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Vayda v. County of Lake

Court of Appeals of Michigan

October 19, 2017

CHARLES VAYDA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
COUNTY OF LAKE, Defendant-Appellant.

         Lake Circuit Court LC No. 15-008958-AS

          Before: Boonstra, P.J., and Meter and Gadola, JJ.

          GADOLA, J.

         This case requires us to reconcile provisions set forth by MCL 46.30a of the county boards of commissioners' act (CBCA), MCL 46.1 et seq., and MCL 35.402 of the veterans' preference act (VPA), MCL 35.401 et seq. The issue on appeal is whether plaintiff, Charles Vayda, was entitled to notice and a hearing under the VPA before the termination of his employment with the Lake County Sheriff's Office, after he became a member of the Lake County Board of Commissioners (the Board). We hold that the conclusion of plaintiff's employment as a sheriff's deputy did not trigger the notice and hearing requirements of the VPA because plaintiff made himself ineligible for continued employment with the sheriff's office by accepting a position on the Board. We therefore reverse the trial court's order granting plaintiff's motion for summary disposition and remand for entry of an order granting the motion for summary disposition filed by defendant, the County of Lake (the County).


         Plaintiff is a military veteran who was employed by the County as a sheriff's deputy from 1991 until the circumstances giving rise to this case. After plaintiff was elected to the Board in November 2014, the Board filed a lawsuit seeking a declaratory ruling regarding whether plaintiff could hold both the position of county commissioner and the position of sheriff's deputy simultaneously. The Board asked the court to enter a declaratory judgment stating that plaintiff "must resign either his position as a deputy in the Sheriff's Office or his position as a member of the Lake County Board of Commissioners" because holding both positions violated Michigan's incompatible public offices act (IPOA), MCL 15.181 et seq., and MCL 46.30a of the CBCA. Plaintiff alleged in that lawsuit that on January 2, 2015, the day he was sworn in as a county commissioner, Lake County Sheriff Robert Hilts met with him and asked him to resign from his position as a sheriff's deputy. Plaintiff refused to resign, and Sheriff Hilts placed him on unpaid administrative leave pending the outcome of the Board's lawsuit.

         In the Board's lawsuit, the circuit court concluded that inherent conflicts of interest existed between the county commissioner and sheriff's deputy positions and that, under MCL 46.30a of the CBCA and MCL 15.182 and MCL 15.183 of the IPOA, plaintiff could "not hold both positions simultaneously." Plaintiff maintained, however, that the circuit court did not specify from which position he must resign. After the circuit court issued its opinion and order in the Board's lawsuit, Sheriff Hilts sent plaintiff a letter stating that his employment as a sheriff's deputy had been terminated.[1]

         Plaintiff then filed his complaint in the instant action, alleging that the County violated his rights under MCL 35.402 of the VPA by failing to provide notice and a hearing before terminating his employment as a sheriff's deputy. Plaintiff asserted that the County should have allowed him to choose which position he would like to maintain because the circuit court did not direct his withdrawal from one position over the other in the Board's lawsuit. Plaintiff claimed that he informed Sheriff Hilts that he would step down from his role as a county commissioner because he wanted to remain a sheriff's deputy.

         Plaintiff alleged that, after the conclusion of his employment as a sheriff's deputy, he sent a letter to Lake County's prosecuting attorney, Craig R. Cooper, requesting a VPA hearing, but the County refused his request. Plaintiff said he received a letter from Cooper, dated June 24, 2015, which stated that the "issues presented under the [VPA] have already been decided based on the doctrine of Res Judicata." Plaintiff argued, however, that res judicata did not apply because the circuit court in the Board's lawsuit did not address which position plaintiff was required to give up. Plaintiff asked the court to issue a writ of superintending control compelling the County to hold a VPA hearing. He also asked the court to issue an order to show cause regarding why the County denied plaintiff his rights under the VPA.

         Thereafter, plaintiff filed a motion for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(8) (failure to state a claim) and the County filed a responding motion for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(7) (claim barred by prior judgment), MCR 2.116(C)(8), and MCR 2.116(C)(10) (no genuine issue of material fact). Following a hearing, the trial court granted plaintiff's motion for summary disposition and denied the County's motion. In support of its decision, the court offered the following analysis:

The Veteran's Preference Act requires that a qualifying veteran is entitled to a hearing pursuant to MCL § 35.402. Plaintiff is a qualifying veteran. The statute plainly requires a hearing prior to termination of employment. Plaintiff was not afforded a hearing even after he made a written request for a hearing. There is no authority presented to the Court by defendant which would authorize the Prosecuting Attorney to deny the hearing. In essence the decision was made by the Prosecuting Attorney without hearing all the facts. That decision violates the express terms of the VPA. The Court remands this issue to the Prosecuting Attorney as the entity required to hold the hearing. . . .
Defendant's Motion for Summary Disposition alleges that the claims by plaintiff are barred by res judicata and collateral estoppel and constitute an impermissible collateral attack on this Court's prior judgment. Defendant argues that plaintiff's request for a VPA hearing was "fully and finally determined when this Court held that he could not serve simultaneously as a deputy sheriff and County Commissioner." The Court disagrees with this position. The legal opinion that plaintiff could not hold both positions is distinct from the facts and circumstances of his termination. Those facts are currently in dispute. That dispute could be heard at a VPA hearing. The relief requested in the prior lawsuit by the current defendant was a declaration that [plaintiff] could not hold both positions and that [plaintiff] then chose which position he would continue. The facts as alleged demonstrate there is a question of fact regarding whether he was given that opportunity. There is nothing in the prior opinion of this Court that says that [plaintiff] should have been terminated from the Sheriff's office. . . . Consistent with the Court's prior ruling, it would have been appropriate for the County to give plaintiff a reasonable amount of time to decide which position he would continue. This was the specific relief requested by the County Board of Commissioners and granted in the prior case. Whether or not [plaintiff] was given an opportunity to chose [sic] is a factual question to be determined at a VPA hearing. This action does not constitute a collateral attack on the prior Order of the Court because the prior Order did not in any manner dictate that [plaintiff] should be terminated from the Sheriff's Department. However, if there is a question regarding clarification of the prior Order, that question should be raised in the prior case, not this one.


         We review de novo a trial court's decision on a motion for summary disposition. Johnson v Recca, 492 Mich. 169, 173; 821 N.W.2d 520 (2012). Although the trial court did not specify under which subrule it granted plaintiff's motion, it appears that the court confined its analysis to information set forth by the parties in their pleadings alone, so we will treat the motion as having been granted under MCR 2.116(C)(9).[2] When deciding a motion under MCR 2.116(C)(9), a trial court considers the pleadings alone, accepting as true all well-pleaded allegations, to assess the sufficiency of a defendant's defenses. Abela v Gen Motors Corp, 257 Mich.App. 513, 517; 669 N.W.2d 271 (2003). "Summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(9) is proper when ...

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