Barrow v. City of Detroit Election Comm'n

Decision Date18 June 2013
Docket NumberDocket No. 316695.
Citation836 N.W.2d 498,301 Mich.App. 404
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan — District of US


Andrew A. Paterson, Pleasant Ridge, for plaintiff.

Melvin Butch Hollowell, Esq., PC, Detroit (by Melvin Butch Hollowell), Bodman, PLC, Detroit (by Thomas P. Bruetsch), and Honigman Miller Schwartz & Cohn, Lansing, (by John D. Pirich and Andrea L. Hansen) for the intervening defendants.

Before: STEPHENS, P.J., and TALBOT and MURRAY, JJ.


Intervening defendants-appellants, Michael Duggan and the Michael Duggan for Mayor Committee, appeal as of right an order granting declaratory relief in regard to plaintiff's complaint for mandamus, declaring that Duggan was ineligible to be a candidate for the position of Mayor of Detroit, and directing that defendants, City of Detroit Election Commission and Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey, remove his name from the list of eligible names to run in the August 2013 primary election for mayor. We affirm.


This case concerns whether Michael Duggan is eligible to be placed on the primary ballot for mayor under the City of Detroit's Charter, which requires that a candidate for mayor be a resident and a registered voter for one year “at the time of filing for office....” The material facts are undisputed. Duggan, formerly of Livonia, moved to Detroit in March 2012. Duggan registered to vote in Detroit on April 12, 2012. Duggan filed his nominating petitions with the requisite number of signatures for the August mayoral primary on April 2, 2013.

Plaintiff Tom Barrow, himself a candidate for the mayoral election, thereafter contacted Detroit City Clerk Janice Winfrey, challenging whether Duggan met the residency requirements set forth in the Detroit City Charter to be placed on the ballot. At issue was Detroit City Charter § 2–101, “Qualifications for Elective Officers and Appointive Officers,” which provides, in pertinent part:

A person seeking elective office must be a citizen of the United States, a resident and a qualified and registered voter of the City of Detroit for one (1) year at the time of filing for office, and retain that status throughout their tenure in any such elective office.

The above provision applies to persons seeking election as mayor pursuant to charter provision § 2–105(A)(13) (defining “elective officers” to include the Mayor of Detroit, among others).

Plaintiff contended that Duggan had not been a registered voter in Detroit for one year before the filing of his petitions on April 2, 2013. Duggan countered that he had been a registered voter in Detroit for one year before the mayoral primary filing deadline, which was May 14, 2013. It is undisputed that had Duggan filed his petitions on or after April 12, 2013, he would have met the durational voter registration requirement.

The three-member Detroit Election Commission, comprised of Winfrey, Detroit City Council President Charles Pugh, and Acting Corporation Counsel Edward Keelean, met to certify the names of candidates for placement on the ballot for the August 2013 primary election in accordance with their statutory duties under MCL 168.3231 and MCL 168.719.2 On May 23, 2013, a divided Election Commission decided that Duggan fulfilled the charter requirements to file for office. Voting to certify were Winfrey and Keelean, apparently on the basis that Duggan was qualified because he had been a registered voter in Detroit for one year before the filing deadline applicable to all candidates. Pugh dissented.

Plaintiff then brought an action for mandamus in circuit court, seeking a declaratory judgment that Duggan was ineligible to appear on the ballot because he did not comply with the charter. Plaintiff argued that because Duggan had not been a registered voter in Detroit for one year at the time he filed his petitions to run for mayor, his name should not be placed on the August ballot. Plaintiff also moved for injunctive relief.

Duggan answered that mandamus was inappropriate. He contended that in instances of technical defects, access to the ballot should be granted, particularly if absurd results would otherwise occur. He also maintained that the durational residency requirement was unconstitutional.

Defendants asserted that the circuit court should give deference to the Detroit Election Commission's interpretation of the charter. Defendants averred that Michigan caselaw was inconclusive regarding durational residency requirements for candidates. Finally, defendants urged the court to apply the doctrine of substantial compliance.

In a thorough and well-written opinion, the circuit court decided that the language of § 2–101 was plain and unambiguous and, utilizing the common meaning of the terms, opined that the phrase “at the time of filing for office” meant the “specific point in time when the candidate has delivered his or her non-partisan nomination petitions and affidavit of identity to the City Clerk.” The court ruled that defendants had a clear legal duty to determine whether Duggan met the qualifications for inclusion of his name on the ballot on April [301 Mich.App. 410]2, 2013, the date he filed his nominating petitions, not the date of the filing deadline.

