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A Better Partnership
August 21, 2014

COA rejects constitutional challenge to the transfer of the Court of Claims jurisdiction from the Ingham County Circuit Court to the Court of Appeals

The Court of Claims hears certain claims brought against the State.  In 2013, the Michigan Legislature transferred the jurisdiction of that Court from the Ingham County Circuit Court to the Court of Appeals.  In Okrie v State of Michigan, No. 913550, the Court of Appeals considered the original action petition challenging the constitutionality of that statute.  Although the Court of Appeals raised questions about the wisdom of this transfer of jurisdiction, it ultimately concluded that this facial challenge to the statute must fail because the Court of Claims is a legislatively created court, and assigning the Court of Claims cases to Court of Appeals judges does not require those judges to hold incompatible offices, and such judges are capable of being impartial decision makers even though other judges from the Court of Appeals would conduct the direct appellate review of Court of Claims decisions.

To begin with, the petitioner argued that the statute violated the separation of powers doctrine by interfering with the jurisdiction of the Court of Claims and the Court of Appeals.  The Court rejected this argument finding that the Court of Claims was not a constitutionally created court but was, instead, a creation of legislation and thus changes to that legislation do no violate separation of powers.  Additionally, the Court concluded that the legislation did not improperly interfere with the constitutional jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals as the Michigan Constitution states that the Court's jurisdiction shall be "provided by law." Const. 1963, art. 6, § 10.  Here, the Court of Appeals jurisdiction over the Court of Claims matters has been provided by the 2013 legislation.

Next, the petitioner asserted that a judge's role as both a Court of Appeals judge and a Court of Claims judge were constitutionally incompatible.  The Court disagreed noting that there was no explicit prohibition of a Court of Appeals judge also serving as a judge in the Court of Claims.  The Court stated that the two judicial offices might be incompatible if the same judges would sit in direct appellate review of their own Court of Claims decisions, but that would not happen in this system.   

The petitioner also contended that the statute unconstitutionally deprived him of his due process right to an impartial decision maker, given the conflict of having the same Court both hear a case at the trial court level, and hear the direct appeal from that trial court.  Although the Court noted that this situation could lead to criticism, because of the screening procedures in place to prevent conflicts, it was not so extreme as to constitute a due process violation.

Finally, the Court upheld the immediate effect of the operative statute, finding the evidentiary of the votes for immediate effect published in the legislative journal was sufficient to establish the necessary two-thirds majority required for immediate effect.  

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