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A Better Partnership
October 23, 2014

COA rules that limitations period in the Court of Claims Act applies to alleged constitutional violations

In Rusha v. Department of Corrections, No. 317693, Mr. Rusha brought a claim against the Department of Corrections (DOC) alleging cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Michigan Constitution.  Rusha’s allegations are serious: that due to a questionable compensation method for independent medical contractors, prison doctors were incentivized to provide substandard care to prisoners, and as a result, Rusha was refused treatment for his previously diagnosed multiple sclerosis, eventually forcing him into a wheelchair.  The problem with Rusha’s claim, however, is that he failed to comply with the Court of Claims Act (specifically, MCL 600.6431(3)), which requires claimants alleging personal injury or property damage to either file a claim, or to provide notice of his intention to file a claim against the state, within six months.
The sole issue for the Court was whether Rusha’s failure to comply with the six-month statutory notice period of MCL 600.6431(3) barred his claim.  The COA overruled the Court of Claims and granted summary judgment for the DOC, holding that the statute provided an unambiguous condition precedent to suing the state and that a claimant’s failure to comply strictly with this notice provision warrants dismissal of the claim.  Rusha contended that because the Constitution trumps statutes, the Act’s statutory notice requirement could not interfere with his constitutional tort claim, but the Court gave scant consideration to this argument.  Instead, the Court found that the legislature may impose reasonable procedural requirements on a plaintiff’s available remedies, even when those remedies pertain to constitutional violations.  

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