Michigan Supreme Court Rules that Condo Association Owes Duty of Care to Co-Owners for Premises Liability

In a ruling on July 11, 2024, in the case of Janini v. London Townhouses Condominium Association, Docket No. 164158, the Michigan Supreme Court overturned previous case law and redefined the legal relationship between condominium associations and their co-owners with respect to premises liability. The Court ruled that when using common areas of the condominium, a co-owner is deemed to be an invitee. This classification requires the condominium association to exercise reasonable care to protect co-owners from hazardous conditions in these shared spaces.


The case began when Daoud Mousa Janini, a co-owner and resident of a condominium unit managed by London Townhouses Condominium Association, suffered injuries after falling on a snow- and ice-covered sidewalk within the common area of the condominium complex. Janini and his co-plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the association, which is responsible for managing and maintaining the common elements of the complex, including sidewalks and parking lots.

The trial court initially allowed the premises liability claim to proceed, but the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed this decision, following the precedent set in Francescutti v Fox Chase Condo Ass’n. 312 Mich. App. 640 (2015). However, the Michigan Supreme Court took a different view, ultimately overturning both the Appeals Court ruling and the Francescutti precedent.

The Supreme Court’s Decision

The Supreme Court determined that a co-owner of a condominium unit should be considered an invitee when using the common elements of the condominium. This classification is crucial in premises liability law, as it imposes a higher duty of care on the property possessor. As a result, the Court ruled that condominium associations have a duty to exercise reasonable care in protecting co-owners from dangerous conditions in common areas.

The Court emphasized that the critical factor in premises liability cases is not land ownership (co-owners have a shared property interest in condo common elements) but rather who has possession and control over the property. In condominium settings, co-owners cede control of common elements to the association, justifying the association’s duty of care to a co-owner as invitee, according to the Court.

Implications of the Ruling

Co-owners now have a path to pursue premises liability claims against their condominium associations for injuries sustained in common areas, significantly strengthening their legal position in such disputes. Conversely, condominium associations now face an expanded duty of care towards co-owners, necessitating a reevaluation of their operational practices, including enhanced maintenance and safety protocols.

There are also important implications for insurance companies who provide coverage for condominium associations. They will need to reassess their coverage policies and premium structures for condominium associations. The increased potential for liability claims may necessitate higher coverage limits to adequately protect associations from the financial risks associated with premises liability lawsuits. This expanded liability exposure could potentially lead to increased premiums, as insurers adjust their risk calculations to account for the new legal standard.

The Bottom Line

The Janini v. London Townhouses Condominium Association decision marks a significant shift in Michigan condominium law by recognizing co-owners as invitees in common areas and imposing a corresponding duty of care on associations.

This Supreme Court decision represents a continuation of the obvious intent of this State’s highest Court (given its current make-up) to increase the ability of persons injured to pursue lawsuits. In the end, the Janini decision will result in higher insurance premium costs to condominium associations which in turn will be passed along as increased condominium dues to individual condominium owners.

The Plaintiff’s bar will likely benefit the most from our Supreme Court’s current efforts to open the door to personal injury lawsuits which had previously been barred.

If you have any questions or require assistance, please contact Andrew J. Moore or your Fraser Trebilcock attorney.

This alert serves as a general summary and does not constitute legal guidance. Please contact us with any specific questions.

Attorney Andrew J. Moore

Andrew J. Moore is an attorney at Fraser Trebilcock with experience covering a range of practice areas, from out of court matters such as assisting clients in estate planning and business and tax matters to representing clients at trial in insurance, divorce, and criminal defense proceedings. You can reach him at 517.377.0848 or at amoore@fraserlawfirm.com.

Five Stories That Matter in Michigan This Week – May 24, 2024

1.Michigan Supreme Court Endorses Third-Party Retaliation Claims

On May 10, 2024, in Miller v. Dep’t of Corrections, the Michigan Supreme Court endorsed third-party retaliation claims under the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act. This decision aligns Michigan with the 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Title VII’s anti-retaliation provision covers third-party retaliation claims, even though the statute does not explicitly recognize such a theory.

