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Genesee County Drain Comm'r v. Genesee County

Court of Appeals of Michigan

March 3, 2015

GENESEE COUNTY DRAIN COMMISSIONER, JEFFREY WRIGHT, CHARTER TOWNSHIP OF FENTON, DENNIS BOW, KARYN MILLER, BONNIE MATHIS, PAULA ZELENKO, MARILYN LAFURGEY, RAY FOUST, DAVID GUIGEAR, ROBERT M. PALMER, RICK CARUSO, WILLIAM W. KOVI, MAXINE ORR, VILLAGE OF GOODRICH, VILLAGE OF GAINES, VILLAGE OF LENNON, CHARTER TOWNSHIP OF MUNDY, TOWNSHIP OF ARGENTINE, CHARTER TOWNSHIP OF FLINT, CHARTER TOWNSHIP OF MT. MORRIS, TOWNSHIP OF GAINES, and CITY OF FLUSHING., Plaintiffs-Appellees/Cross-Appellants,
v.
GENESEE COUNTY, a Michigan Municipal Corporation, and GENESEE COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS, Defendants-Appellants/Cross-Appellees

Page 636

Genesee County Circuit. LC No. 11-97012-CK.

For GENESEE COUNTY DRAIN COMMISSIONER, Plaintiff-Appellee-Cross Appellant: SCOTT R. FRAIM, FLINT, MI.

Before: STEPHENS, P.J., and SAAD and BOONSTRA, JJ. STEPHENS, P.J. (concurring).

OPINION

Page 637

[309 Mich.App. 319] Henry William Saad, J.

Plaintiffs and defendants appeal the trial court's partial grant and partial denial of defendants' motion for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(7) and (C)(8). For the reasons stated below, we affirm in part and reverse in part, and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. NATURE OF THE CASE

Cases brought under the governmental tort liability act (GTLA)[1] usually involve personal-injury or property-damage tort

Page 638

claims made by individuals against governmental agencies or employees. This case, however, is unusual, because it involves tort claims made by a group of governmental agencies against another group of governmental agencies. And it is even more unusual because plaintiffs' tort claims arise [309 Mich.App. 320] out of a contractual agreement. Despite the peculiar aspects of this action, our research and understanding of Michigan caselaw leads us to a conventional ruling: plaintiffs' intentional tort claims are barred by the GTLA, because the GTLA contains no exceptions from governmental immunity for intentional torts, and because defendants were engaged in a basic governmental function as they committed the alleged tortious conduct.

Specifically, plaintiffs maintain that defendants breached their contractual obligations in their administration of a group health insurance contract for employees of both plaintiffs and defendants.[2] In so doing, plaintiffs argue, defendants also committed the intentional torts of conversion and fraud by wrongfully keeping premium refunds for themselves, instead of sharing the refunds with plaintiffs, as allegedly required by the contract. Though plaintiffs acknowledge that there are no statutory exceptions for intentional torts under the GTLA, they note that the GTLA's immunity from tort liability only applies to governmental agencies engaged in the discharge of a governmental function. Defendants, plaintiffs claim, could not have been engaged in a governmental function when they committed intentional torts, because tortious conduct cannot be a " governmental function." From this, plaintiffs say defendants are not immune from tort liability for their intentional wrongdoing under the GTLA.

While plaintiffs' assertion has surface appeal, it must be rejected. Were we to accept such a theory, we [309 Mich.App. 321] would in essence rewrite the GTLA and make public policy choices that are rightly the Legislature's to make. We would create a new (and wholly unsupported) exception to the GTLA's general rule of governmental immunity from tort liability--an exception that would swallow up this general rule. To avoid dismissal of their case pursuant to the GTLA, future plaintiffs would only need to allege intentional wrongdoing by a governmental agency. Such a result contravenes the stated purpose of the GTLA, which is to limit governmental tort liability ...


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