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Wade v. University of Michigan

Court of Appeals of Michigan

June 6, 2017

JOSHUA WADE, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN, Defendant-Appellee.

         Court of Claims LC No. 15-000129-MZ

          Before: Cavanagh, P.J., and Sawyer and Servitto, JJ.

          Cavanagh, P.J.

         Plaintiff, Joshua Wade, appeals as of right an order granting summary disposition in favor of defendant, University of Michigan, and dismissing plaintiff's complaint seeking declaratory and injunctive relief from a University ordinance which prohibits firearms on any University property. We affirm.

         In February 2001, the University revised the weapons provision, Article X, of its "Ordinance to Regulate Parking and Traffic and to Regulate the Use and Protection of the Buildings and Property of the Regents of the University of Michigan, " and made all properties owned, leased or controlled by the University weapons-free. Article X, titled "Weapons, " provides:

Section 1. Scope of Article X
Article X applies to all property owned, leased or otherwise controlled by the Regents of the University of Michigan [sic] and applies regardless of whether the Individual has a concealed weapons permit or is otherwise authorized by law to possess, discharge, or use any device referenced below.
Section 2. Possession of Firearms, Dangerous Weapons and Knives
Except as otherwise provided in Section 4, no person shall, while on any property owned, leased, or otherwise controlled by the Regents of the University of Michigan:
(1) possess any firearm or any other dangerous weapon as defined in or interpreted under Michigan law or
(2) wear on his or her person or carry in his or her clothing any knife, sword or machete having a blade longer than four (4) inches, or, in the case of knife with a mechanism to lock the blade in place when open, longer than three (3) inches.
Section 3. Discharge or Use of Firearms, Dangerous Weapons and Knives
Except as otherwise provided in Section 4, no person shall discharge or otherwise use any device listed in the preceding section on any property owned, leased, or otherwise controlled by the Regents of the University of Michigan.
Section 4. Exceptions
(1)Except to the extent regulated under Subparagraph (2), the prohibitions in this Article X do not apply:
(a) to University employees who are authorized to possess and/or use such a device . . .;
(b) to non-University law enforcement officers of legally established law enforcement agencies . . .;
(c) when someone possess [sic] or use such a device as part of a military or similar uniform or costume In [sic] connection with a public ceremony . . .;
(d) when someone possesses or uses such a device in connection with a regularly scheduled educational, recreational or training program authorized by the University;
(e) when someone possess [sic] or uses such a device for recreational hunting on property . . .; or
(f) when the Director of the University's Department of Public Safety has waived the prohibition based on extraordinary circumstances. Any such waiver must be in writing and must define its scope and duration.
(2) The Director of the Department of Public Safety may impose restrictions upon individuals who are otherwise authorized to possess or use such a device pursuant to Subsection (1) when the Director determines that such restrictions are appropriate under the circumstances.
Section 5. Violation Penalty
A person who violates this Article X is guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction, punishable by imprisonment for not less than ten (10) days and no more than sixty (60) days, or by a fine of not more than fifty dollars ($50.00) or both.

         Subsequently, plaintiff sought a waiver of the prohibition as set forth in § 4(1)(f) of Article X. After his request was denied, plaintiff filed this action. In Count I, plaintiff alleged that the ban on firearms violates his federal and state constitutional rights to keep and bear arms as set forth in the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 1, § 6 of the Michigan Constitution. In Count II, plaintiff alleged that Article X is invalid because MCL 123.1102, which prohibits local units of government from establishing their own limitations on the purchase, sale, or possession of firearms, preempts the ordinance. Plaintiff requested the Court of Claims to declare that Article X is unconstitutional and preempted by MCL 123.1102, and that defendant was enjoined from its enforcement.

         The University responded to plaintiff's complaint with a motion for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(8). The University argued that the Second Amendment does not reach "sensitive places, " which includes schools like the University property.[1] But even if the Second Amendment applied, Article X did not violate it because the ordinance was substantially related to important governmental interests, including maintaining a safe educational environment for its students, faculty, staff, and visitors, as well as fostering an environment in which ideas-even controversial ideas-can be freely and openly exchanged without fear of reprisal. The University further argued that Article X did not violate the Michigan Constitution because it is a reasonable exercise of the University's authority under Article VIII, § 5 to control its property, maintain safety on that property, and to cultivate a learning environment. Moreover, MCL 123.1102 did not apply to the University because it is not a "local unit of government;" rather, it is a constitutional corporation that is coordinate and equal to that of the Legislature. Thus, the University has the exclusive authority to manage and control its property, including the day-today operations of the institution with regard to the issue of firearm possession on its property. Accordingly, the University argued, plaintiff's complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and should be dismissed.

         Plaintiff responded to the University's motion for summary disposition, arguing that Article X violates the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution which, as explained in District of Columbia v Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 592, 595; 128 S.Ct. 2783; 171 L.Ed.2d 637 (2008), guarantees to individuals the right to keep and bear arms for self-defense. And, contrary to the University's claim, the University is not a "sensitive place" under Heller because it is "not a school as that word is commonly understood. It is a community where people live and work, just as any community." Further, plaintiff argued, even if Article X is not unconstitutional, the Michigan Legislature "has closed off the field of firearms to regulation by any other governmental actor." That is, the ordinance is preempted by MCL 123.1102 because the same principles of preemption apply to the University as apply to a municipality or quasi-municipal corporation. And the University is a "'lower-level governmental entity' than the state legislature when it comes to conflicts of legislative authority." Accordingly, plaintiff argued, the University's motion for summary disposition should be denied.

         The Court of Claims agreed with the University. First, the court held that the University is a public educational institution-a school-and, thus, a "sensitive place" as contemplated by the Heller Court. Regulations restricting firearms in such places are presumptively legal; consequently, the University's "ordinance does not fall within the scope of the right conferred by the Second Amendment or Const 1963, Art 1, § 6." Therefore, Count I of plaintiff's complaint was dismissed for failure to state a claim. Second, the court held that MCL 123.1102 plainly applies only to a "local unit of government, " which is defined by MCL 123.1101(b) as "a city, village, township or county." Because the University is not a "local unit of government, " the prohibitions set forth in MCL 123.1102 do not apply to it. However, even if the University was considered a "local unit of government, " the court held, MCL 123.1102 specifically provides that such governmental units may enact regulations "as otherwise provided by federal law or a law of this state." Because the Michigan Constitution, pursuant to Article VIII, § 5, grants the University "general supervision of its institution, " the University had the right to promulgate firearm regulations for the safety of its students, staff, and faculty consistent with its right to educational autonomy and its mission to educate. Therefore, Count II of plaintiff's complaint was also dismissed. Accordingly, the University's motion for summary disposition was granted. This appeal followed.

         Plaintiff argues that the Court of Claims erred when it ruled that Article X's complete ban of firearms on University property did not violate ...


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