Michigan Supreme Court to hear more oral arguments virtually

By Lee Dryden
BridgeTower Media Newswires
The Michigan Supreme Court continues to hear virtual oral arguments during the coronavirus pandemic.

Arguments will begin at 9:30 a.m. April 22 followed by the second case at 10:30 a.m. Justices will participate via Zoom and the attorneys for the parties have agreed to argue their cases using Zoom. Two other cases were heard virtually on April 15.

Oral arguments will be livestreamed. Information below is from case summaries provided by the Michigan Courts.

Hart v. State of Michigan
9:30 a.m. April 22

In 2001, the then-juvenile plaintiff was adjudicated as having committed misdemeanor fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct. He was required, under the Sex Offender Registration Act (SORA), MCL 28.721 et seq., to report and register his address for 25 years. The SORA was amended in 2011 to establish a tier system, classifying plaintiff’s offense as Tier II and providing in part that Tier II offenders who had been adjudicated as juveniles were no longer required or expected to register.

The parties agree that plaintiff’s name should have been removed from the sex offender registry, but that did not occur and plaintiff continued to register. In 2013, plaintiff registered his address incorrectly and was charged with violating SORA. He pleaded no contest to the charge and was assessed a fine. In 2014, plaintiff was again arrested for failing to comply with SORA. He pleaded guilty to the felony charge of failure to register and was sentenced to serve a prison term and ordered to pay a fine. After 17 months of imprisonment, plaintiff was released from prison, and his convictions and sentences were vacated.

Plaintiff filed suit against the state, alleging that it had violated his constitutional rights through its policies, customs, and practices, which were a “moving force” behind the constitutional violations. The Court of Claims denied defendant’s motion for summary disposition, concluding that plaintiff properly alleged that, due in part to defendant’s knowledge that law enforcement officers and prosecutors rely on the sex offender registry when making charging decisions, there was a direct causal link between defendant’s policies, practices, and customs that led to the inaccuracy of the registry and plaintiff’s illegal arrests and prosecutions.

The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that plaintiff had not alleged sufficient facts showing a direct causal link between the alleged failure to train employees and the alleged constitutional violation such that defendant’s “deliberate indifference” could be shown. The Supreme Court has granted plaintiff’s application for leave to appeal to address whether the Court of Appeals erred when it concluded that he had failed to allege sufficient facts to state a constitutional-tort claim under the principles outlined in Canton v. Harris, 489 US 378 (1989), and Bryan Co Bd of Co Commr’s v. Brown, 520 US 397, 409 (1997).

Griffin v. Swartz Ambulance Service
10:30 a.m. April 22

Plaintiff Caleb Griffin was involved in a rollover accident that injured his leg, including dislocating his knee. As he was being transported to the hospital in an ambulance provided by defendant Swartz Ambulance Service, the ambulance driver struck another vehicle. At the time of the collision, the ambulance was exiting the highway and the driver was not operating the siren or flashing lights. A second ambulance then transported plaintiff to the hospital, where his leg had to be amputated.

Plaintiff sued Swartz Ambulance Service, alleging that Swartz’s employee, a licensed emergency medical technician (EMT) and the driver of the ambulance, was grossly negligent in causing the second accident. Plaintiff further alleges that the delay in treatment led to the amputation of his leg. Defendant Swartz filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff’s lawsuit under a provision of the Emergency Medical Services Act (EMSA), MCL 333.20965(1), which establishes immunity for EMTs and other medical first responders who provide services “in the treatment of a patient,” except in cases where there is a showing of gross negligence or willful misconduct.

Defendant argued that plaintiff’s allegations and evidence established, at most, that the employee’s conduct was ordinary negligence; therefore, it was immune from liability under the EMSA. Plaintiff countered that immunity under the EMSA only limits liability “in the treatment of a patient,” and that the word “treatment” in this context does not include the operation of an ambulance. The circuit court agreed with defendant Swartz and dismissed plaintiff’s lawsuit. Plaintiff appealed.

The Court of Appeals affirmed in a 2-1 split decision. The majority applied the definition of “treatment” from Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed) as including the handling of a patient in an ambulance or techniques customarily applied when caring for ambulance patients, consistent with the training of first responders. The majority concluded that the statutory term “treatment” was not limited to “medical services,” and that defendant Swartz was entitled to immunity from the employee’s allegedly negligent driving. The dissenting judge did not disagree with the majority’s approach, but relied instead on a different dictionary, the Oxford English Dictionary (2d ed), to define “treatment” as “[m]anagement in the application of remedies; medical or surgical application or service.” Applying this definition, the dissenting judge determined that the act of transportation was not “treatment” under the statute and Swartz was not entitled to immunity.

Plaintiff then filed an application for leave to appeal in the Supreme Court, which ordered oral argument on the application to address whether the operation of the ambulance in this case by defendant Swartz’s employee constitutes an “act[] . . . in the treatment of a patient” within the meaning of MCL 333.20965(1).


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