City of Detroit v. Walker, Docket Nos. 96594

CourtSupreme Court of Michigan
Writing for the CourtMALLETT; MICHAEL F. CAVANAGH; RILEY; In his landmark treatise on taxation
Citation520 N.W.2d 135,445 Mich. 682
Decision Date26 July 1994
Docket NumberNo. 8,96599,Docket Nos. 96594
PartiesCITY OF DETROIT, a Michigan municipal corporation, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. R. Terry WALKER, and R. Terry Walker d/b/a Great Lakes Development Co., Curtis Anderson, Superior Investment and Rental Corporation, Total Investment Co., Inc., Charles Smith, and Kenneth Almas, Individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of Victor Almas, and Almas Realty, Defendants-Appellees. Calendar

Page 135

520 N.W.2d 135
445 Mich. 682
CITY OF DETROIT, a Michigan municipal corporation, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
R. Terry WALKER, and R. Terry Walker d/b/a Great Lakes
Development Co., Curtis Anderson, Superior Investment and
Rental Corporation, Total Investment Co., Inc., Charles
Smith, and Kenneth Almas, Individually and as Personal
Representative of the Estate of Victor Almas, and Almas
Realty, Defendants-Appellees.
Docket Nos. 96594, 96599
Calendar No. 8.
Supreme Court of Michigan.
Argued April 6, 1994.
Decided July 26, 1994.

Page 136

[445 Mich. 685] City of Detroit Law Dept. by Joanne D. Stafford, Supervising Asst. Corp. Counsel, Detroit, for plaintiff-appellant.

Rubenstein Plotkin, P.C. by Edward L. Haroutunian, Casimir J. Swastek, Southfield, for defendant-appellee Estate of Victor A. Almas, Deceased.

Mager, Monahan, Donaldson & Alber, P.C., Lawrence M. Scott, Detroit, for defendants-appellees R. Terry Walker and Anderson.

OPINION

MALLETT, Justice.

We granted leave in these consolidated cases to resolve two questions: (1) whether the 1974 Detroit City Charter incorporates

Page 137

by reference provisions of state statutory law, specifically the 1988 amendment of the General Property Tax Act, 1988 P.A. 202, M.C.L. § 211.47; M.S.A. § 7.91, that authorizes local governments to collect delinquent real property taxes by suing a taxpayer individually, and (2) assuming the city may utilize the in personam tax collection provisions contained in the General Property Tax Act to collect delinquent real property taxes, whether 1988 P.A. 202 may be retroactively applied.

We reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals and find that § 8-403 of the Detroit City Charter expressly incorporates by reference future powers and rights as may be granted by the Michigan [445 Mich. 686] Legislature. We further hold that state statutes that provide new procedures or methods for collecting unpaid real property taxes are retroactively applicable. Consequently, we remand this case to the trial court for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I

This matter involves six consolidated tax collection suits initiated in 1989 by the plaintiff-appellant City of Detroit, to collect delinquent real property taxes owed by the defendants-appellees R. Terry Walker, Curtis Anderson, Superior Investment and Rental Corporation, Total Investment Company, Charles Smith, and Kenneth Almas, personally and as personal representative of the estate of Victor Almas. 1 The City of Detroit attempted to collect the debts by filing in personam lawsuits against the delinquent taxpayers, a remedy authorized by a 1988 amendment of the General Property Tax Act. 2

On motion by the delinquent taxpayers, the trial court granted summary judgment in their favor. The trial court accepted the defendants' argument that pursuant to the holding in Joy Management Co. v. Detroit, 176 Mich.App. 722, 440 N.W.2d 654 (1989), the city was precluded by the provisions of the city charter from using any method of tax collection, other than the real property foreclosure method contained in art 8, § 8-403(6). 3 A unanimous[445 Mich. 687] panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed. 4 We thereafter granted leave to appeal, 514 N.W.2d 760.

II

At the turn of the century, a Michigan city's autonomy was inferior to a modern state agency. See Streat v. Vermilya, 268 Mich. 1, 255 N.W. 604 (1934). For example, state lawmakers had the power to select local officers. In addition, state lawmakers modified city charters and made organizational changes to city departments. This interference perpetually fueled public resentment. 5

Page 138

In 1908, constitutional convention delegates proposed[445 Mich. 688] and the Michigan voters approved the following language:

The legislature shall provide by a general law for the incorporation of cities, and by a general law for the incorporation of villages; such general laws shall limit their rate of taxation for municipal purposes, and restrict their powers of borrowing money and contracting debts. [Const. 1908, art. 8, § 20.]

