Federated Publications, Inc. v. Board of Trustees of Michigan State University, Docket No. 177264

CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan (US)
Writing for the CourtFITZGERALD; NELSON
Citation561 N.W.2d 433,221 Mich.App. 103
Parties, 117 Ed. Law Rep. 301 FEDERATED PUBLICATIONS, INC., d/b/a The Lansing State Journal and The Detroit News, Inc., Plaintiff-Appellant, v. BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY, Defendant-Appellee, and Attorney General, Michigan Press Association, State News, and University of Michigan Regents, Amicus Curiae.
Docket NumberDocket No. 177264
Decision Date14 January 1997

Page 433

561 N.W.2d 433
221 Mich.App. 103, 117 Ed. Law Rep. 301
FEDERATED PUBLICATIONS, INC., d/b/a The Lansing State
Journal and The Detroit News, Inc., Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY, Defendant-Appellee,
and
Attorney General, Michigan Press Association, State News,
and University of Michigan Regents, Amicus Curiae.
Docket No. 177264.
Court of Appeals of Michigan.
Submitted July 11, 1996, at Lansing.
Decided Jan. 14, 1997, at 9:00 a.m.
Released for Publication April 4, 1997.

Page 435

[221 Mich.App. 105] Foster, Swift, Collins & Smith, P.C. by Webb A. Smith and Charles E. Barbieri, Lansing, for plaintiff-appellant.

Hooper, Hathaway, Price, Beuche & Wallace by Roderick K. Daane, Ann Arbor, for defendant-appellee.

Amicus curiae Frank J. Kelley, Attorney General, Thomas L. Casey, Solicitor General, and Irene M. Mead and Amy L. Rosenberg, Assistant Attorneys General, for the Attorney General.

Amicus curiae Hackett, Maxwell & Phillips, P.L.L.C. by Dawn L. Phillips, Pontiac, for the Michigan Press Association and The State News.

Amicus curiae Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, P.L.C. by Carl H. Von Ende, Gregory L. Curtner, and Charles A. Duerr, Jr., Ann Arbor, for the Board of Control of Northern Michigan University and others.

Before NEFF, P.J., and FITZGERALD and C.A. NELSON *, JJ.

FITZGERALD, Judge.

Federated Publications, Inc., doing business as The Lansing State Journal and The Detroit News, Inc., brought suit against the Board of [221 Mich.App. 106] Trustees of Michigan State University alleging that the procedures used by the university in the selection of M. Peter McPherson as president of the university violated the Open Meetings Act (OMA), M.C.L. § 15.261 et seq.; M.S.A. § 4.1800(11) et seq. The trial court, finding, among other things, that the OMA could not be constitutionally applied to this process, granted summary disposition in favor of defendant. Plaintiff appeals as of right. We reverse in part and affirm in part.

This appeal concerns the actions of the Board of Trustees of Michigan State University in electing M. Peter McPherson as president of the university following the resignation of President John DiBiaggio in the summer of 1992. After DiBiaggio's resignation, Gordon Guyer was appointed interim president and, in January 1993, the board of trustees created the original presidential search committee (PSC) that consisted of all eight trustees and nine lay persons. On April 8, 1993, as a result of a publication of a list of candidates by the State News, the PSC was reconstituted to consist of four trustees and the nine lay persons. The purpose of the reconstituted PSC was to preserve the confidentiality of the candidates before their interviews with the entire board and to do so in such a manner as to avoid a violation of the OMA.

The board of trustees passed a resolution charging the PSC with reviewing candidate applications, interviewing candidates, and arriving at a list of five or so candidates that would be considered by the full board of trustees at a public meeting. The smaller PSC reviewed the applications, discussed candidates, narrowed the list of candidates, and interviewed candidates in private. As a result of these activities, the PSC produced a list of four candidates that were [221 Mich.App. 107] announced on July 16, 1993. On July 27, 1993, a public meeting of the full board of trustees was held to interview the finalists, but no consensus was reached, and the matter was referred back to the PSC. At a meeting held on August 3, 1993, the PSC declined to put forth any more candidates. Subsequently, on August 17, 1993, a meeting of the entire board of trustees was called for the purpose of publicly interviewing M. Peter McPherson for president. McPherson was elected by a

Page 436

six to two vote of the board of trustees at that meeting.

