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Traverse City, Michigan

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Tim Smith
Tim Smith
Attorney • 231-946-0700

“Judicial Activism by Unrestrained Statutory Interpretation”

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The title to this entry is how Justice Weaver, one of Michigan‘s 7 Supreme Court Justices, described the actions of Chief Justice Cliff Taylor and fellow activists Justices Corrigan, Markman and Young. The quote by Justice Weaver appeared in her dissent to an opinion by Taylor et. al. wherein they reversed the ruling of the trial court AND the Michigan Court of Appeals in a single paragraph opinion that let a drunk driver off the hook for striking 2 young pedestrians in Lansing Michigan – killing one and crippling the other.

 

The defendant – the City of Lansing – evidently used a public sidewalk as a place to push/dump accumulated snow and leave it for the winter.  Two young girls could not get around this city-made obstacle, were blocked from walking on this public sidewalk and so forced to walk in the roadway instead. They were walking because Chantell had been given a gift certificate to McDonalds for being good in school. They were heading to McDonalds to redeem it.

 

As they walked around the pile of snow created by the City of Lansing, a drunk driver hit them.  Killed one, caused severe injuries [brain damage] to the other.  City later admitted it had an “unwritten policy” of just abandoning this stretch of public sidewalk for the winter.  Not clearing or caring for it at all.  Under Michigan law that protects pedestrians, as the law has existed for many years, the city was clearly responsible. The trial court agreed with this and denied Defendant’s motion to dismiss the case. The City of Lansing didn’t like it’s own Judge’s ruling and appealed the case to the Michigan Court of Appeals. The 3 Judges from the Court of Appeals that reviewed the briefs submitted by the parties, reviewed the entire record from the lower court and heard oral argument from the attorneys agreed with the trial court and affirmed that court’s denial of The City of Lansing’s motion for dismissal. Again, the City of Lansing was dissatisfied. So they appealed the matter a 2nd time. To the Michigan Supreme Court which is currently being run by Chief Justice Cliff Taylor.

 

The Taylor court ignored the laws passed by our Legislature, ignored the tragic facts of this situation, re-wrote the language of the law to their liking [adding the words “structural defect” where they don’t exist], applied its own radical new reversals of previous law [the Nawrocki decision] to a new type situation [cities], and created new law that pretty much absolves cities of any responsibility for not just clearing sidewalks, but for avoiding the active obstruction of sidewalks or doing anything at all to make sure sidewalks are usable.  Justice Taylor reversed the ruling of the trial court, reversed the ruling of three judges from the Michigan Court [who were unanimous in their findings] and let the city of Lansing off the hook for causing this horrible situation.

 

Why would Justice Taylor do this? The last time I posed this question in this blog it was a 30 million dollar verdict against Chrysler for sexually harassing female employees. A verdict rendered by a jury of peers, a verdict affirmed by the trial judge and a verdict affirmed by the Court of Appeals, yet it was thrown out by Justice Taylor. I asked the question why and began digging through his campaign finance records only to find that Chrysler had donated nearly $100,000.00 in monies to Taylor’s campaign [this figure doesn’t include possible soft-money donations from Defendant Chrysler]. I don’t have the time to do the same with this injustice, but my guess is if we dug into Justice Taylor’s campaign finance records, we’ll find donations from The Municipal League or the insurer that was responsible for The City of Lansing’s negligence and maybe even the law firms that represented the defendant’s in this matter. I don’t know, because I don’t have the time to look it up and in light of what I found last time, nothing would surprise me…..

 

 

The dissent to Taylor’s opinion clearly explains what actually happened and what Michigan law actually says.  According to the dissent, this decision is the Taylor court’s “latest example of judicial activism by unrestrained statutory interpretation.”

 

Justice Taylor’s court has tried to spin this abrupt reversal of Michigan law by saying that “cities don’t have a duty to remove every bit of accumulated snow” but that is NOT what this case said.  Taylor’s court decided that cities don’t even have a duty to make sidewalks passable at all and can –as they did in this case– just use sidewalks for dumping grounds [not accumulated snow but snow *placed there*] with no need to worry if they are passable for pedestrians.

 

 

Fortunately, there is something we can do about this. Justice Taylor is up for re-election this November. Remember what Justice Taylor did to young Chantell Buckner. Her death shouldn’t be remembered as a case of judicial activism gone wrong. Her case should be remembered as the one that caused the Michigan voters to say, “Enough”!

 

A vote against Cliff Taylor is a vote for Chantell.