Why it Matters: This ruling significantly expands the potential number of retaliation claimants to include third parties. As a result, employers in Michigan may face an increased number of retaliation claims. The exact parameters of what constitutes a sufficient connection for these claims will need to be clarified by lower courts in future cases.


2.DEA Recommends Cannabis Rescheduling: Developments and Implications for the Industry

The industry may soon experience a major shift, as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) moves to reschedule cannabis to Schedule III. This decision follows a recommendation from the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS), which is supported by scientific evidence reviewed by the FDA.

Why it Matters: The expected rescheduling of cannabis to Schedule III will have notable implications for cannabis businesses. The removal of cannabis from I.R.C. Section 280E will provide significant tax relief for state-legal cannabis operators, and the possibility of increased banking access could enhance the industry’s financial stability and growth potential. Nevertheless, cannabis companies will continue to face certain limitations stemming from the persistent federal prohibition of cannabis. Read more from your Fraser Trebilcock attorney.


3.Michigan CRA Publishes April ’24 Data: Average Price Decreases

Per data released by the Cannabis Regulatory Agency (CRA), the average retail price for adult-use sale of an ounce of cannabis in April was $86.61, a decrease from $90.70 in March. This is a decrease from April 2023, where the average price was $87.76.

Why it Matters: While the prices of cannabis and cannabis-related products continue to decrease and make consumers happy, growers on the other hand are seeing profits decrease resulting in them seeking ways to halt new licenses to be granted in an effort to steady prices.


4.June Business Education Series

Most entrepreneurs and business leaders face similar frustrations – employee conflicts, lack of sales, profit woes and inadequate growth. Decisions never seem to get made, or, once made, they fail to be properly implemented. There is a solution, and it is not complicated or theoretical.

Why it Matters: The Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS) is a practical method for achieving the business success you have always envisioned. More than 100,000 companies have discovered what EOS can do. Learn more and to register.


5.Fraser Trebilcock’s Growth Continues with Grand Rapids Office Relocation

Fraser Trebilcock Davis Dunlap & Cavanaugh, P.C., one of Michigan’s well established law firms with a history of providing excellent legal services, is pleased to announce it has relocated its Grand Rapids office. This move is a testament to the firm’s continued ability in taking a proactive approach in providing comprehensive legal solutions across a wide range of practice areas, helping clients capitalize on potential opportunities.

Why it Matters: In late April, Fraser Trebilcock’s Grand Rapids office moved to 300 Ottawa NW Suite 810, located within walking distance of all downtown restaurants, entertainment venues, museums, municipal buildings, and the Medical Mile. The office offers the full range of the firm’s legal services, including litigation, business, tax, real estate, trusts and estates, and other areas of specialty. Clients can expect the same level of professionalism and personalized attention that Fraser Trebilcock is known for. Read more.

Related Practice Groups and Professionals

Labor, Employment & Civil Rights | David Houston

Cannabis Law | Sean Gallagher

Five Stories That Matter in Michigan This Week – October 20, 2023

  1. Cannabis Regulatory Agency Seeks to Update Michigan’s Marihuana Rules

The Michigan Cannabis Regulatory Agency (“CRA”) recently filed a Request for Rulemaking to begin the process of updating Michigan’s Marihuana Rules. The CRA is asking for feedback—comments or suggestions can be sent to CRA-AdminRules@michigan.gov.

Why it Matters: The proposed updates, a summary of which can be found here, would impact licensing, social equity, financial compliance, and a host of other issues.


  1. Provisional Patent Application Overview

While deciding whether to file a patent application, it is important to consider both your short- and long-term goals in view of your finances and the current state of your idea. Depending on these factors you may be deciding between filing a provisional or non-provisional application.

Why it Matters: A provisional patent application is a type of patent application that serves as a placeholder for a non-provisional patent application, providing the applicant with a priority date for their invention and a one-year window to follow up and file a non-provisional application. Learn more from your Fraser Trebilcock attorney.


  1. CRA Publishes September 2023 Data: Average Price Increases

Per data released by the Cannabis Regulatory Agency, the average retail price for adult-use sales of an ounce of cannabis in September was $100.14, an increase from $94.16 in August. This is still a decrease from September 2022, where the average price was $109.88.

