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A Better Partnership
May 22, 2014

COA finds the Michigan Commission for the Blind does not have the power to award monetary damages

In Fellows v. Michigan Commission for the Blind, the Michigan Court of Appeals reiterated that an administrative commission’s authority may not exceed the express or implied powers granted to the commission by the relevant state statute.  The Court interpreted a statute that created the Michigan Commission for the Blind (the “Commission”), MCL 393.358, to deny the Commission the power to award monetary damages.  The relevant statute granted power to the Commission to act for the benefit of blind persons by effectuating agreements between the state and federal government.
This case originated when Fellows, a blind operator of a concession stand in Cadillac Place, brought a complaint to the Commission’s Business Enterprise Program (the “BEP”), claiming that several businesses operated by non-blind owners unfairly took business from his concession.  According to another state statute, MCL 393.359, a concession in a building owned by the state “shall be operated by a blind person.”  Fellows operated his concession pursuant to that statute, as the state had recently purchased Cadillac Place.  In his initial complaint, Fellows asked only that the Commission take steps to ensure that concessions in Cadillac Place be operated by blind persons only.  Those concessions operated at Cadillac Place by non-blind owners, however, were operated pursuant to pre-existing leases authorized by MCL 393.360(2). 
The BEP declined to address Fellows’ claim, which led him to seek a contested hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), who suggested that the Commission’s Board (the “Board”) either dismiss the case or find for the Commission.  The Board rejected this suggestion and remanded the case to the ALJ to evaluate whether any monetary damages were due to Fellows.  At that second hearing, the ALJ suggested that the Commission award Fellows appropriate damages, which the Board subsequently refused to do.  When Fellows appealed to the Ingham County Circuit Court, that court found for Fellows in the amount of $475,576.  The Court of Appeals overruled the circuit court, holding that MCL 393.358 gives no power, either express or implied, to the Commission to award damages.  As a creation of the Legislature, the Commission lacks the statutory authority to compensate for any alleged monetary damages, and the Court thus upheld the Board’s refusal to compensate Fellows based on the Commission’s lack of authority to do so. 

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