Bicycle accident prompts jurisdiction dispute

By Lee Dryden
BridgeTower Media Newswires
DETROIT—A bicycling accident caused by a pothole resulted in a dispute over jurisdiction of that section of roadway.

In Schrock v. City of Linden, a Michigan Court of Appeals panel ruled that the City of Linden has jurisdiction over the portion of road where the mishap occurred. It reversed the Genesee County Circuit Court, which determined that the Genesee County road commission has jurisdiction under a 1931 act.

The plaintiff argued that one of the entities must have jurisdiction over the alleged road defect.

The Oct. 25 unpublished per curiam opinion was issued by Judges Douglas B. Shapiro, Deborah A. Servitto, and Michael F. Gadola.

The case

The case resulted from a bicycling accident on Ripley Road in which plaintiff Howard Schrock was severely injured. He alleged that his bicycle hit a pothole, causing him to lose control, and “catapulting him over the handlebars and onto the roadway surface.”

“Ripley Road runs in a north-south direction, and Rolston Road intersects it about halfway. The northern half of Ripley Road is a county local highway,” the opinion stated. “However, the accident occurred on the southern half of Ripley Road, which has long been maintained by the City. Specifically, the accident occurred on Ripley Road north of a railroad crossing and south of Rolston Road.

“This appeal turns on which governmental entity has jurisdiction over the portion of the road where the accident occurred.”

The plaintiff sued the road commission and the city, alleging liability under the highway exception to governmental immunity and arguing that one of them has jurisdiction. The trial court ruled the road commission has jurisdiction over that section and granted the city’s motion for summary disposition.

COA analysis

The appeals court panel stated there is no question of fact about who controls the relevant portion of Ripley Road.

“The City conceded that, since 1952, it has certified the disputed portion of that road as a local street for the purpose of receiving Act 51 funds. Under Act 51, ‘[a]ll streets within the corporate limits and under the jurisdiction of each municipality of the state ... not included in the major street system of such municipality’ constitute the city’s local street system,” the opinion stated.

The trial court determined the road commission has jurisdiction under the 1931 McNitt Act, which “required the board of county road commissioners of each county to take over as county roads the total township highway mileage in the county” within six years.

However, the panel pointed out “while a county takeover of township highways was compulsory, that transfer was not automatic.” County road commissions took over township highways by passing resolutions.

“In this case, the City argues that various documents show that the Road Commission took over the relevant portion of Ripley Road. The City first relies on what it claims is the Road Commission’s 1931 McNitt resolution. The Road Commission disputes that this is an actual resolution and argues that it was prepared by Fenton Township,” the opinion stated.

The panel stated that even if it is a McNitt Act resolution, the disputed portion of Ripley Road does not appear to be highlighted on the map. The panel also rejected the city’s arguments that a 1935 McNitt resolution and a 1940 McNitt map prove that Ripley is a county road.

The road commission provided a “Resolution of Certification” from 1940, showing which streets it had taken over. It did not include the portion where the accident occurred.

“To summarize, there is no evidence that the Road Commission took jurisdiction over the relevant portion of Ripley Road pursuant to a McNitt Act resolution,” the opinion stated. “Nor is there any evidence establishing that the portion of Ripley Road at issue was ever considered to be a township highway. In the absence of such evidence, the trial court erred in ruling that the Road Commission had jurisdiction over that portion of road under the McNitt Act.”

Relying on a recent survey as proof, the city also argued that the portion is outside its boundaries and cannot be within its jurisdiction. The road commission disputed that the survey is a “formal document” showing the city boundaries and argued that it was prepared for this lawsuit.

Even if the portion is outside the city boundaries, the city has jurisdiction, the panel stated.

“In addition to certifying the disputed portion of Ripley Road as a local street under its jurisdiction for years, the City has also performed maintenance activities on both lanes of the road. Therefore, the City has control and jurisdiction over both lanes of the disputed portion of road.”