Why it Matters: While the prices of cannabis and cannabis-related products continue to decrease and make consumers happy, growers on the other hand are seeing profits decrease resulting in them seeking ways to halt new licenses to be granted in an effort to steady prices. Contact our cannabis law attorneys if you have any questions.


  1. Fraser Trebilcock Shareholder Ryan Kauffman Participates in Arguments in Michigan Supreme Court

On Thursday, October 5, Fraser Trebilcock Shareholder Ryan Kauffman participated in arguments in the Michigan Supreme Court on cases brought against higher education universities related to the COVID-19 issue.

Why it Matters: You can view the entirety of the argument by going to the Michigan Supreme Court’s YouTube page, or by clicking here (Mr. Kauffman’s argument starts at 43:40). Read more.


  1. Business Education Series – Maximizing Productivity: Strategies for More Effective Workdays

Productivity is a habit and it’s something you can become better at every day by choosing the methods and tricks that work for you.

Why it Matters: In the October Business Education Series program, Emmie Musser, Future of Work Strategist with TechSmith, is going to discuss some tried-and-true strategies for more productive and effective workdays. Learn more.

Related Practice Groups and Professionals

Intellectual Property | Andrew Martin
Cannabis Law | Sean Gallagher
Higher Education | Ryan Kauffman

Fraser Trebilcock Shareholder Ryan Kauffman Participates in Arguments in Michigan Supreme Court

On Thursday, October 5, Fraser Trebilcock Shareholder Ryan Kauffman participated in arguments in the Michigan Supreme Court on cases brought against higher education universities related to the COVID-19 issue.

You can view the entirety of the argument by going to the Michigan Supreme Court’s YouTube page, or by clicking here (Mr. Kauffman’s argument starts at 43:40).

Fraser Trebilcock attorney Ryan Kauffman arguing in front of the Michigan Supreme Court.

Mr. Kauffman was also quoted in The Detroit News, which you can view here.

Ryan K. Kauffman is a Shareholder at Fraser Trebilcock with more than a decade of experience handling complex litigation matters. You can contact him at rkauffman@fraserlawfirm.com or 517.377.0881.

Michigan Supreme Court Modifies Open and Obvious Legal Doctrine

Recently, the Michigan Supreme Court significantly modified a decades old legal doctrine that will have wide reaching impacts on property owners and lessees. In its decision in a pair of consolidated cases (Kandil-Elsayed v F & E Oil, Inc and Pinsky v Kroger Co of Mich), the state’s high court effectively abrogated a legal doctrine known as “open and obvious.” Generally speaking, under this doctrine as it had previously been applied in Michigan, a premises possessor (whether that is the landowner, land contract vendee, lessee, or other party with the right to possess the property) did not have a duty to warn invitees of potentially dangerous conditions on the premises if the condition was “open and obvious.”

In practice, the open and obvious doctrine made it a question of law (that is a determination to be made by the judge, rather than the jury) as to whether the condition that caused an injury was discoverable by a person of average intelligence upon casual inspection. The doctrine was often applied in slip-and-fall and other personal injury cases and acted as an initial barrier for plaintiff’s claims. Defendant premises possessors would bring a motion (typically for summary disposition) and ask the judge to rule on whether the condition was open and obvious. If it were, the case would end there, and the plaintiff’s recovery would be barred. In fact, many premises liability claims likely never made it to the court to begin with, because plaintiff’s attorneys recognized the difficulty in getting past the open and obvious doctrine.

Now, in light of the Kandil-Elsayed and Pinsky decisions, the nature of an open and obvious condition is evaluated as an element of comparative fault that may reduce a plaintiff’s recovery but will not act as complete bar to recover. Moreover, the issue of comparative fault is a question of fact (that is a determination to be made by the jury). In other words, juries can consider the premises possessor’s failure to warn in their comparative fault determinations and still award a plaintiff a portion of their damages even when the condition on the premises that caused the injury was open and obvious. Now, when some is injured as the result of a fall, the claim is much more likely to go to the jury.

