Neal v. Department of Corrections

Decision Date05 June 1998
Docket NumberDocket No. 198616
Citation583 N.W.2d 249,230 Mich.App. 202
PartiesTracy NEAL, Helen Gibbs, Stacy Barker, Ikemia Russell, Bertha Clark, Linda Nunn, and Jane Doe, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Kenneth McGinnis, Joan Yukins, Sally Langley, Carol Howes, Robert Salis, Cornell Howard, Officer Portman, and Officer Robey, Defendants-Appellants, and Officer Tate, Officer Ellison, and Officer Gallagher, Defendants.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan — District of US

Law Offices of Deborah LaBelle by Deborah LaBelle, Ann Arbor, Goodman, Eden, Millender & Bedrosiane by Richard A. Soble and Mary R. Minnet, Detroit, Molly Reno, Ann Arbor, and Gail A. Grieger, Livonia, for Plaintiffs-Appellees.

Frank J. Kelley, Attorney General, Thomas L. Casey, Solicitor General, and Lisa C. Ward, Assistant Attorney General, for Defendants-Appellants.

Before O'CONNELL, P.J., and MacKENZIE and GAGE, JJ.

O'CONNELL, Presiding Judge.

This is a class-action suit brought, in relevant part, under the Civil Rights Act, M.C.L. § 37.2101 et seq.; M.S.A. § 3.548(101) et seq., by female prisoners housed in facilities operated by the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC). Defendants are the department, its director, and several MDOC wardens, deputy wardens, and corrections officers. Defendants appeal by leave granted from a circuit court order denying their motion for summary disposition pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(4), (7), and (8). We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.

The case arises out of allegations that male corrections personnel have systematically engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment of female inmates incarcerated by the MDOC. Specifically, plaintiffs' complaint alleges that the MDOC assigns male officers to the housing units at all women's facilities without providing any training related to cross-gender supervision; that women are forced to dress, undress, and perform basic hygiene and body functions in the open with male officers observing; that defendants allow male officers to observe during gynecological and other intimate medical care; that defendants require male officers to perform body searches of women prisoners that include pat-downs of their breasts and genital areas; that women prisoners are routinely subjected to offensive sex-based sexual harassment, offensive touching, and requests for sexual acts by male officers; and that there is a pattern of male officers' requesting sexual acts from women prisoners as a condition of retaining good-time credits, work details, and educational and rehabilitative program opportunities. The complaint also alleges that the inmates are subject to retaliation for reporting this gender-based misconduct. Plaintiffs claim that these actions, and defendants' failure to protect female inmates from this misconduct through adequate training, supervision, investigation, or discipline of MDOC employees, constitute gender-based discriminatory conduct, sexual harassment, and retaliation in violation of the Civil Rights Act. Plaintiffs' complaint requests injunctive and declaratory relief as well as compensatory damages. 1

On August 1, 1996, defendants moved for summary disposition on the grounds that the circuit court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction, that the claims of some class members were barred by release, prior judgment, or statute of limitations, that all defendants enjoyed immunity under Michigan law, and that plaintiffs had failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. On September 24, 1996, the circuit court denied defendants' motion on all grounds. On October 23, 1996, defendants requested leave to appeal the court's denial of their motion for summary disposition with regard to the claims set forth under the Civil Rights Act and with regard to the subject-matter jurisdiction issue. This Court granted leave to appeal on October 31, 1996, limited to those issues. We now examine each issue in turn.


Defendants first claim that the Civil Rights Act does not apply to prisoners incarcerated by the Michigan Department of Corrections. Defendants specifically note that the language of the statute is inapplicable because correctional facilities are not open to the general public and because prisoners are not members of the general public for purposes of the statute. The trial court held that the MDOC is a "public service" agency prohibited from engaging in gender-based discrimination or harassment under subsection 302(a) of the act, M.C.L. § 37.2302(a); M.S.A. § 3.548(302)(a). The court further noted that the act does not specifically exclude prisoners from its coverage and declined to read such an exclusion into the act. Because this is an issue of first impression in Michigan, our task is to determine whether the Legislature intended the activities complained of here to be included within the scope of the Civil Rights Act.