With regard to Duggan's constitutional arguments, the circuit court ruled that the cases he cited were distinguishable and therefore were not binding. The court cited federal caselaw and observed that rarely has a one-year residency requirement been struck down. The court ruled that the charter's one-year residency requirement was not unconstitutional per se and concluded that there were multiple bases upon which the provision could be construed as constitutional.

On appeal, Duggan argues that the language of the Detroit City Charter, which he claims is poorly drafted, is ambiguous. Thus, the Election Commission did not have a clear legal duty to conclude that he was not qualified. Duggan calculates his one-year residency requirement from the petitions' filing deadline, May 14, 2013. He contends that he was a resident of Detroit and a registered voter since at least May 14, 2012, such that the Election Commission was correct in certifying him. Further, any ambiguity on this point should weigh in favor of access to the ballot and letting the electorate decide the issue, particularly where he merely filed his petitions early. Had he waited until the filing deadline, this issue would be moot. He adds that the charter's durational residency requirements are unconstitutional under a strict scrutiny standard.

Plaintiff answers that the language of § 2–101 is clear and unambiguous and provides that Duggan must have been a registered voter in Detroit for at least one year at the time he filed for office. To accept Duggan's reading of § 2–101 would require this Court to substitute “by the filing deadline” for “at the time of filing for office,” an unwarranted reading of the plain words of the charter. Further, plaintiff asserts that the circuit court correctly determined that § 2–101 was constitutional.


The issues presented are subject to review de novo. Courts review questions of law under a de novo standard. Loweke v. Ann Arbor Ceiling & Partition Co., LLC, 489 Mich. 157, 162, 809 N.W.2d 553 (2011). Specifically, in a mandamus action this Court reviews de novo as questions of law whether a defendant has a clear legal duty to perform and whether a plaintiff has a clear legal right to performance. See In re MCI Telecom. Complaint, 460 Mich. 396, 442–443, 596 N.W.2d 164 (1999).3 As in other cases, in a declaratory judgment action this Court reviews de novo a trial court's decision regarding a motion for summary decision. See Mich. Ed. Employees Mut. Ins. Co. v. Turow, 242 Mich.App. 112, 114, 617 N.W.2d 725 (2000). The interpretation of a city charter provision is a question of law. In re Storm, 204 Mich.App. 323, 325, 514 N.W.2d 538 (1994), overruled in part on other grounds Detroit Police Officers Ass'n v. Detroit, 452 Mich. 339, 342 n. 2, 551 N.W.2d 349 (1996). Constitutional issues also receive review de novo. Sidun v. Wayne Co. Treasurer, 481 Mich. 503, 508, 751 N.W.2d 453 (2008).


Duggan challenges the grant of mandamus to plaintiff. A plaintiff has the burden of establishing entitlementto the extraordinary remedy of a writ of mandamus. Lansing Sch. Ed. Ass'n v. Lansing Bd. of Ed. (On Remand), 293 Mich.App. 506, 519–520, 810 N.W.2d 95 (2011). The plaintiff must show that (1) the plaintiff has a clear legal right to the performance of the duty sought to be compelled, (2) the defendant has a clear legal duty to perform such act, (3) the act is ministerial in nature such that it involves no discretion or judgment, and (4) the plaintiff has no other adequate legal or equitable remedy. Vorva v. Plymouth–Canton Community Sch. Dist., 230 Mich.App. 651, 655–656, 584 N.W.2d 743 (1998).

It is undisputed that defendants have the statutory duty to submit the names of the eligible candidates for the primary election, see MCL 168.323 and MCL 168.719. The inclusion or exclusion of a name on a ballot is ministerial in nature. Here, plaintiff himself is a candidate for mayor, as well as a citizen of Detroit. Aside from the instant action, plaintiff has no other adequate legal remedy, particularly given that the election is mere weeks away and the ballot printing deadline is imminent. Plaintiff thus has established that mandamus is the proper method of raising his legal challenge to Duggan's candidacy. See, generally, Sullivan v. Secretary of State, 373 Mich. 627, 130 N.W.2d 392 (1964); Wojcinski v. State Bd. of Canvassers, 347 Mich. 573, 81 N.W.2d 390 (1957).

The circuit court accepted plaintiff's challenges to Duggan's candidacy, thus, plaintiff established his entitlement to a writ of mandamus. Upon review, if we in turn likewise determine that Duggan did not meet the...

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