Five Stories That Matter in Michigan This Week – December 8, 2023

  1. Governor Whitmer Signs Executive Order for State Vehicles to be Zero-Emission by 2040

On Tuesday, Governor Whitmer signed an executive directive mandating the state government to convert its fleet of cars and trucks to zero-emission vehicles by 2040.

Why it Matters: In a statement accompanying the directive, Governor Whitmer stated that the transition would reduce air pollution, help boost demand for Michigan-made electric vehicles, and lower fuel costs. The directive comes on the heels of Governor Whitmer signing legislation that will impose a new 100% clean energy standard for utilities to hit by 2040.

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  1. Patentable vs. Infringing: What’s the Difference?

The patent system is intended to spur innovation, incentivize inventors, and protect against infringement. One of the big challenges innovators face in this realm is understanding patentability and what constitutes infringement.

Why it Matters: The distinction between what is patentable and what is infringing is defined by the scope of the patent claims. For instance, a new invention that improves upon a patented product may still be patentable even though the envisioned product itself may infringe on the patented claims. On the other hand, a product that is not patentable may also infringe granted patents. Learn more from your Fraser Trebilcock attorney.

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  1. Michigan Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Minimum Wage

Earlier this week, the Michigan Supreme Court heard arguments on whether the “adopt-and-amend” actions on two ballot initiatives from 2018 that alter the state’s minimum wage and paid sick leave requirements were constitutional.

Why it Matters: The Michigan Supreme Court is anticipated to make a decision in 2024. If the Supreme Court upholds the adopt-and-amend process that the Court of Appeals deemed constitutional, then employers will operate under the current minimum wage and paid sick leave requirements. However, if the process is found unconstitutional and the Supreme Court overrules the lower court’s decision, then it would reinstate the original 2018 initiatives on minimum wage and paid sick leave requirements.

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  1. Ohio Senate Passes Bill Altering Legal Cannabis Program

On Wednesday, the Ohio Senate voted on a proposal that would alter the state’s legal cannabis program, after voters passed Issue 2 in November, allowing the sale of recreational cannabis to adults 21 years or older.

Why it Matters: The bill now moves onto the House, and if it passes, the Governor has indicated he will sign it. Some of the proposed changes include reducing the number of homegrown plants allowed to 6 (from 12), increasing the tax on sales from 10% to 15%, allowing medicinal shops to sell to recreational users, and altering the way tax revenue would be spent, allocating funds to different programs.

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  1. Michigan Cannabis Sales in Third Quarter Nearly $75 Million More than Second Quarter

Michigan cannabis sales totaled $827,737,257.25 in the third quarter of 2023, a nearly $75 million increase from the second quarter in which sales totaled $752,770,513.25.

Why it Matters: Marijuana sales remain strong in Michigan, particularly for recreational use. However, there still are significant concerns about profitability and market oversaturation that the industry is contending with.

Related Practice Groups and Professionals

Energy, Utilities & Telecommunication | Sean Gallagher
Intellectual Property | Andrew Martin
Labor, Employment & Civil Rights | David Houston
Cannabis Law | Sean Gallagher

U.S. Supreme Court Clarifies Legal Standard for Threatening Speech in Counterman v. Colorado

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Counterman v. Colorado addressed the longstanding ambiguity surrounding the standards for criminal prosecution based on perceived threats of violence. The Court held that such a prosecution requires proof that the defendant subjectively understood the threatening nature of the statement such that making the statement was at least reckless. This case not only delves deep into First Amendment protections but also has broad implications for online communications and interactions.

In this case, Billy Counterman, the criminal defendant, sent numerous unwelcome messages via Facebook to a local musician, raising questions about the delicate balance between free speech and threatening conduct. After multiple block attempts by the musician, Counterman continued his messages from different accounts, leading the musician to believe she was under surveillance and in potential danger.

Colorado prosecutors charged Counterman solely based on his Facebook interactions, asserting that his messages transcended the bounds of protected speech under the First Amendment. Counterman contended that his messages were not “true threats,” arguing that he lacked a subjective understanding of their threatening nature. The lower courts, relying on an objective reasonableness standard, rejected this assertion, deeming the messages as unlawful threats.

The Supreme Court, however, overturned the lower courts’ decisions, opining that while “true threats of violence” are not shielded by the First Amendment, establishing whether a statement is a true threat necessitates a subjective test. The Court emphasized that an objective standard could potentially stifle legitimate speech. A subjective analysis is therefore crucial to reconcile the tension between safeguarding speech and enabling lawful prosecution for illicit expressions.

The ruling specified the requisite intent prosecutors must establish, decreeing that they must demonstrate that defendants made threatening statements recklessly, by ignoring a substantial risk of their statements being perceived as genuine threats.