What happens next is anybody’s guess, but likely effects of this decision include an increase in the number of personal injury lawsuits filed, an increase in the number of personal injury cases going to trial, and across the board increases in property insurance rates for commercial and residential property owners. If you have questions, or require assistance, please contact your Fraser Trebilcock attorney.

This alert serves as a general summary and does not constitute legal guidance. Please contact us with any specific questions.

Ryan K. Kauffman is a Shareholder at Fraser Trebilcock with more than a decade of experience handling complex litigation matters. You can contact him at rkauffman@fraserlawfirm.com or 517.377.0881.

Michigan Supreme Court Clarifies the Difference Between “Requirements” and “Release-by-Release” Contracts Under the Uniform Commercial Code

In an important decision that impacts customers and suppliers in the manufacturing industry, the Michigan Supreme Court, in MSSC, Inc. v. AirBoss Flexible Prods. Co., clarified the contractual circumstances under which a supplier can become bound to a long-term “requirements contract” under the Uniform Commercial Code. As discussed below, unless a contract identifies a quantity, it will be treated as a release-by-release contract.

The Underlying Dispute

In this case, MSSC, Inc., a “Tier 1” automotive buyer, sought to enforce a purchase order for goods manufactured by “Tier 2” automotive supplier Airboss. Many years before the suit, the parties agreed to a specific set of terms and conditions that would govern the transactions between the parties and the individual purchase orders, or releases, pursuant to that agreement. The parties identified their purchase order as a “blanket” order that listed the parts to be supplied but did not include specific quantities of the parts to be supplied by Airboss. Instead, the quantity to be supplied by Airboss would be based upon the needs of MSSC for their customers’ orders. However, no one purchase order nor the any of the terms and conditions required MSSC to send any specific number of firm orders to Airboss. As time passed, the fixed price agreed to by the parties began to result in substantial losses to Airboss and Airboss eventually threatened to cease production under the agreement unless MSSC agreed to a price increase.

At the trial court, Airboss moved for summary disposition, arguing that the purchase order failed to satisfy MCL 440.2201(1), the statute of frauds of the Uniform Commercial Code, because it did not include a quantity term. In response, MSSC, Inc. moved for summary disposition, arguing that the blanket purchase order was a requirements contract that satisfied the statute of frauds.

The trial court ruled in favor of MSSC, Inc., reasoning that because the purchase order contained the word “blanket” on the first page, it therefore included a “quantity term” that satisfied the statute of frauds. Airboss appealed to the Michigan Court of Appeals, which affirmed the trial court’s ruling.

The Michigan Supreme Court’s Analysis

At the core of this case is the treatment of “requirements contracts,” under the UCC, which are those whose quantities are determined “by the output of the seller or the requirements of the buyer ….”  MCL 440.2306(1). Prior to this case, those were the choices you either had a contract for the “requirements of the buyer” (oversimplified as one for “all of the wood the buyer needs”) or a contract for the “output of the seller” (oversimplified as “all of the wood I can cut”). As the Michigan Supreme Court went on to explain, however, some of these oversimplifications led to unspecific or unidentifiable quantity, which violates the statute of frauds (i.e., a legal principal that dictates the essential items that must be included in order to create a binding contract). The Court went on to conclude that where a contract fails to specify a quantity or a quantity-determining term, it would be found to have created a newly recognized type of contract called a “release by release contract.” Under such an agreement, “the purchase order and incorporated terms and conditions created a blanket—or umbrella—agreement, while the releases created individual purchasing contracts governed by the umbrella terms.” MSSC, Inc. v. Airboss Flexible Prod. Co., No. 163523, 2023 WL 4476721, at *10 (Mich. July 11, 2023). As such, the umbrella agreement included the pricing, shipping, and other terms and conditions of the agreement between the parties, but it was each individual order (or each “release”) that created a binding contract. There is no long-term commitment required by either party in a release-by-release contract.

The Supreme Court ruled that the lower courts erred by relying on parole evidence – that is information not contained within a written contract – to determine whether the parties intended the term “blanket” to identify a contractual quantity and to clarify what quantity was intended. Instead, the contract must contain language that identifies a quantity in order for it to be enforceable as a requirements contract. Accordingly, Airboss was within its rights to reject releases from MSSC because no quantity term was specified in the underlying contract.