In May 1993, plaintiff brought this suit and requested a preliminary injunction against private deliberations by the newly reconstituted PSC. The trial court denied the motion for a preliminary injunction and later denied a motion to compel deposition witnesses to identify the persons who were under consideration by the PSC for the position of university president. The parties subsequently brought cross motions for summary disposition. The trial court granted defendant's motion and found, among other things, that the OMA could not be constitutionally applied to the selection of a president for any university that was established under Const.1963, Art. 8, §§ 4 and 5. Plaintiff argues that the trial court erred in its constitutional analysis. We agree.

When reviewing constitutional provisions, the objective of such review is to give effect to the intent of the people who adopted the constitution. Livingston Co. v. Dep't of Management & Budget, 430 Mich. 635, 641-642, 425 N.W.2d 65 (1988); Macomb Co. Taxpayers Ass'n v. L'Anse Creuse Public Schools, 213 Mich.App. 71, 78, 540 N.W.2d 684 (1995). In discerning such intent, we look at the circumstances surrounding the [221 Mich.App. 108] adoption of the provision and the purpose sought to be accomplished by its enactment. Traverse City School Dist. v. Attorney General, 384 Mich. 390, 405, 185 N.W.2d 9 (1971). However, the primary source of understanding the constitution is its plain meaning as understood by the people who voted for it. Livingston Co, supra. Constitutional language is to be read according to its natural, common, and most obvious meaning. Macomb Co., supra. Courts may place themselves in the position of the framers of the constitution to ascertain its meaning at that time. Committee for Constitutional Reform v. Secretary of State, 425 Mich. 336, 342, 389 N.W.2d 430 (1986). Reliance on the records of the constitutional convention is warranted only if the language of the constitution is unclear or if there is a "recurring thread of explanation binding together the whole of a constitutional concept." Regents of the Univ. of Michigan v. Michigan, 395 Mich. 52, 60, 235 N.W.2d 1 (1975). Due deference is to be given to contemporaneous or longstanding interpretations of the constitution by the Michigan Supreme Court. McPherson v. Secretary of State, 92 Mich. 377, 383, 52 N.W. 469 (1892).

Plaintiff argues that the trial court erred in finding that the language in Const.1963, Art. 8, §§ 4 and 5 should be interpreted to bar application of the OMA to the selection of a president for a constitutionally established state university. Section 5, in pertinent part, states:

[T]he trustees of Michigan State University and their successors in office shall constitute a body corporate known as the Board of Trustees of Michigan State University.... Each board shall have general supervision of its institution and the control and direction of all expenditures from the [221 Mich.App. 109] institution's funds. Each board shall, as often as necessary, elect a president of the institution under its supervision. He shall be the principal executive officer of the institution, be ex-officio a member of the board without the right to vote and preside at meetings of the board. The board of each institution shall consist of eight members who shall hold office for terms of eight years and who shall be elected as provided by law. The governor shall fill board vacancies by appointment. Each appointee shall hold office until a successor has been nominated and elected as provided by law.

Section 4, in pertinent part, states, with respect to all state universities established by law:

The legislature shall be given an annual account of all income and expenditures by each of these educational institutions. Formal sessions of governing boards of such institutions shall be open to the public.

Historically, the Supreme Court has found the Regents of the University of Michigan to be a distinct governmental body that is coequal with the Legislature. Sterling v. Univ. of Michigan Regents, 110 Mich. 369, 68 N.W. 253 (1896); Weinberg v. Regents of Univ of

Page 437

Michigan, 97 Mich. 246, 56 N.W. 605 (1893). 1 In these cases, the Court refused to apply acts of the Legislature to the University of Michigan because the Constitution of 1850 had given controlling power over the university and its property to the regents. The Court in Sterling stated that the basis of the majority opinion in Weinberg was that "the board of regents is a constitutional body, charged by the Constitution with the entire control of that institution." Sterling, supra [221 Mich.App. 110] at 381-382, 68 N.W. 253. The Court reasoned that, where the constitution directly conferred a power upon one constitutional body (the regents of the university), it necessarily excluded the existence of that power in another constitutional body (the Legislature) unless the constitution contained language indicating a contrary intent. Id. at 382, 68 N.W. 253. Michigan State University has followed a parallel course of constitutional maturity. Regents of the Univ. of Michigan v. Michigan, supra at 64, 235 N.W.2d 1.

