Is it a fee, or a tax? Michigan Supreme Court to hear Headlee-based challenge to Detroit Solid Waste Inspection Fee

A Detroit property owner's claim that the city's Solid Waste Inspection Fee amounts to a tax that was not approved by voters -- and therefore violates the Headlee Amendment -- will be before the Michigan Supreme Court in oral arguments this week.

In Wolf v City of Detroit, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the city, holding that the SWIF is a "valid regulatory fee, not a disguised tax." The fee serves a regulatory purpose: "to ensure the efficient removal of solid waste products and to protect the public health," the appellate court said. Moreover, the city's fee is "reasonably proportionate" to the cost of the service, and is a voluntary charge, the court said; the fact that the city could put a lien on the property for nonpayment does not make the SWIF a tax, the Court of Appeals stated. The property owner argues that the facts -- including the city's inclusion of the SWIF on property tax bills -- show that the SWIF is really a tax.

The Court will also hear Duffy v Department of Natural Resources, et al., in which the plaintiff is suing the state of Michigan and the DNR for injuries she suffered while riding in an ATV on the Little Manistee Trail. At issue is whether the trail is a "highway" for the purposes of the Governmental Tort Liability Act, which defines "highway" as "a public highway, road, or street that is open for public travel and includes bridges, sidewalks, trailways, crosswalks, and culverts on the highway." The statute also limits the government's liability "only to the improved portion of the highway designed for vehicular travel [which] does not include sidewalks, trailways, crosswalks, or any other installation..." Although the trial court ruled in the plaintiff's favor, holding that she could pursue her claims because the trail fits the definition of a highway, the Court of Appeals disagreed, citing the provision in the statute that limits governmental liability to "the improved portion of the highway."

The remaining 14 cases involve issues of contract, criminal, insurance, medical malpractice, negligence, personal injury, procedural, and worker's compensation law.

The Court will hear oral arguments in its courtroom on the sixth floor of the Michigan Hall of Justice on March 8, 9, and 10, beginning at 9:30 a.m. each day. The Court's oral arguments are open to the public.

Published: Tue, Mar 8, 2011