Under such general laws, the electors of each city and village shall have power and authority to frame, adopt and amend its charter and to amend an existing charter of the city or village heretofore granted or passed by the legislature for the government of the city or village and, through its regularly constituted authority, to pass all laws and ordinances relating to its municipal concerns, subject to the Constitution and general laws of this state. [Id., § 21.]

State lawmakers propelled by the Michigan Constitution and the power and authority conferred by it enacted the home rule cities act. 6 The act, among other things, provides that each organized city shall be a body corporate and shall adopt mandatory charter provisions, and allows for other permissible charter provisions. The act also provides[445 Mich. 689] for the revision of existing city charters and the creation of a charter commission, and defines the powers and duties of such a commission. 7

The home rule cities act, M.C.L. § 117.1 et seq.; M.S.A. § 5.2071 et seq., specifically directs the City of Detroit and other home rule cities to enact charters recognizing the power to levy taxes; limiting the subject of ad valorem taxation for municipal purposes to the same subject of state, county, and school purposes under the general law; and setting a maximum rate of taxes. M.C.L. § 117.3(f), (g); M.S.A. § 5.2073(f), (g). Moreover, home rule cities have power to make all reasonable provisions for the collection of these taxes. Detroit v. Safety Investment Corp., 288 Mich. 511, 515, 285 N.W. 42 (1939).

The Michigan Constitution provides that "[t]he provisions of this constitution and law concerning counties, townships, cities and villages shall be liberally construed in their favor." Const.1963, art. 7, § 34. It also provides that "[n]o enumeration of powers granted to cities and villages in this constitution shall limit or restrict the general grant of [445 Mich. 690] authority conferred by this section." Const.1963, art. 7, § 22.

Accordingly, it is clear that home rule cities enjoy not only those powers specifically granted, but they may also exercise all powers not expressly denied. Home rule

Page 139

cities are empowered to form for themselves a plan of government suited to their unique needs and, upon local matters, exercise the treasured right of self-governance. See Const.1963, art. 7, § 22. 8

Our municipal governance system has matured to one of general grant of rights and powers, subject only to certain enumerated restrictions instead of the earlier method of granting enumerated rights and powers definitely specified. The convention comment to the most recent amendment of the Michigan Constitution announces best the current relationship between municipalities and the state. It provides that "a revision of Sec. 21, Article VIII, of the present [1908] constitution reflects Michigan's successful experience with home rule."

Against this backdrop, we go forward.

III

The matter before us requires the construction [445 Mich. 691] of a home rule city charter. The prevailing rules regarding statutory construction are well established and extend to the construction of home rule charters. Brady v. Detroit, 353 Mich. 243, 248, 91 N.W.2d 257 (1958). Therefore, we are required to construe the charter's language by its commonly accepted meaning as long as it does not produce absurdity, hardship, injustice, or prejudice to the drafters and ratifiers. Reisman v. Regents of Wayne State Univ., 188 Mich.App. 526, 536, 470 N.W.2d 678 (1991).

Here, we must determine whether § 8-403(1) of the Detroit City Charter incorporates by reference the provisions of state law, specifically the 1988 amendment of the General Property Tax Act that allows local governments to collect delinquent real property taxes by suing the taxpayer personally.

The Detroit City Charter, in its general powers section, directs that the specific mention of particular powers in the charter shall not be construed as a limitation of the powers of the city conferred by the constitution and state law, and that the powers of the city under the charter shall be construed liberally in favor of the city. 9 Moreover, several sections of the 1974 Detroit City Charter [445 Mich. 692] incorporate by reference provisions of state law. 10 Nonetheless, in Joy Management v. Detroit, supra 176 Mich.App. at 733, 440 N.W.2d 654, the Court of Appeals held that art 8, § 8-403 of the Detroit City Charter only authorized a single means of collecting delinquent real property taxes. 11