Practical Implications

In light of the Supreme Court’s decision, buyers and sellers of goods should review their contracts with legal counsel to evaluate whether they meet the standards for a requirements contract. If you have questions, or require assistance, please contact Bob Burgee.

Robert D. Burgee is an attorney at Fraser Trebilcock with over a decade of experience counseling clients with a focus on corporate structures and compliance, licensing, contracts, regulatory compliance, mergers and acquisitions, and a host of other matters related to the operation of small and medium-sized businesses and non-profits. You can reach him at 517.377.0848 or at bburgee@fraserlawfirm.com.

Five Stories That Matter in Michigan This Week – August 11, 2023

  1. CRA Issues Bulletin, Recalling Vape Cartridges Due to Possible Presence of Banned Chemical

On July 21, 2023, the Cannabis Regulatory Agency (“CRA”), issued a public health safety bulletin, recalling more than 13,000 vape cartridges “due to the possible presence of banned chemical residue exceeding the established action limits.”

Why it Matters: Sky Labs, LLC, is the licensed marijuana processor who manufactured the three batches of vape cartridges that were recalled. Businesses operating in the cannabis market are required to adhere to strict rules and regulations laid out by the CRA. Failure to do so can result in steep fines, recalled product, and potential loss of license(s).


  1. Business Education Series – Setting Meaningful Goals and Time Blocking for Success

On August 22, 2023, gain valuable knowledge and skills to set meaningful goals, establish priorities, and effectively manage their time through the practice of time blocking.

Why it Matters: Participants will learn practical strategies and techniques to enhance their goal-setting abilities, develop a clear sense of direction, and optimize their productivity. Learn more.


  1. Michigan Supreme Court Alters Premises Liability Framework

Michigan courts have long held that premises owners generally have no duty to protect invitees from “open and obvious” hazards. In a recent decision (Kandil-Elsayed v F&E Oil, Inc and Pinsky v Kroger Co of Michigan), the Michigan Supreme Court held that whether a hazard is open and obvious is not an integral part of duty but is instead “relevant to breach and the parties’ comparative fault.” The Court overruled the special-aspects exception, holding that “when a land possessor should anticipate the harm that results from an open and obvious condition, despite its obviousness, the possessor is not relieved of the duty of reasonable care.”

Why it Matters: This decision significantly changes the legal standards in premises liability cases, particularly slip-and-fall cases.


  1. Fraser Trebilcock Attorney Thaddeus Morgan Obtains Summary Judgment for Firm Client; Sixth Circuit Affirms Dismissal

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed a decision by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, which granted summary judgment for the firm’s client, who was represented by Fraser Trebilcock attorney Thaddeus Morgan.

Why it Matters: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit did not find either of the district court’s decisions erroneous, affirming the denial of the Plaintiff’s motion to amend and granting summary judgment to the defendants.


  1. Michigan Supreme Court Rules that New No-Fault Law Does Not Apply Retroactively

On July 31, 2023, the Michigan Supreme Court affirmed, in part, a court of appeals decision ruling that medical cost controls in Michigan’s new no-fault auto insurance law do not apply retroactively to car crash victims whose accidents occurred prior to the change in the law.

Why it Matters: As a result of the ruling, drivers who were catastrophically injured in accidents prior to the no-fault must be paid at full rates and not be subject to new cost controls for medical services.

Related Practice Groups and Professionals

Cannabis Law | Sean Gallagher
Business & Tax | Ed Castellani
Insurance Law | Gary Rogers
Litigation | Thaddeus Morgan

The New York Times Feature

Fraser Trebilcock election law attorney Garett Koger was quoted by The New York Times recently on an article discussing the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision to deny requests by three candidates for governor to be restored to the August primary ballot. Fraser Trebilcock’s election law team of Thad Morgan and Garett Koger, aided by attorneys Paul McCord, Robert Burgee, Elizabeth Siefker, Matthew Meyerhuber, and summer associate Joshua Robertson worked on the matters.