Justice Kagan, writing for the majority, acknowledged that the balance the Court struck is an imperfect one. As she explained, “[a]s with any balance, something is lost on both sides: The rule we adopt today is neither the most speech-protective nor the most sensitive to the dangers of true threats. But in declining one of those two alternative paths,” she continued, “something more important is gained: Not ‘having it all’ — because that is impossible — but having much of what is important on both sides of the scale.”

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


Fraser Trebilcock attorney Paula Spicer

Paula Spicer is an attorney with Fraser Trebilcock with expertise in family law, juvenile justice law, mental health law, neurological disorders, and specialized “state of mind” defenses in criminal law. You can reach her at (517) 377-0823 or at pspicer@fraserlawfirm.com.

Supreme Court Strikes Down Affirmative Action in Higher Education

On June 29, 2023, in a 6–3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Harvard’s and the University of North Carolina’s admissions programs violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as well as Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act.

The Court’s Ruling

In the cases Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard College and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina (the “Cases”), a group of Asian-American students brought suits against Harvard and UNC alleging anti-Asian discrimination in the schools’ admissions process. In previous affirmative action cases, the Supreme Court held that universities could utilize “race-conscious” admissions policies when deciding whether to admit a student.

The Supreme Court held that both universities’ admissions programs violated equal protection. While the Court had permitted race-based college admissions as an exception to the Equal Protection Clause in the past, it did so on the basis that such programs satisfy the “strict scrutiny” standard, could not utilize race as a stereotype, and had to be finite.

According to the Court, Harvard and UNC’s admissions programs failed on all three counts. The Court stated in its opinion: “the student must be treated based on his or her experiences as an individual—not on the basis of race.”

However, the Court explained that universities may consider an applicant’s explanation of how race has impacted their life and experiences as part of an application process, as long as this information is considered as part of an assessment of an applicant’s “character” or “unique ability to contribute to the university.”

Broader Impact

The Court’s decision may have consequences beyond higher education and affect employers’ hiring and promotion policies across all sectors of the economy. Accordingly, employers should examine their approach to DE&I initiatives, particularly in the context of existing policies related to an organization’s diversity goals. Policies which consider race and ethnicity in a manner similar to Harvard and UNC should be carefully considered in light of the Court’s ruling.

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.

Five Stories that Matter in Michigan This Week – July 15, 2022

  1. Supreme Court Ruling Shouldn’t Affect Michigan’s Healthy Climate Plan

The Supreme Court’s recent ruling limiting the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon emissions from power plants should not affect Michigan’s course of following through with the MI Healthy Climate Plan, which was first released in April 2021. The MI Healthy Climate plan seeks interim reductions of 28% by 2025 and 52% by 2030.

Why it Matters: Businesses should continue to plan for the implementation of the MI Healthy Climate plan and other regulations as the state continues to shift towards the goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2050. If you have environmental issues with state and/or federal agencies, contact our environmental attorneys.

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  1. Several Groups Send Letter to LARA Seeking Adoption of International Energy Standards

Several groups have sent the department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs seeking them to adopt a set of international energy standards for residential and commercial buildings in preparation of electric vehicle charging and to help reduce climate impact.

Why it Matters: Including reducing climate impact, the groups have touted hundreds of dollars in energy cost savings for Michigan residents with the adoption of the new standards. “These provisions will lower costs for Michigan residents and businesses, increase household resilience from extreme weather events, and help reduce climate impacts from the building sector,” the groups wrote.

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  1. Tax Reform Goals Priority for New “Fund MI Future” Coalition

A collection of 20 organizations have formed a newly created coalition with the aim of better funding Michigan’s public services with changes to the state’s tax policy. Following the release of Michigan’s next annual budget, the group plans to revise the state’s tax system and close tax loopholes so that wealthy individuals and organizations will now “pay what they owe” to support clean water access, job funding, and school support.

Why it Matters: If the new coalition’s plans for altering the state’s tax policy succeeds, organizations and wealthy individuals are expected to have higher tax bills.

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  1. Mixed Signals in Michigan Marijuana Sales Data

One the one hand, the Michigan legal marijuana industry is booming. Sales in Michigan hit $1.03 billion in the first half of 2022, up by 26.9% from the same period last year, according to the Michigan Marijuana Regulatory Agency (“MMRA”). A Detroit News article reported that Michigan has become the third largest marijuana market in the country. On the other hand, not all news is rosy in the industry. There are now more than 1,000 licensed marijuana retailers in Michigan, and while sales numbers are at all-time highs, the competition in the state is driving down prices. MMRA reported that the average price for flower at $1959 per pound in June, down 41.6% from the same period in 2021.

Why it Matters: With inflation surging across the economy, falling prices in the marijuana industry mean that profits may be hard to come by. This may lead to more consolidation within the industry as operators and investors seek to achieve economies of scale.

