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A Better Partnership
October 23, 2014

COA: The Governor did not violate the Michigan Constitution in terminating department positions

In Robert Aguirre v. Department of Corrections, No. 316918, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that Governor Snyder had express authority under the Michigan Constitution to reorganize the executive branch and the elimination of members’ positions under his restructuring Executive Order 2011-3 did not breach their contracts. The court also interpreted Order 2011-3 and found that the eliminated board members’ contracts were not transferred to the newly formed board.
 
In 2009, Governor Granholm created a Parole and Commutation Board within the Department of Corrections comprised of fifteen members. Several board members, including Robert Aguirre, were appointed for terms ranging from 2009 to 2014. However, in 2011, Governor Snyder abolished the Parole and Commutation Board and created a ten member Parole Board in Executive Order 2011-3. The Director of the Department of Corrections was granted the power under the Order 2011-3 to appoint ten members to the Parole Board. Aguirre and other eliminated members brought suit against the State and Department of Corrections claiming that their contracts should transfer over to the new Parole Board, and the termination of their positions breached their contracts. The trial court granted the members’ motion for summary disposition, holding that Order 2011-3 did transfer the members’ contracts to the new Parole Board and that, under the Michigan Constitution, the termination was a breach of contract. The State and Department of Corrections appealed.
 
The Michigan Court of Appeals held that the Governor did not violate the Michigan Constitution in terminating the members’ positions. The court interpreted Article 5, Section 2 of the Michigan Constitution to find that Governor Snyder had authority to reorganize the departments, and communicated no intent to transfer the members to the new Parole Board. Looking to the reasoning in Morris v. Governor, 214 Mich. App. 606, 610-611 (1995), the court concluded that the Governor did not violate Article 5, Section 10 because his actions constituted a reorganization. Article 5, Section 10 only applies if an employee is removed and another is hired to fill the exact same position. The members also claimed that the reorganization violated the Contracts Clause of the Michigan Constitution. The Court of Appeals declined to decide that issue, because it was not previously decided by the trial court. 

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