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A Better Partnership
March 06, 2015

MSC orders reconsideration of attorney fees awarded under the Open Meetings Act

In Speicher v Columbia Township Board of Trustees, No. 148999, the Michigan Supreme Court vacated a Court of Appeals decision awarding actual attorney fees and costs under the Open Meetings Act (MCL 15.261 et seq.) and remanded the case for reconsideration in light of the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision in Speicher v Columbia Township and Columbia Township Planning Commission, No. 148617, which held that the plain language of MCL 15.271(4) of the Open Meetings Act indicates that a person may not recover court costs or attorney fees unless he or she succeeds in obtaining injunctive relief.  The Michigan Supreme Court directed the court to pay particular attention to the plain language of the Act when revisiting its decision.
Speicher sued the Columbia Township Board of Trustees in 2010 for violating the Open Meetings Act by interviewing candidates for the township’s fire chief position in a meeting closed to the public.  After the closed interviews, the Board held three meetings open to the public regarding the hiring of a new chief.  The trial court ruled that the hiring process did violate the Open Meetings Act, but the court refused to invalidate the Board’s appointment of a new chief or award court costs and attorney fees.  The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision upholding the hiring of the fire chief, but reversed and remanded with respect to plaintiff’s motion for cost and attorney fees.  The Court of Appeals relied on previous case law to hold that where a trial court declares that the defendants violated the Open Meetings Act, but finds it unnecessary to grant injunctive relief, the plaintiffs are entitled to attorney fees. 
After the Court of Appeals decided this case however, the Michigan Supreme Court again considered this issue in Speicher v Columbia Township and Columbia Township Planning Commission, No. 148617.  There, the court held that MCL 15.271 limits the award of attorney fees to cases in which the public body persists in violating the act, a suit is brought to enjoin that behavior, and that suit is successful in obtaining injunctive relief.  In light of that decision, the Michigan Supreme Court ordered the Court of Appeals reconsider the issue of attorney fees by analyzing the plain language of MCL 15.271(4). 

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