Huggett v. Department of Natural Resources, Docket No. 195548

Citation590 N.W.2d 747,232 Mich.App. 188
Decision Date16 October 1998
Docket NumberDocket No. 195548
PartiesWallace A. HUGGETT, an individual and Huggett Sod Farm, a Michigan corporation d/b/a Michigan Cranberry Farm, Plaintiffs-Appellees/Cross-Appellant, v. DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES, Defendant-Appellant/Cross-Appellee.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan (US)

Page 747

590 N.W.2d 747
232 Mich.App. 188
Wallace A. HUGGETT, an individual and Huggett Sod Farm, a
Michigan corporation d/b/a Michigan Cranberry
Farm, Plaintiffs-Appellees/Cross-Appellant,
DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES, Defendant-Appellant/Cross-Appellee.
Docket No. 195548.
Court of Appeals of Michigan.
Submitted May 5, 1998, at Lansing.
Decided Oct. 16, 1998, at 9:00 a.m.
Released for Publication Jan. 15, 1999.

Page 749

[232 Mich.App. 190] D. Haywood & Associates, P.C. (by David J. Haywood and Mark A. Cooley ), Lansing, for the plaintiff.

Frank J. Kelley, Attorney General, Thomas L. Casey, Solicitor General, A. Michael Leffler and Stephen F. Schuesler, Assistant Attorneys General, for the defendant.

Before: WHITE, P.J., and SAAD and MARKEY, JJ.


Defendant appeals as of right a declaratory judgment in favor of plaintiffs. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

In 1982, the state of Michigan, through defendant, deeded the wetland at issue to Michigan National Bank (MNB) in exchange for a parcel of land owned by MNB. The deed from the state to MNB included a condition that the land be used for peat farming and that if the condition were violated, the state had the right to reenter and retake the land. Plaintiffs later became owners of the wetland after MNB assigned its mortgage interest in the land to plaintiffs, and plaintiffs foreclosed the mortgage. Plaintiffs seek to construct a 200-acre, $6 million cranberry farm. The construction will consist of, among other things, building dikes, digging ditches, and constructing a reservoir. The proposal also calls for some excavating and filling in of the wetland. Plaintiffs sought, but were denied, a wetland[232 Mich.App. 191] permit from defendant to begin the project, so they initiated the instant declaratory judgment action claiming, inter alia, that the proposed activity was exempt from the permit requirement of the wetland protection act (WPA), M.C.L. § 324.30301 et seq.; MSA

Page 750

13A.30301 et seq., and that the state's interest in the wetland was void because the condition placed in the deed is of nominal value to the state. The trial court agreed.

First, defendant claims that the trial court should have denied plaintiffs' claims because of plaintiffs' failure to exhaust the available administrative remedies. We disagree.

Plaintiffs applied for a permit to construct the cranberry farm. Defendant denied the application. Plaintiffs initiated contested case proceedings to challenge the denial of the permit, but before the conclusion of the contested case proceedings, plaintiffs filed the instant action in the circuit court. 1 Michigan courts have long recognized the importance of the doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies. Int'l Business Machines Corp. v. Dep't of Treasury, 75 Mich.App. 604, 608, 255 N.W.2d 702 (1977). Exhaustion of administrative remedies is not an inflexible condition precedent to judicial consideration, however, and will not be required if review of the agency's final decision would provide an inadequate remedy. Id.

In Int'l Business Machines Corp., this Court allowed the plaintiff to seek relief in the circuit court [232 Mich.App. 192] even though the available administrative remedies had not been exhausted because the plaintiff did not challenge the propriety of the agency action taken (declaration of tax liability). Instead, the plaintiff argued that the agency had no authority to take any action in the first place. Because the plaintiff sought to avoid submitting the dispute to the agency procedures, the "very harm that plaintiff seeks to avoid would inevitably occur if plaintiff were required to exhaust administrative remedies before access to judicial review." Id. at 610, 255 N.W.2d 702. This Court also considered whether the agency's statutory authority to act was clearly framed for the circuit court, whether extensive findings of fact were unnecessary, and whether a resolution of the issue did not demand special technical expertise. Id.; see also Universal Am-Can Ltd. v. Attorney General, 197 Mich.App. 34, 38-39, 494 N.W.2d 787 (1992) (holding that where the plaintiff claimed that the agency lacked statutory authority to regulate the plaintiff's activity, "both judicial economy and the interests of justice supported the plaintiff's actions in filing a complaint in the circuit court for declaratory relief).