You can view the full article HERE.

Fraser’s ballot and election law team has successfully counseled, planned, and litigated for campaigns including high-profile cases resulting in changes to Michigan’s Constitution and case law. Fraser’s team also has extensive experience in election administration, and access to professionals in public relations and communications.

Michigan Supreme Court Officially Incorporates Centers for Disease Control’s Order Halting Evictions

On September 4, 2020, we reported on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s order halting evictions nationwide through December 31, 2020 for tenants who cannot pay rent based on COVID-19 related circumstances. An article interpreting that order and discussing how it might apply to common eviction, landlord, mortgage and land contract situations appears here. It remains accurate and timely, but does not address yesterday’s Michigan Supreme Court Order 2020-17.

Yesterday, October 22, 2020, the Michigan Supreme Court adopted the CDC order and effectively made it the law of the State of Michigan. It did so over the objection of Chief Justice Pro Tem David Viviano, who expressed a preference for ruling on the validity of the CDC order in a case brought by litigants, as opposed to adopting it administratively as the Supreme Court did. Justice Viviano also argued in dissent that the CDC order “has been challenged on a host of grounds and, I believe, rests on a shaky legal foundation.” Order 2020-17 can be found here.

A court form for landlord/plaintiffs and tenant/defendants to file (attesting that the case is not subject to the CDC order or attesting that it is) can be found here.

Please refer back to this article in the coming days for comprehensive updates and analysis. If you are a landlord confronting these issues, please contact your Fraser Trebilcock attorney.

Jared Roberts is a shareholder at Fraser Trebilcock who works in real estate litigation and transactions, among other areas of the law. Jared also “walks the walk” as a landlord and owner of residential rental properties and apartments in Downtown Lansing. He may be reached at jroberts@fraserlawfirm.com and (517) 482-0887.

Michigan Supreme Court finds Statutory Basis of Executive Orders Unconstitutional: Next Steps Uncertain

UPDATE (10/13): On Monday, October 12, 2020, the Michigan Supreme Court issued an Order in Michigan House of Representative and Senate v Governor, reversing the lower Court of Appeal decision in that case which upheld the Governor’s source of emergency authority. The Supreme Court took this action on Monday in light of. and consistent with, its recent decision on the same questions on October 2nd involving certified questions for the US District Court. The Supreme Court’s October 12 Order has been given immediate effect, putting to rest any question regarding the timing of its ruling and or binding effect. You can read that Order here.

Late on Friday, October 2, 2020, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the Governor’s use of the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act and the Emergency Management Act as two sources of authority to issue a host of executive orders regulating capacity limits in public-facing businesses, public mask use, school re-openings, the size of public and private gatherings, among others was unconstitutional. In the wake of the Court’s ruling, uncertainty abounds regarding the legal effect and enforceability of the Governor’s numerous executive orders issued to date. Although the Attorney General announced Sunday that she will not enforce the Governor’s COVID-19 executive orders, this does not mean all COVID-19 related rules and regulations are invalid or not without practical merit. Further, both state and local health agencies have quickly moved to fill the regulatory void left as a result of the Court’s ruling.

This controversy started towards the end of April, when the state legislature moved forward with a bill aimed at preventing the Governor from renewing her original state of emergency declaration. The Governor, relying on the 1945 emergency powers law, issued an executive order to keep a stay-at-home order in place through June 1 without consent of the Legislature. This law has been the legal basis for continued rolling orders that have kept some public-facing businesses such as bowling alleys and movie theaters shuttered until Oct. 9. There have been a number of lower state court cases challenging the Governor’s action, all of which have sided in her favor.

One particular lawsuit was brought in federal district court by three medical groups in West Michigan. The three medical groups sued the Governor, challenging her spring executive order that prohibited doctors and medical facilities from performing “elective” procedures in an effort to preserve personal protection equipment when it was in short supply during the early days of the pandemic.

The Michigan Supreme Court is the ultimate authority on interpreting state law, and the federal district court judge noted that state law questions regarding the limit of the Governor’s authority were crucial to the case before it. The law permits federal courts to ask for guidance – called a certified question — on state law questions from a state’s highest court. State supreme courts are not required to accept certified questions from a federal court but they usually do.