When interpreting a statute, our goal is to ascertain and effectuate the intent of the Legislature. Folands Jewelry Brokers, Inc. v. City of Warren, 210 Mich.App. 304, 307, 532 N.W.2d 920 (1995). The first criterion in determining intent is to examine the specific language in the statute. Ballman v. Borges, 226 Mich.App. 166, 168, 572 N.W.2d 47 (1997). Statutory language should be construed reasonably, keeping in mind the purpose of the statute. Attorney General v. Public Service Comm., 220 Mich.App. 561, 565, 560 N.W.2d 348 (1996). We resort to judicial construction only where the statute is so unclear that reasonable minds could disagree with regard to the meaning of the statute. Folands, supra.

The Legislature enacted the Civil Rights Act as a means of preventing discrimination directed against a person because of that person's membership in a certain class and to eliminate the effects of offensive or demeaning stereotypes, prejudices, and biases. Noecker v. Dep't of Corrections, 203 Mich.App. 43, 46, 512 N.W.2d 44 (1993). The Preamble to 1976 P.A. 453 provides, in relevant part, that the purposes of the act include: "to define civil rights; to prohibit discriminatory practices, policies, and customs in the exercise of those rights based upon religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status or marital status; ... [and] to provide remedies and penalties...." The act is remedial and must be liberally construed to provide a broad remedy. Reed v. Michigan Metro Girl Scout Council, 201 Mich.App. 10, 15, 506 N.W.2d 231 (1993).

Article 3 of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in public accommodations and public services. Subsection 302(a) states:

Except where permitted by law, a person shall not:

(a) Deny an individual the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of a place of public accommodation or public service because of religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, or marital status. [M.C.L. § 37.2302(a); M.S.A. § 3.548(302)(a) ].

Section 103 of the act, M.C.L. § 37.2103; M.S.A. § 3.548(103), declares that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination.

Section 301 defines "place of public accommodation" and "public service" as those terms are used in subsection 302(a). It states:

As used in this article:

(a) "Place of public accommodation" means a business, or an educational, refreshment, entertainment, recreation, health, or transportation facility, or institution of any kind, whether licensed or not whose goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations are extended, offered, sold, or otherwise made available to the public....

* * * * * *

(b) "Public service" means a public facility, department, agency, board, or commission, owned, operated, or managed by or on behalf of the state, a political subdivision, or an agency thereof, or a tax exempt private agency established to provide service to the public. [M.C.L. § 37.2301; M.S.A. § 3.548(301) ].

Finally, § 303 of the act creates an exemption under article 3 for private clubs:

This article shall not apply to a private club, or other establishment not in fact open to the public, except to the extent that the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of the private club or establishment are made available to the customers or patrons of another establishment that is a place of public accommodation or is licensed by the state.... [M.C.L. § 37.2303; M.S.A. § 3.548(303) ].

Plaintiffs argue that MDOC correctional facilities are places of "public service" under § 301 and subsection 302(a), and thus that discrimination against inmates, based on sex, is prohibited in such facilities. Defendants assert that if the MDOC is a "public service," its prisons are not required to comply with subsection 302(a) because they fall within the § 303 exemption for "private club[s], or other establishment[s] not in fact open to the public...."

To the extent a prison opens its doors to visitors, employees, officials, or other persons who voluntarily seek admittance or to utilize any service available to free citizens, those persons concededly may not be the subject of any form of discrimination proscribed by the Civil Rights Act. However, we can perceive no legislative intent to extend the dictates of the Civil Rights Act to prisoners. A cardinal rule of statutory construction precludes any interpretation of a statute that leads to absurd or unjust results. Williams v. Secretary of State, 338 Mich. 202, 208, 60 N.W.2d 910 (1953). If the Civil Rights Act applies to prisoners, then the existence of separate prison "facilities " for men and women patently violates the statutory prohibition against gender discrimination; yet surely it is absurd to suggest that male and female prisoners must be housed together. See Klinger v. Dep't of Corrections, 31 F.3d 727 (C.A....

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