Macomb County Taxpayers Ass'n v. L'Anse Creuse Public Schools, Docket No. 104247

CourtSupreme Court of Michigan
Writing for the CourtMICHAEL F. CAVANAGH; MALLETT, C.J., and BRICKLEY, BOYLE, RILEY, WEAVER, and MARILYN J. KELLY, JJ., concurred with MICHAEL F. CAVANAGH
Citation455 Mich. 1,564 N.W.2d 457
Docket NumberDocket No. 104247,No. 2
Decision Date25 June 1997
PartiesMACOMB COUNTY TAXPAYERS ASSOCIATION, Michael Sessa, Philis DeSaele and Charles A. Anglin, Plaintiffs-Appellants, Cross-Appellees, and Dearborn Public Schools and Grosse Pointe Public Schools, Intervening Plaintiffs, v. L'ANSE CREUSE PUBLIC SCHOOLS, Center Line Public Schools, Fitzgerald Public Schools, Chippewa Valley Schools, Fraser Public Schools, Lake Shore Public Schools, Lakeview Public Schools, Roseville Community Schools, South Lake Schools, Utica Community Schools, Warren Consolidated Schools, and Warren Woods Public Schools, Jointly and Severally, Defendants-Appellees, and Michigan Department of Treasury, Michigan Department of Education, and Frank J. Kelley, Attorney General of the State of Michigan, Intervening Defendants-Appellees, Cross-Appellants. Calendar

Page 457

564 N.W.2d 457
455 Mich. 1
MACOMB COUNTY TAXPAYERS ASSOCIATION, Michael Sessa, Philis
DeSaele and Charles A. Anglin,
Plaintiffs-Appellants, Cross-Appellees,
and
Dearborn Public Schools and Grosse Pointe Public Schools,
Intervening Plaintiffs,
v.
L'ANSE CREUSE PUBLIC SCHOOLS, Center Line Public Schools,
Fitzgerald Public Schools, Chippewa Valley Schools, Fraser
Public Schools, Lake Shore Public Schools, Lakeview Public
Schools, Roseville Community Schools, South Lake Schools,
Utica Community Schools, Warren Consolidated Schools, and
Warren Woods Public Schools, Jointly and Severally,
Defendants-Appellees,
and
Michigan Department of Treasury, Michigan Department of
Education, and Frank J. Kelley, Attorney General
of the State of Michigan, Intervening
Defendants-Appellees, Cross-Appellants.
Docket No. 104247.
Calendar No. 2.
Supreme Court of Michigan.
Argued April 8, 1997.
Decided June 25, 1997.

Page 458

[455 Mich. 2] Chapman & Associates by Ronald W. Chapman and Brian J. Richtarcik, Troy, for Plaintiffs-Appellants, Cross-Appellees.

Pollard & Albertson, P.C. by Dennis R. Pollard and Neil H. Goodman, Bloomfield, for Defendants-Appellees.

Frank J. Kelley, Attorney General, Thomas L. Casey, Solicitor General, and Paul J. Zimmer, Assistant Attorney General, Education Division, Lansing, for Defendants-Appellees and Cross-Appellants.

Opinion

MICHAEL F. CAVANAGH, Justice.

Under review in this appeal is the opinion of the Court of Appeals, 1 holding that the relevant provision of the Headlee Amendment, Const. 1963, art. 9, § 32, 2 includes attorney fees as part of the awardable costs, but that the eligible plaintiffs did not in fact incur any attorney fees. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

455 Mich. 3] I

The Macomb County Taxpayers Association is a voluntary, unincorporated association. The association, and several of its members individually, filed an action against twelve out-of-formula Macomb County school districts in which they requested that the court enjoin the districts from participating in tax base sharing. Plaintiffs also requested that the court bar the school districts from making any payments to poorer, in-formula school districts. Plaintiffs filed their action pursuant to the school district commercial and industrial property tax base sharing act, 1991 P.A. 108, M.C.L. § 380.751; M.S.A. § 15.4751.

Page 459

The Department of Treasury, Department of Education, and the Attorney General (state defendants) intervened and filed a cross-claim against the school districts, requesting that the court either require tax base sharing or order reimbursement of the state aid accepted by the school districts. Plaintiffs then filed an amended complaint against the state defendants, alleging that the tax base sharing act is unconstitutional.

After all parties stipulated to it, the trial court entered an order allowing eight of the school districts to add one taxpayer each as a cross-plaintiff. 3 The cross-plaintiffs asserted their claims against the state defendants, alleging that the tax base sharing act violated several provisions of the Michigan Constitution. 4 Ultimately, the trial court concluded that the tax base sharing act is violative of the Headlee Amendment, [455 Mich. 4] Const. 1963, art. 9, § 29, and subsequently denied the state defendants' motion requesting that the court narrowly construe the act so as to preserve its constitutionality.

In regard to costs, the trial court issued the following order:

Since this is a final Opinion and Order in this matter the Court should consider the matter of costs. Plaintiffs and the school districts are the prevailing parties and shall file a bill of costs within twenty-eight days. MCR 2.625(F)(2). The Headlee Amendment also provides that if a taxpayer's suit is sustained the taxpayer shall receive from the applicable unit of government his cost. This provision has been interpreted to require the payment of reasonable attorney fees. Durant v. Board of Education [On Second Remand ], 186 Mich.App. 83, 463 N.W.2d 461 (1990). Reasonable attorney fees that had been incurred in maintaining this suit by taxpayers may be included in their bill of costs.

Accordingly, the association and its individual members, the school districts, and the cross-plaintiffs filed bills of costs in which they requested attorney fees.