Here the Federal court certified two questions to the Michigan Supreme Court:

  1. Whether, under the Emergency Powers of the Governor Act, MCL § 10.31, et seq. [(the “1945 law”)], or the Emergency Management Act, MCL § 30.401, et seq. [(the “1976 law”)], [the] Governor has the authority after April 30, 2020 to issue or renew any executive orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic; and
  2. Whether the [1945 law] and/or the [1976 law] violates the Separation of Powers and/or the Non-Delegation Clauses of the Michigan Constitution.

In answering these questions, the Michigan Supreme Court stated:

“[w]e conclude that the Governor lacked the authority to declare a ‘state of emergency’ or a ‘state of disaster’ under the EMA after April 30, 2020, on the basis of the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, we conclude that the EPGA is in violation of the Constitution of our state because it purports to delegate to the executive branch the legislative powers of state government— including its plenary police powers— and to allow the exercise of such powers indefinitely.”

Friday’s ruling throws into doubt the Governor’s many executive orders addressing a variety of issues in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Michigan. For example, orders that expand unemployment eligibility during a pandemic, that allow local governments to hold their meetings virtually to avoid in-person meetings that could allow the virus to spread, that place moratoriums on foreclosures and evictions, and those that permit remote witnessing and notarization of legal documents, are all somewhat in question.

Additional uncertainly surrounds the effective date of the Court’s order and if it is even entitled to binding effect, as it was issued in response to a certified question from the Federal District Court and therefore merely “advisory” in nature. For the most part, these questions have answered (1) the order was effective on October 2nd, and (2) there is a clear likelihood that the Court’s decision will be followed in any subsequent state or federal court decisions.

State regulators are nevertheless holding fast. The Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) has issued thousands of dollars in citations to Michigan businesses for failing to implement COVID-19 precautions under the agency’s “general duty clause,” which requires employers to provide workspaces free of hazards causing death or “serious harm.” Since the Supreme Court decision Friday, many have questioned the validity of the citations, arguing that violations of the general duty clause were based on non-compliance with the Governor’s executive orders on mask usage, social distancing, or employee training. State regulators have said that they will not rescind any fines and penalties for workplace COVID-19 non-compliance, even in light of a Michigan Supreme Court decision upending the Governor’s executive orders back to April 30.

Further, the Director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, citing authority under the Michigan Public Health Code, quickly issued an emergency order reinstating requirements that masks should be worn at most indoor and outdoor gatherings and events, limiting attendance at indoor and outdoor gatherings, limiting organized sports and other limitations on certain food service establishments, including bars. The order specifies that violations are a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 6 months, or a fine of not more than $200, or both.

Local health departments are issuing similar orders. The Oakland County Health Department on Saturday ordered residents of Michigan’s second-most populous county to wear masks or facial coverings when leaving their homes. More orders will follow to outline capacity limits for bars and restaurants and instill public health screenings, the department said. Ingham County followed suit Sunday by issuing emergency orders similar to Oakland’s, with rules requiring face masks, limiting restaurant capacity to 50%, mandating employee health screenings and putting restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings. Other local action is anticipated in Kent, Ottawa, St. Clair, and Wayne.

It will take a while for the Legislature and Governor to sort out these issues legislatively as there are only 3 session days left before the November 3 election and only 14 session days after the election. In the meantime, the Administration will pursue reissuing some of these orders through administrative rules and regulatory action.

We have created a response team to the rapidly changing COVID-19 situation and the law and guidance that follows, so we will continue to post any new developments. You can view our COVID-19 Response Page and additional resources by following the link here. In the meantime, if you have any questions, please contact your Fraser Trebilcock attorney.

Fraser Trebilcock attorney Paul V. McCord has more than 20 years of tax litigation experience, including serving as a clerk on the U.S. Tax Court and as a judge of the Michigan Tax Tribunal. Paul has represented clients before the IRS, Michigan Department of Treasury, other state revenue departments and local units of government. He can be contacted at 517.377.0861 or pmccord@fraserlawfirm.com.