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  1. Bipartisan Bills Would Allow Alcohol Sales at Some College Sporting Events in Michigan

New bipartisan bills in the Michigan Legislature would allow alcohol sales at college basketball, football and hockey games. House Bill 6289 and Senate Bill 1125 would allow the Michigan Liquor Control Commission to issue licenses to be used for events within the public areas of university football, basketball and hockey stadiums. Sales would be permitted two hours before and after each game.

Why it Matters: Sponsors of the bills point to data showing that allowing alcoholic beverages in venues during sporting events lowers the probability of excessive alcohol consumption that might otherwise happen during tailgating before a game or if alcohol is snuck into a stadium.


Related Practice Groups and Professionals

Environmental Law | Michael Perry

Business & Tax| Ed Castellani

Taxation | Paul McCord

Cannabis | Klint Kesto

Energy, Utilities & Telecommunication | Michael Ashton

Rucho et al v Common Cause

The United States Supreme Court today issued a long-awaited ruling in Rucho et al v Common Cause, et al that immediately highlights the value of Michigan’s recent Voters Not Politicians ballot initiative to pass Proposal 2 ending partisan gerrymandering in Michigan.

Michigan has already insulated itself from much of the harsh impact of today’s federal decision, by moving forward to adopt Proposal 2 to amend Michigan’s Constitution, which will result in the formation of a citizen’s commission to redistrict the state for the 2022 elections.

The Fraser Trebilcock election team represented Voters Not Politicians in VNP’s successful 2018 litigation winning a ruling from the Michigan Supreme Court mandating that Proposal 2 appear on that year’s ballot, and changing Michigan law in the process.

To view the full opinion, click here.

If It Doesn’t Say So, it Aint So: Michigan Supreme Court Holds For-Profit Schools Entitled to Property Tax Exemption

A unanimous Michigan Supreme Court decision this week will have big implications for for-profit schools and colleges – and even for-profit laboratories, research and development facilities, and test centers. Continue reading If It Doesn’t Say So, it Aint So: Michigan Supreme Court Holds For-Profit Schools Entitled to Property Tax Exemption

SCOTUS Same-Sex Marriage Decision May Impact Employee Benefits Plans

On Friday, June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court issued the 5-4 landmark decision in Obergefell v Hodges striking down same-sex marriage bans across the country as unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment. Continue reading SCOTUS Same-Sex Marriage Decision May Impact Employee Benefits Plans

United States v. Windsor: One Year Later

On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in United States v. Windsor, invalidating Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). In the year following the decision, its implications for employee benefit programs are becoming more clear. Fraser Trebilcock attorney Brian Gallagher recently spoke about these implications as the employee benefits panelist for a Thompson Reuters webcast on the current state of the law.

Continue reading United States v. Windsor: One Year Later

OBAMA ADMINISTRATION CLAIMS FIRST VICTORY IN HEALTH CARE OVERHAUL LITIGATION

A three-judge panel from the United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit has ruled that the Obama administration’s plan to require citizens to purchase health insurance did not violate the Constitution.  This is the first such opinion and is considered a win for the Obama administration.

The Thomas More Law Center, based in Ann Arbor, had sued on behalf of itself and its members claiming that the requirement in the 2010 health care law for individuals to either purchase health insurance or to pay a penalty was unconstitutional.  The judge in the Eastern District of Michigan disagreed, holding that the statute was constitutional.  The plaintiffs appealed the decision to the Court of Appeals, which upheld the lower court’s decision.  There are currently two other similar lawsuits pending in other  parts of the country.

Plaintiffs argued that Congress lacked authority to require citizens to purchase health insurance and that the penalty for not purchasing health insurance constituted an unconstitutional tax.    But on appeal, the Court found that Congress could rationally believe that requiring the purchase of health insurance was an economic activity that had substantial effects on interstate commerce, and that the provision requiring either purchase or a penalty was essential to the larger approach to reforming the health care and health insurance markets.

Combined with the other two opinions pending from the 4th Circuit and the 11th Circuit, it is widely expected that the Supreme Court will take up one or more of the decisions for review, potentially as early as the Supreme Court’s next term which commences in October.  Accordingly, the 6th Circuit’s opinion is not likely to be the final say in the matter.

As the constitutionality of the health care law effects every person in the United States, the arguments by the litigants and ultimately the decision of the Supreme Court have an important impact on the lives of Americans.  If you have any questions about this article, or legal concerns about any health care issue at all, please see our Health Care web page for contact information of our Department’s attorneys.

To learn more, contact our Health Care Department Chair Jonathan Raven at jraven@fraserlawfirm.com or 517.377.0816. Jonathan has guided business and health care leaders in strategically planning, implementing, and adapting to often unpredictable and rapidly changing environments.