pain, requested medical care, and continued to complain about his pain. About 5:00 pm, he was given antacids. The next day, plaintiff filed a "Request for Medical Care" in which he complained of "sharp" and "extreme a[b]dominal pain in the lower area" lasting 26 hours for which he needed medical attention "right away." Plaintiff continued to complain and vomited. The jail officials placed him in an observation cell, but did not provide medical treatment. At 6:30 the next morning, over two days after plaintiff first complained, a jail nurse examined him and diagnosed him as "showing classic signs of appendicitis," and doctors performed an appendectomy. Summary judgment for defendants was reversed and the case was remanded.

    Full Text Opinion

    Native American Law

    This summary also appears under Criminal Law

    Issues: Whether MCL 333.7403(2) (statute making marijuana possession a misdemeanor) violates the Title-Object Clause of the Michigan Constitution; People v. Kidd; People v. Trupiano; Claim the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Police lacked the authority to act as peace officers under the laws of Michigan; Whether the prosecution established the fourth prerequisite in MCL 28.609(6); Sentencing; Imposition of an enhanced sentence
    Court: Michigan Court of Appeals (Unpublished)
    Case Name: People v. Groulx
    e-Journal Number: 25401
    Judge(s): Per Curiam—Meter, Wilder, and Schuette

    Noting it had rejected this argument in Kidd and several other cases, the court held MCL 333.7403(2), which makes marijuana possession a misdemeanor, does not violate the Title-Object Clause of the Michigan Constitution. Defendant unsuccessfully argued the statute is a provision of the public health code and possession with intent to personally use marijuana could not affect the "public health." The court also rejected defendant's contention his sentence should be vacated on the basis the law enforcement officers of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal Police lacked the authority to act as peace officers under the laws of Michigan. Among other things, defendant argued the prosecution did not establish the fourth prerequisite provided in MCL 28.609(6) for a tribal police officer to exercise the authority of a peace officer under Michigan law. While the prosecution stipulated the self-determination contract did not "specifically" mention the contract between the tribe and the county, the chief of the tribe, referring to the self-determination contract, testified the contract between the tribe and the county was incorporated. Affirmed but remanded for correction of the judgment of sentence.

    Full Text Opinion