Page 140

In Joy Management, the City of Detroit attempted to settle delinquent real property taxes by seizing fire insurance proceeds. The circuit court ruled that statutory law then in effect precluded seizure of insurance proceeds as intangibles. 12 The Court of Appeals affirmed and went several steps further to conclude that the city's charter afforded merely one remedy for collecting unpaid real property taxes:

Defendant's charter limits defendant's remedy [445 Mich. 693] to an action for foreclosure on the tax lien. Section 8-403 of the Detroit City Code provides that the city may bring a civil action to foreclose its lien two years after the city's lien on real property for delinquent city real property taxes accrues. The city's charter does not provide any other method for the city to collect delinquent real property taxes. Even if § 47 [M.C.L. § 211.47; M.S.A. § 7.91] were to allow the city treasurer to place a lien on insurance proceeds, defendant's own charter does not authorize it to do so. The General Property Tax Act does not apply to cities whose charters provide inconsistent provisions. MCL 211.107; MSA 7.161. [Id. 176 Mich.App. at 733-734, 440 N.W.2d 654.]

In the case before us, the Court of Appeals similarly held that the city's sole means of collecting delinquent real property taxes was by lien and...

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  • Rafaeli, LLC v. Oakland Cnty., Docket No. 156849
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • July 17, 2020
    ...belief, founded on experience, that private property was often taken improperly and without any necessity").94 Detroit v. Walker , 445 Mich. 682, 701-704, 520 N.W.2d 135 (1994) (explaining that citizens have a duty to pay their taxes and that the Legislature may enact procedural schemes "to......
  • Barrow v. City of Detroit Election Comm'n, Docket No. 316695.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • June 18, 2013
    ...the provisions of a home rule city charter, we apply the same rules that we apply to the construction of statutes. Detroit v. Walker, 445 Mich. 682, 691, 520 N.W.2d 135 (1994). The provisions are to be read in context, with the plain and ordinary [301 Mich.App. 414]meaning given to every wo......
  • Detroit Fire Fighters Ass'n v. City of Detroit, Docket No. 96430
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • August 15, 1995
    ...§ 117.1 et seq.; M.S.A. § 5.2071 et seq., and the 1974 Detroit City Charter, was recently discussed by this Court in Detroit v. Walker, 445 Mich. 682, 520 N.W.2d 135...
  • Gillette Commercial Operations N. Am. & Subsidiaries v. Dep't of Treasury, Docket Nos. 325258
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • September 29, 2015
    ...1986 transactions comported with due process. Id. at 35, 114 S.Ct. 2018. Michigan law is, of course, in accord. In Detroit v. Walker, 445 Mich. 682, 698, 520 N.W.2d 135 (1994), our Supreme Court noted that "[t]he concern regarding the retroactivity of statutes arises from constitutional due......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
91 cases
  • Rafaeli, LLC v. Oakland Cnty., Docket No. 156849
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • July 17, 2020
    ...belief, founded on experience, that private property was often taken improperly and without any necessity").94 Detroit v. Walker , 445 Mich. 682, 701-704, 520 N.W.2d 135 (1994) (explaining that citizens have a duty to pay their taxes and that the Legislature may enact procedural schemes "to......
  • Barrow v. City of Detroit Election Comm'n, Docket No. 316695.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • June 18, 2013
    ...the provisions of a home rule city charter, we apply the same rules that we apply to the construction of statutes. Detroit v. Walker, 445 Mich. 682, 691, 520 N.W.2d 135 (1994). The provisions are to be read in context, with the plain and ordinary [301 Mich.App. 414]meaning given to every wo......
  • Detroit Fire Fighters Ass'n v. City of Detroit, Docket No. 96430
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • August 15, 1995
    ...§ 117.1 et seq.; M.S.A. § 5.2071 et seq., and the 1974 Detroit City Charter, was recently discussed by this Court in Detroit v. Walker, 445 Mich. 682, 520 N.W.2d 135...
  • Gillette Commercial Operations N. Am. & Subsidiaries v. Dep't of Treasury, Docket Nos. 325258
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • September 29, 2015
    ...1986 transactions comported with due process. Id. at 35, 114 S.Ct. 2018. Michigan law is, of course, in accord. In Detroit v. Walker, 445 Mich. 682, 698, 520 N.W.2d 135 (1994), our Supreme Court noted that "[t]he concern regarding the retroactivity of statutes arises from constitutional due......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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