In the case at bar, we believe that plaintiffs' claim in the circuit court was proper even though they had not exhausted the available administrative remedies. In the circuit court, plaintiffs did not challenge the propriety of defendant's denial of the permit but sought a declaration that defendant had no statutory authority to require a permit in the first place. Plaintiffs' argument is that the Legislature exempted the proposed activity from defendant's regulation. While copious testimony was admitted at trial, the issue was clearly framed for the court as one of law (statutory [232 Mich.App. 193] interpretation) that did not call for extensive findings of fact or technical expertise. Under these circumstances, requiring exhaustion of the available administrative remedies would have been "nothing more than a formal step on the way to the courthouse." Michigan Supervisors Union OPEIU Local 512 v. Dep't of Civil Service, 209 Mich.App. 573, 577, 531 N.W.2d 790 (1995). The trial court therefore did not err in failing to require plaintiffs to exhaust administrative remedies.


Next, defendant claims that the trial court improperly ruled that plaintiffs' proposed activities were exempt from the permit requirements of the WPA. With regard to this issue we agree with defendant.

M.C.L. § 324.30304; MSA 13A.30304 prohibits placing fill material in a wetland, dredging or removing soil from a wetland, draining surface water from a wetland, and constructing, operating, or maintaining any use in a wetland without a permit; however, M.C.L. § 324.30305; MSA 13A.30305 exempts certain uses from the permit requirement. The exemption at issue here is M.C.L. § 324.30305(2)(e); MSA 13A.30305(2)(e) (referred to as the "farming exemption"):

Page 751

Farming, horticulture, silviculture, lumbering, and ranching activities, including plowing, irrigation, irrigation ditching, seeding, cultivating, minor drainage, harvesting for the production of food, fiber, and forest products, or upland soil and water conservation practices. Wetland altered under this subsection shall not be used for a purpose other than a purpose described in this subsection without a permit from the department.

[232 Mich.App. 194] The trial court opined that this farming exemption "is not limited in scope to existing farming operations nor limited by the size of the project but includes all activities necessary to commence and to continue farming in a commercially viable manner and to bring land into agricultural production." We disagree.

The fundamental purpose of statutory construction is to assist the court in discovering and giving effect to the intent of the Legislature. Ansell v. Dep't of Commerce (On Remand), 222 Mich.App. 347, 355, 564 N.W.2d 519 (1997). Statutory exceptions operate to restrict the general applicability of legislative language and are strictly construed. See People v....

To continue reading

Request your trial
23 cases
  • Dep't of Envtl. Quality v. Gomez, Docket No. 328033.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • 17 Noviembre 2016
    ...Other than the opinion issued by this Court before the Supreme Court's opinion in Huggett, see Huggett v. Dep't of Natural Resources, 232 Mich.App. 188, 191, 590 N.W.2d 747 (1998), aff'd 464 Mich. 711, 629 N.W.2d 915 (2001), we have found no other authority interpreting the farming-activiti......
  • Peterson Novelties, Inc. v. City of Berkley, Docket No. 239895.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • 14 Agosto 2003
    ...or evidence would sustain both, the two actions are the same for the purpose of res judicata. Huggett v. Dep't. of Natural Resources., 232 Mich.App. 188, 197-198, 590 N.W.2d 747 (1998); In re Koernke Estate, 169 Mich.App. 397, 399, 425 N.W.2d 795 In 1996, the Oakland Circuit Court decided t......
  • Gale v. General Motors, 06-CV-15710-DT.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
    • 24 Marzo 2008 whether the same facts or evidence are essential to the maintenance of the two claims," Huggett v. Dep't of Natural Resources, 232 Mich.App. 188, 590 N.W.2d 747 (1998), not whether the grounds asserted for relief are the same. Jones v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 202 Mich.App. 393, 4......
  • Farish v. Dep't of Talent & Econ. Dev., 350866
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • 18 Marzo 2021 a statute are carefully scrutinized and not extended beyond their plain meaning."); Huggett v. Dep't of Natural Resources , 232 Mich. App. 188, 194, 590 N.W.2d 747 (1998) ("Statutory exceptions operate to restrict the general applicability of legislative language and are strictly constru......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT