Matters within the Court of Claims’ jurisdiction may be joined without any formal approval and litigated in circuit court, if the parties continue to litigate in circuit court after the statutory right of removal becomes available, held the Michigan Court of Appeals in Baynesan v. Wayne State University, No. 326132
Plaintiff Joseph Baynesan filed a two-count complaint in the Wayne Circuit Court against Defendant Wayne State University, alleging a violation of the Whistleblower’s Protection Act (WPA) and a public policy tort claim. Upon stipulation of the parties, the circuit court dismissed the tort claim and plaintiff then filed his tort claim in the Court of Claims. Plaintiff also filed a motion to join the tort action with the WPA action that was still pending in circuit court. The Court of Claims granted the motion and joined the tort claim with the WPA action in circuit court.
In late 2013, several statutes were amended that affected the Court of Claims scope of jurisdiction and the ability to transfer cases from the Court of Claims to the Michigan Court of Appeals. As amended, MCL 600.6419(1)(a) conferred jurisdiction on the Court of Claims to “hear and determine any claim or demand, statutory or constitutional . . . or any demand for monetary, equitable, or declaratory relief or any demand for an extraordinary writ against the state . . . .” MCL 600.6404(3) was amended to allow matters pending or filed in any court to be transferred to the Court of Claims upon notice of the state. And MCL 600.6421 preserved parties’ rights to secure jury trials in actions that now came within the jurisdiction of the Court of Claims.
Despite these statutory changes, the parties continued to litigate plaintiff’s claims in the Wayne Circuit Court through most of 2014. With a final pretrial conference scheduled for November 5, 2014 and a jury trial scheduled for December 1, 2014, defendant filed a “Notice of Transfer to Court of Claims” on November 3, 2014, stating the transfer was pursuant to MCL 600.6404(3). The next day, plaintiff filed an emergency motion in the Court of Claims to transfer the case back to the Wayne Circuit Court and for sanctions. After oral arguments, the Court of Claims granted plaintiff’s motion for transfer on January 30, 2015. The court reasoned that defendant’s transfer was inappropriate and impermissible after litigating the matter for almost a year after the option for transfer became possible. The Court of Claims also opined that defendant’s conduct committed itself to Wayne County Circuit Court’s jurisdiction.
The Court of Appeals addressed whether the Court of Claims determination that plaintiff’s claims should be transferred back to circuit court was appropriate. MCL 600.6419 provides that jurisdiction of the Court of Claims was exclusive, except as provided in sections 6421 and 6440. Also, under section 6421, any matter within the jurisdiction of the Court of Claims described in section 6419 may be joined for trial with the cases arising out of the same transaction that was pending in any of the trial courts. Section 6421 also provides that “if a party has the right to a trial by jury and asserts that right . . . the claim may be heard and determined by a circuit, district, or probate court in the appropriate venue.” As a result, the Court of Claims and the Wayne Circuit Court had concurrent jurisdiction of both of plaintiff’s claims.
The Court of Appeals held that the Court of Claims’ determination that defendant’s notice was ineffective and untimely was not clearly erroneous. It reasoned that there was no formalistic approval required to invoke joinder under section 6412 and by continuing to litigate in circuit court, defendant’s conduct approved of the continuing jurisdiction of the circuit court for both claims. The court also opined that the Court of Claims supported its determination that defendant’s notice was ineffective because determining otherwise may foster gamesmanship and forum-shopping. Lastly, the court held that the Court of Claims had inherent authority to impose sanctions it deemed appropriate and the sanctions it did impose on defendant were not drastic. Therefore, the Court of Appeals concluded that Court of Claims decision was within the range of principled outcomes.