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A Better Partnership
September 12, 2016

COA holds that where public body did not regularly violate the Open Meetings Act, there is no cause for injunctive relief

In Citizens for a Better Algonac Community Schools v. Algonac Community Schools, No. 326583, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that the plaintiffs had no cause of action under the Open Meetings Act (“OMA”) because there was no ongoing violation of the OMA.  Therefore, plaintiffs were not entitled to the injunctive relief they sought.
 
In 2014, the Algonac Board of Education was in the process of hiring a new school superintendent for the defendant.  After a special meeting where there was a unanimous vote to offer the position to a candidate, the Board began development of the contract for the position.  Over the course of a few weeks, Board members exchanged emails regarding contract negotiations and settled on a final contract.  At the next regular Board meeting, the Board unanimously approved the employment contract.  Shortly after, plaintiffs filed suit, alleging that the Board’s emails constituted deliberations of a public body that were required to take place at a meeting open to the public under the OMA.  The trial court ruled that the Board had violated the OMA, declined to grant injunctive relief and instead granted declaratory relief in favor of plaintiffs.  Plaintiffs appealed.
 
The OMA provides for three causes of action: (1) to invalidate a decision; (2) for injunctive relief to enjoin an ongoing OMA violation; and (3) for damages for intentional OMA violation.  It does not create a separate cause of action for declaratory relief, see Speicher v. Columbia Township Board of Trustees, Michigan Supreme Court No. 148617, previously blogged about here.  Under the OMA, all meetings of a public body must be open to the public, all decisions shall be made at meetings open to the public, and all deliberations constituting a quorum shall take place at meetings open to the public.  Here, plaintiffs sought injunctive relief under the OMA for the Board’s email deliberations on the superintendent contract.  The Court of Appeals held that because there was no pattern, within a relevant timeframe, that reflected that the Board had been regularly engaging in activity that violated the OMA, plaintiffs’ claim was insufficient to show an ongoing OMA violation requiring injunctive relief.  In light of its holding, the Court found that the plaintiffs had no sustainable cause of action, vacated the trial court’s ruling granting declaratory relief, and remanded the case for entry of an order dismissing plaintiffs’ OMA action.
 
J. O’Connell concurred in part and dissented in part, stating that he would have concluded that the trial court validly granted plaintiffs declaratory relief, but that they were not entitled to attorney fees because they did not obtain injunctive relief.

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