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November 13, 2015

COA: Monthly charge collected by FOC from child and spousal support payments is not an unconstitutional taking nor does it violate substantive due process

In Trantham v. State Disbursement Unit, No. 322289, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that a $3.50 monthly charge collected by the Friend of the Court (“FOC”) pursuant to MCL 600.2538(1) does not violate the Takings Clause or substantive due process.  However, the court also noted that the portion of the fee constituting a tax could violate the Title-Object Clause and the Distinct-Statement Clause of the Michigan Constitution.
 
Jeffrey Trantham has paid child support through the Oakland County FOC since September 2005.  He filed a class action lawsuit challenging a $3.50 monthly charge collected by the FOC from individuals who made child or spousal support payments through the FOC system.  Specifically, Trantham claimed that the monthly charge constituted an unconstitutional taking and violated substantive due process. The court of claims granted the defendants’ motion for summary disposition, stating that the monthly charge was not a taking because it was a mere “user fee,” and that the charge did not violate substantive due process because it was rationally related to a legitimate government interest in supporting FOC services.
 
The Court of Appeals first concluded that the monthly charge as a whole did not violate the Takings Clause.  Specifically, the $2.25 portion of the monthly charge sent to local counties to fund FOC services and the $1.00 portion sent to the state treasurer for deposit into the state court fund were valid user fees.  In addition, the $0.25 portion going toward the attorney general’s operations fund was a tax.  Neither taxes nor user fees are takings.  However, the court noted that the $0.25 portion of the charge could violate the Title-Object Clause and the Distinct-Statement Clause of the Michigan Constitution.  Because the court of claims did not address this issue, the Court of Appeals remanded for a determination of the constitutionality of the $0.25 tax. 
 
With respect to the substantive due process challenge, the court concluded that the charge was related to the legitimate government purpose of funding of the court systems and raising revenue for the attorney general’s operations.  Thus, the monthly charge was not so arbitrary as to violate substantive due process. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings.

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