Although state universities have been held to be distinct governmental bodies coequal with the Legislature, they have not been held constitutionally immune from all regulation by the Legislature. In W.T. Andrew Co., Inc. v. Mid-State Surety Corp., 450 Mich. 655, 668-669, 545 N.W.2d 351 (1996), the Court held that, although the University of Michigan was a constitutionally created corporation, the public works bond statute could be applied to it through the Legislature's police power. It found that statutes that are designed for the benefit of society as a whole can be imposed on a constitutionally created university when those statutes pose no direct threat to the university's financial autonomy. Id. In W.T. Andrew, supra at 665-667, 545 N.W.2d 351, the Court cited with approval the lead opinion in Peters v. Michigan State College, 320 Mich. 243, 30 N.W.2d 854 (1948), that applied the workmen's...

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  • Federated Publications, Inc. v. Board of Trustees of Michigan State Univ., Docket No. 109663
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • June 15, 1999
    ...confidentiality, the university function in public meetings. It does not divest the board of its authority to select a president. [221 Mich.App. 103, 112, 561 N.W.2d 433 The Court of Appeals also determined that the PSC violated the OMA during its search process. The Court reasoned that the......
  • Straus v. Governor, Docket No. 204457
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • June 9, 1998
    ...divided into three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. In Federated Publications v. Michigan State Univ. Bd. of Trustees, 221 Mich.App. 103, 113, 561 N.W.2d 433 (1997), we dealt with a somewhat similar argument, to the effect that the Open Meetings Act, M.C.L. § 15.261 et seq.; ......
  • Straus v. Governor, Docket No. 112401
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • April 27, 1999
    ...divided into three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. In Federated Publications v. Michigan State Univ. Bd. of Trustees, 221 Mich.App. 103, 113, 561 N.W.2d 433 (1997),[[ **] [the Court of Appeals] dealt with a somewhat similar argument, to the effect that the Open Meetings Act,......
  • Parole of Glover, In re, Docket No. 189303
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • December 12, 1997
    ...the provisions of the OMA and strictly construe its exemptions. Federated Publications, Inc. v. Bd. of Trustees, Michigan State Univ., 221 Mich.App. 103, 112, 116, 561 N.W.2d 433 (1997). The OMA defines a "public body" as any state or local legislative or governing body, including a board, ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
10 cases
  • Federated Publications, Inc. v. Board of Trustees of Michigan State Univ., Docket No. 109663
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • June 15, 1999
    ...confidentiality, the university function in public meetings. It does not divest the board of its authority to select a president. [221 Mich.App. 103, 112, 561 N.W.2d 433 The Court of Appeals also determined that the PSC violated the OMA during its search process. The Court reasoned that the......
  • Straus v. Governor, Docket No. 204457
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • June 9, 1998
    ...divided into three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. In Federated Publications v. Michigan State Univ. Bd. of Trustees, 221 Mich.App. 103, 113, 561 N.W.2d 433 (1997), we dealt with a somewhat similar argument, to the effect that the Open Meetings Act, M.C.L. § 15.261 et seq.; ......
  • Straus v. Governor, Docket No. 112401
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • April 27, 1999
    ...divided into three branches: legislative, executive, and judicial. In Federated Publications v. Michigan State Univ. Bd. of Trustees, 221 Mich.App. 103, 113, 561 N.W.2d 433 (1997),[[ **] [the Court of Appeals] dealt with a somewhat similar argument, to the effect that the Open Meetings Act,......
  • Parole of Glover, In re, Docket No. 189303
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • December 12, 1997
    ...the provisions of the OMA and strictly construe its exemptions. Federated Publications, Inc. v. Bd. of Trustees, Michigan State Univ., 221 Mich.App. 103, 112, 116, 561 N.W.2d 433 (1997). The OMA defines a "public body" as any state or local legislative or governing body, including a board, ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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