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People v. Langlois

Court of Appeals of Michigan

July 12, 2018

PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF MICHIGAN, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
BRUCE PHILLIP LANGLOIS, Defendant-Appellee.

          Huron Circuit Court LC No. 17-306159-FH

          Before: Borrello, P.J., and M. J. Kelly and Boonstra, JJ.

          Boonstra, J.

         In this interlocutory appeal, the prosecution appeals by delayed leave granted[1] the trial court's order denying the prosecution's motion in limine to preclude defendant from presenting a delegation defense to the jury. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

         I. PERTINENT FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Because this appeal presents a question of law that hinges on statutory interpretation, we will only briefly discuss the factual background of this case. It is undisputed that defendant is a formerly licensed veterinarian whose license to practice veterinary medicine in Michigan was revoked in November 2015.[2] In 2016, the Michigan Bureau of Professional Licensing received complaints that defendant had performed "spay and neuter" surgeries without a valid license. An investigation revealed that defendant owned a business called "Spay and Neuter Express." Dr. Duane Fitzgerald, a licensed veterinarian, worked for Spay Neuter Express as an independent contractor and was designated as its attending veterinarian. Dr. Fitzgerald described the business as "an ambulatory service that serves remote areas or rural areas for spaying and neutering people's pets . . . set up in a mobile home that has been converted to a surgical facility."

         Defendant was charged with three counts of the unauthorized practice of a health profession, MCL 333.16294, related to performing veterinary surgery in December 2016 while his license to practice veterinary medicine was revoked. During defendant's preliminary examination, Dr. Fitzgerald testified that on December 16, 2016, defendant performed many of the surgeries that had been scheduled for that day, and that he and defendant performed their respective surgeries in the same general area. Dr. Fitzgerald stated that he did not oversee defendant, and agreed that he did nothing to ensure that defendant was performing the procedures properly and did not check to see how many procedures defendant had completed. He also believed the animals on which defendant operated were defendant's patients, not his. Dr. Fitzgerald was aware that defendant's veterinary license had been suspended or revoked. He characterized defendant as a competent surgeon who possessed the knowledge and skills to perform veterinary surgery.

         After defendant was bound over to the circuit court, he moved to quash the information on the ground that Dr. Fitzgerald, a licensed veterinarian, had properly delegated to defendant the surgical tasks that he performed. In response, the prosecution asserted that a delegation defense was unavailable as a matter of law, and also moved to preclude defendant from presenting such a defense to the jury. After an evidentiary hearing, at which Dr. Fitzgerald testified consistently with his preliminary examination testimony, the trial court denied the prosecution's motion, stating that there was not "anything within the statutes or rules that say, 'You cannot perform a surgery'" and that it was "a question for the jury."[3]

         This appeal followed. The trial court granted the prosecution's motion for a stay of proceedings pending the resolution of this appeal.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         We review for an abuse of discretion a trial court's ruling on a motion in limine. Bartlett v Sinai Hosp of Detroit, 149 Mich.App. 412, 418; 385 N.W.2d 901 (1986). However, we review de novo as a question of law matters of statutory interpretation. People v Thomas, 263 Mich.App. 70, 73; 687 N.W.2d 598 (2004). Further, where "delegation of authority . . . [is] a legal nullity, the question of whether [the] defendant's actions constitute illegal conduct is one of law to be decided by the trial court." People v Ham-Ying, 142 Mich.App. 831, 836; 371 N.W.2d 874 (1985). A trial court abuses its direction when it makes an error of law or operates within an incorrect legal framework. People v Everett, 318 Mich.App. 511, 516; 899 N.W.2d 94 (2017).

         III. ANALYSIS

         The prosecution argues that the trial court erred by failing to hold as a matter of law that defendant may not present the defense of delegation in this case. Based on the specific acts alleged in this case, the undisputed expert testimony, and the language of the relevant statutes, we agree.

         "The primary goal of statutory interpretation is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the Legislature." Thomas, 263 Mich.App. at 73 (quotation marks and citations omitted). In order to discern legislative intent, this Court first looks to the language of the statute. People v Borchard-Ruhland, 460 Mich. 278, 284; 597 N.W.2d 1 (1999). "When construing a statute, the court must presume that every word has some meaning and should avoid any construction that would render any part of the statute surplusage or nugatory," and "[i]f possible, effect should be given to each provision." Id. at 285. "This Court must look to the purpose of the statute . . . [and] the harm it is designed to ...


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