Michigan Supreme Court-- Teachers have the right to sue

By Kathryne Gilbride

Legal News

Lansing schoolteachers are celebrating the triumph following the recent Supreme Court ruling that grants them the right to sue the school district. The ruling reverses two lower court decisions that found in the school district's favor.

The teachers union filed the case five years ago due to the school district's failure to follow Michigan law and expel four sixth-grade and older students accused of assaulting teachers between 2005 and 2007.

According to the teachers, the accused students were only suspended. Out of fear that the children would hurt them again, the teachers sued. The Ingham County Circuit Court dismissed the case, stating that school boards have discretion in how to handle discipline.

The state Court of Appeals upheld the ruling, but the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the teachers, stating teachers have every right to be heard in court. The Supreme Court did not rule on the merits of the case.

The 4-3 decision was criticized by Justices Robert Young Jr., Maura Corrigan and Stephen Markman, who believe it will lead to more lawsuits, but Okemos attorney Mike Shoudy, who represents the teachers union, disagrees.

"I do not believe that the recent Supreme Court decision will lead to more lawsuits," says Shoudy.

"The decision merely restores the long-standing Michigan jurisprudence in place prior to Lee. The historical approach to standing in Michigan prior to Lee was a limited prudential approach. The court did not depart from the 'fabric' of the law. Rather, the court restored it."

The decision will be applicable to the standings in other claims and has implications beyond the Lansing School District.

According to Shoudy, the restoration of the long-standing historical approach to standing is now the standard by which the Michigan courts are required to apply.

"I'm hopeful that this means more individuals will have their day in court," says Shoudy.

"However, the court made clear that a favorable finding on standing does not necessarily mean that the plaintiff will win on the merits of his or her claim. Standing focuses on whether a litigant is a proper party in a legal claim and not whether the claim is itself justifiable."

According to Shoudy, his clients are pleased with the well-articulated and reasoned decision of the Michigan Supreme Court.

"The plaintiffs in this case are the real heroes," says Shoudy, "because they were willing to come forward and stand up for their rights."

Published: Thu, Aug 19, 2010