It has been a very busy week for the Michigan Court of Appeals or, more precisely, the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals. I mentioned two weeks ago the effort to designate four judges of the Court of Appeals as the Court of Claims and transfer all pending and future trials against the state to those judges. That bill (SB 652) passed through the legislature less than 2 weeks from introduction to enrollment and is likely to be signed by the governor shortly.
Also heading to the governor’s desk is another plan to expand the trial jurisdiction of the Court of Claims to court and local funding matters. Where localities (such as those in Michigan) continue to pay for courts, there is occasionally a conflict between the local government and the court in terms of the amount. In some cases the result is an “inherent powers” lawsuit (see this wonderful paper from my colleague Greg Hurley on the subject) where the court sues the county in a trial court.
That process, however, would be transferred to the Court of Appeals under HB 4704, an amendment to the state’s uniform budgeting and accounting act (MCL 141.438). Where the court (chief judge) had a conflict on funding levels (county legislature) or the enforcement of approved funding levels (county chief administrative officer) mediation between the parties would be required. If mediation failed, as certified by the mediator, the chief judge would file suit directly in the Court of Appeals. A similar process would take place where other local agencies had similar conflicts.
The Court of Appeals would be expressly prohibited from transferring jurisdiction and/or the duty to hear the case to any other court. The Court of Appeals could, however, ask for the assignment of a retired judge to handle discovery issues, reviewing the evidence, making proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law, and perform “any other necessary related judicial duties”. This is notable in that there is no similar provision in SB 652 to allow the Court of Appeals judges, sitting as the Court of Claims, to assign someone else to handle discovery, evidence, or draft findings of fact/conclusions of law.
HB 4707 as amended by the Senate was approved and enrolled on November 6 and will be heading to the governor shortly.