Wilkins v. Gagliardi, Docket No. 174456

CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan (US)
Writing for the CourtPER CURIAM
Citation556 N.W.2d 171,219 Mich.App. 260
Docket NumberDocket No. 174456
Decision Date08 October 1996
PartiesLawrence F. WILKINS and Theresa A. Wilkins, individually and as next friend for Paul R. Wilkins, Plaintiff-Appellees/Cross-Appellants, v. Patrick M. GAGLIARDI, Defendant-Appellant/Cross-Appellee, and House Oversight Committee, Defendant-Cross-Appellee, and Three Unknown Sergeants at Arms, Defendants.

Page 171

556 N.W.2d 171
219 Mich.App. 260
Lawrence F. WILKINS and Theresa A. Wilkins, individually and
as next friend for Paul R. Wilkins,
Patrick M. GAGLIARDI, Defendant-Appellant/Cross-Appellee,
House Oversight Committee, Defendant-Cross-Appellee,
Three Unknown Sergeants at Arms, Defendants.
Docket No. 174456.
Court of Appeals of Michigan.
Submitted Aug. 7, 1996, at Lansing.
Decided Oct. 8, 1996, at 9:00 a.m.
Released for Publication Dec. 9, 1996.

Page 174

[219 Mich.App. 262] David R. Melton, Grandville, for the plaintiffs-appellees/cross-appellants.

Frank J. Kelley, Attorney General, Thomas L. Casey, Solicitor General, and Paul F. Novak, Assistant Attorney General, for defendant-appellant/cross-appellee.



Plaintiffs brought this action to enforce their rights under the Open Meetings Act (OMA), M.C.L. § 15.261 et seq.; M.S.A. § 4.1800(11) et seq. After a bench trial, the trial court entered a judgment in favor of plaintiffs and imposed a penalty and costs against Patrick M. Gagliardi (hereafter defendant). Defendant appeals that judgment as of right. Plaintiffs cross appeal the trial court's refusal to require defendant to pay them their actual costs and attorney fees. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

On November 5, 1991, plaintiffs sought permission to videotape a session of the House Oversight Committee, of which defendant was the chairman. On that [219 Mich.App. 263] day, the committee was considering two advisory resolutions. Defendant denied them permission to videotape the proceedings because they had failed to seek advance permission. Defendant ordered the sergeant-at-arms to remove the camcorder, but indicated that plaintiffs could stay. Plaintiffs left the room for a time, were interviewed by the press, and returned to the room. After their return to the room, plaintiff Theresa Wilkins gave testimony at the hearing. The meeting was open to the public. The 1993 Journal of the

Page 175

House set forth rules that incorporated the OMA's definition of "attend," which includes the right to videotape the proceedings.

In their amended complaint, plaintiffs alleged an intentional violation of the OMA by defendant, challenged the validity of the committee's actions regarding HR 435 and HCR 365, alleged an intentional violation of the OMA by the sergeants-at-arms, sought a declaration that the actions of the defendants were unlawful and sought an injunction against any further violation of the OMA. On November 17, 1992, the day scheduled for the beginning of trial, the trial court heard defendants' motion for summary disposition and granted summary disposition with regard to the allegations against the sergeants-at-arms. The order dismissing the sergeants-at-arms is not at issue in this appeal. At least twenty-eight days before February 23, 1993, defendants filed an offer of judgment for $500 plus costs attributable to those portions of plaintiffs' complaint that were not dismissed. Plaintiffs responded with an offer of judgment of their own.

On February 23, 1993, the trial court accepted the parties' stipulation of facts, read them into the record, and heard witnesses for plaintiffs. On July 12, 1993, [219 Mich.App. 264] the trial court heard arguments regarding defendants' motion for involuntary dismissal and, on July 16, 1993, issued a written opinion dismissing all allegations except those stating that defendant had intentionally violated the OMA. When trial resumed on July 19, 1993, defendant chose not to present any witnesses, and closing arguments were made. The trial court found that defendant had intentionally violated the OMA when he interfered with plaintiffs' right under the OMA to videotape the committee meeting. It further found that, because the violation was intentional, it could impose a maximum penalty against defendant pursuant to M.C.L. § 15.273; M.S.A. § 4.1800(23) of up to $500 plus costs and actual attorney fees. Although it found that substantial compliance was not a defense to this violation of the OMA, it stated that it would consider such compliance in determining the appropriate fine to be imposed. In imposing a fine of $100, the trial court considered that plaintiffs could have stayed at the meeting, that the committee did not attempt to conduct a secret meeting, and that the House of Representatives, learning from this incident, had adopted rules that complied with the OMA. The trial court further reasoned that, because defendant admitted that he failed to allow the videotaping and stipulated the facts, the costs of trial were unnecessary for the paragraphs under which plaintiffs prevailed. After a hearing with regard to the costs, the trial court denied the majority of the costs and awarded additional costs of only $20.

Defendant argues that the trial court erred in finding that this case presented a justiciable question. He further argues that the trial court erred in finding that his protections under the Speech or Debate Clause [219 Mich.App. 265] were waived with the passage of the OMA. We affirm the trial court's finding of justiciability, but reverse its finding that the OMA could be constitutionally applied to defendant.

The object of appellate review of a constitutional provision 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 may look at the circumstances surrounding the 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.