The trial court denied the requests of the school districts and the association for attorney fees on the ground that these entities are not taxpayers. The court conducted a separate evidentiary hearing with regard to the requests for attorney fees by the individual school board members and the individual members of the association. At this hearing, the parties stipulated to admit their answers to discovery requests regarding fees and the documents produced during discovery as exhibits, and these exhibits were received into evidence. The parties also stipulated that the individual school board members did not make any payments personally to their law firm for [455 Mich. 5] legal services, nor did they contribute any such payments to any school district to help defray the expense of legal services. And the individual school board members conceded that the school districts paid the attorney fees and that any attorney fees awarded to the individual members would be returned to the school districts. With regard to the association and its members, the only payment made to their attorney was in the amount of $200, which was paid by the association.

With regard to the individual school board members, the trial court concluded that attorney fees may still be incurred even if they are paid by a third party, that the individual school board members were valid parties in interest and were represented under their school districts' general retainer agreements, and that the school districts' attorneys had valid agreements to be reimbursed pursuant to the retainer agreements. Accordingly, the court concluded that the individual school board members were entitled to an award of attorney fees. The court then awarded the school board members fees of $10,668.75, which was one-half of the total amount requested. 5

Page 460

Impliedly applying the same reasoning, the trial court went on to hold that the individual members of the association were also entitled to an award of attorney fees. After properly considering all the relevant factors, the court awarded less than requested, concluding that $5,000 was a reasonable award in this case.

[455 Mich. 6] The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's conclusion that attorney fees are part of the costs awardable under § 32, but concluded that neither the individual plaintiffs nor the individual school board members actually incurred such costs. Citing a dictionary definition, the Court of Appeals concluded that the word "incur" means "to become liable for."

Using this definition, it is apparent that the individual school board members have not incurred any costs or attorney fees because they are not liable to pay anything.... Because there was no attorney-client relationship between the law firm and the individual school board members, the individual school board members have incurred no costs required by the plain language of § 32.

Similarly, the individual members...

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49 practice notes
  • Bolt v. City of Lansing, Docket No. 192944.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • 25 Enero 2000
    ...by Const. 1963, art. 9, § 32 include reasonable attorney fees. Macomb Co. Taxpayers Ass'n v. L'Anse 604 N.W.2d 757 Creuse Public Schools, 455 Mich. 1, 8, 564 N.W.2d 457 Factors to be considered when assessing the reasonableness of a requested attorney fee include (1) the skill, time, and la......
  • Nemeth Abonmarche Development, Inc., Docket No. 106747
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • 21 Abril 1998
    ...costs. Contrary to plaintiffs' assertions, our holding does not conflict with Macomb Co. Taxpayers Ass'n v. L'Anse Creuse Public Schools, 455 Mich. 1, 9, 564 N.W.2d 457 (1997), in which we held that the voters who ratified the Headlee Amendment understood "costs" to mean "all expenses," rat......
  • Law Offices of Jeffrey Sherbow, PC v. Fieger & Fieger, PC, No. 338997
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • 15 Enero 2019
    ...services ... and the client[ ] reli[es] on that advice or those services...." Macomb Co. Taxpayers Ass'n v. L'Anse Creuse Pub. Sch. , 455 Mich. 1, 11, 564 N.W.2d 457 (1997).This additional requirement also has the potential to result in situations in which attorneys who typically would imme......
  • Phillips v. Mirac, Inc., Docket No. 121831, Calendar No. 4.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • 6 Julio 2004
    ...The primary rule of constitutional interpretation is "common understanding." Macomb Co. Taxpayers Ass'n v. L'Anse Creuse Pub. Schools, 455 Mich. 1, 6, 564 N.W.2d 457 (1997). "A constitution is made for the people and by the people. The interpretation that should be given it is that which re......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
28 cases
  • Law Offices of Jeffrey Sherbow, PC v. Fieger & Fieger, PC, 338997
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • 15 Enero 2019
    ...services ... and the client[ ] reli[es] on that advice or those services...." Macomb Co. Taxpayers Ass'n v. L'Anse Creuse Pub. Sch. , 455 Mich. 1, 11, 564 N.W.2d 457 (1997).This additional requirement also has the potential to result in situations in which attorneys who typically would imme......
  • Nemeth Abonmarche Development, Inc., Docket No. 106747
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • 21 Abril 1998
    ...costs. Contrary to plaintiffs' assertions, our holding does not conflict with Macomb Co. Taxpayers Ass'n v. L'Anse Creuse Public Schools, 455 Mich. 1, 9, 564 N.W.2d 457 (1997), in which we held that the voters who ratified the Headlee Amendment understood "costs" to mean "all expenses," rat......
  • Bolt v. City of Lansing, Docket No. 192944.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • 25 Enero 2000
    ...by Const. 1963, art. 9, § 32 include reasonable attorney fees. Macomb Co. Taxpayers Ass'n v. L'Anse 604 N.W.2d 757 Creuse Public Schools, 455 Mich. 1, 8, 564 N.W.2d 457 Factors to be considered when assessing the reasonableness of a requested attorney fee include (1) the skill, time, and la......
  • Phillips v. Mirac, Inc., Docket No. 121831, Calendar No. 4.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • 6 Julio 2004
    ...The primary rule of constitutional interpretation is "common understanding." Macomb Co. Taxpayers Ass'n v. L'Anse Creuse Pub. Schools, 455 Mich. 1, 6, 564 N.W.2d 457 (1997). "A constitution is made for the people and by the people. The interpretation that should be given it is that which re......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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