Defendant argues that the instant case presents a political question that the separation of powers doctrine commits to the legislative branch. We disagree. The separation of powers doctrine is explicitly established in Const.1963, art. 3, § 2. As with the political question doctrine, the separation of powers doctrine prevents the judiciary from

Page 176

usurping legislative prerogative. Schwartz v. City of Flint, 426 Mich. 295, 310-314, 395 N.W.2d 678 (1986). Analysis of an issue under the political question doctrine, requires a three-part inquiry:

"(i) Does the issue involve resolution of questions committed by the text of the Constitution to a coordinate [219 Mich.App. 266] branch of Government? (ii) Would resolution of the question demand that a court move beyond areas of judicial expertise? (iii) Do prudential considerations [for maintaining respect between the three branches] counsel against judicial intervention?" [House Speaker v. Governor, 443 Mich. 560, 574, 506 N.W.2d 190 (1993), quoting Goldwater v. Carter, 444 U.S. 996, 998, 100 S.Ct. 533, 534, 62 L.Ed.2d 428 (1979) (Powell, J., concurring), which cited Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 217, 82 S.Ct. 691, 710, 7 L.Ed.2d 663 (1962).]

Determining whether constitutional authority has been exceeded or determining what authority has been committed to a particular branch of government is the responsibility of the courts. Baker, 369 U.S. at 211, 82 S.Ct. at 706; House Speaker, 443 Mich. at 575, 506 N.W.2d 190.

"A conflict between the constitution and the statute is clearly a legal question which only a court can decide." Univ. of Michigan Regents v. Employment Relations Comm., 389 Mich. 96, 103, 204 N.W.2d 218 (1973). In that same vein, the Court in Baker stated that deciding

whether a matter has in any measure been committed by the Constitution to another branch of government, or whether the action of that branch exceeds whatever authority has been committed, is itself a delicate exercise in constitutional interpretation, and is a responsibility of this Court as ultimate interpreter of the Constitution. [369 U.S. at 211, 82 S.Ct. at 706.]

See Dep't of Commerce v. Montana, 503 U.S. 442, 458-459, 112 S.Ct. 1415, 1425-1426, 118 L.Ed.2d 87 (1992); House Speaker, 443 Mich. at 575, 506 N.W.2d 190. The political question doctrine "is designed to restrain the Judiciary from inappropriate interference in the business of the other branches of Government." United States v. Munoz-Flores, 495 U.S. 385, 394, 110 S.Ct. 1964, 1970, 109 L.Ed.2d [219 Mich.App. 267] 384 (1990) (emphasis supplied). Interpretation of the constitution is an exclusive function of the judicial branch. House Speaker, 443 Mich. at 575, 506 N.W.2d 190; Richardson v. Secretary of State, 381 Mich. 304, 309, 160 N.W.2d 883 (1968).

Defendant argues that, because Const.1963, art. 4, § 16 provides that each house of the Legislature "shall ... determine the rules of its proceedings," the determination whether he may be held liable under the OMA is a nonjusticiable issue. This argument is not supported by the above case law. Instead, the court below and this Court are called upon first to construe the OMA and its applicability to the Legislature in light of the commands of the constitution. Such a task is a clear judicial responsibility. Unlike the situation in Abood v. League of Women Voters of Alaska, 743 P.2d 333 (Alaska 1987), cited by defendant, this Court is not called upon to enforce or interpret the House Rules. The court in Abood did find that application of the Alaska Open Meetings Law was a nonjusticiable question. However, it was also asked to enforce a specific rule of the Alaska Legislature. The two issues were intertwined. In the instant case, plaintiffs did not seek to enforce or interpret any legislatively determined rules of the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
17 cases
  • Speicher v. Columbia Twp. Bd. of Trs., Docket No. 148617.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Michigan
    • 22 Diciembre 2014
    ...that claim, as those other OMA violations were unrelated to the alleged notice violation in this case. See Wilkins v. Gagliardi, 219 Mich.App. 260, 276, 556 N.W.2d 171 (1996) (affirming denial of injunction when there had been no similar incidents since the incident complained of and the me......
  • Hawkins v. Ryder Truck Rental, Inc., Docket No. 199136
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • 6 Marzo 1998
    ...Const. 1963, art. 4, § 11; Fuller v. Barton, 234 Mich. 540, 208 N.W. 696 (1926), and "speech or debate" immunity, Wilkins v. Gagliardi, 219 Mich.App. 260, 269-270, 556 N.W.2d 171 (1996); United States v. Nelson, 486 F.Supp. 464 (W.D.Mich., 1980), which extends to members of local legislativ......
  • Higgins Lake Prop. Owners Ass'n v. Gerrish Twp.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • 2 Abril 2003
    ...relief." Head, supra at 111, 593 N.W.2d 595, citing ETT Ambulance Service, supra at 400, 516 N.W.2d 498. See also Wilkins v. Gagliardi, 219 Mich.App. 260, 276, 556 N.W.2d 171 The evidence presented in each of these cases showed that the nature and frequency of activity at the road ends vari......
  • Cotton v. Banks, Docket No. 319001.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan (US)
    • 26 Marzo 2015
    ...that the enactment of the Civil Rights Act did not waive the immunity provided under Const. 1963, art. 4, § 11.In Wilkins v. Gagliardi, 219 Mich.App. 260, 267–269, 556 N.W.2d 171 (1996), this Court had to determine whether the Speech or Debate Clause, Const. 1963, art. 4, § 11, provided imm......
  • 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