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Grabinski v. Governor, Attorney General

Court of Appeals of Michigan

October 15, 2019


          Court of Claims LC No. 17-000001-MZ

          Before: Gleicher, P.J., and Gadola and Cameron, JJ.

          PER CURIAM.

         MCL 600.2963(8) precludes prisoners from filing new civil actions or civil appeals when they have outstanding court fees and costs from previous civil actions. The purpose of this provision is to limit serial frivolous lawsuits. This Court recently held, however, that the application of the statute is unconstitutional under certain circumstances. This case does not fall within that ambit. Accordingly, we uphold this Court's previous order and dismiss plaintiff's delayed application for leave to appeal.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In 2014, Michael Anthony Grabinski, a prisoner, filed an original action for habeas relief in this Court against the Kinross Correctional Facility Warden. This Court advised Grabinski that he was "responsible for paying [a] $375 fee and may not file another new civil appeal or original action in this Court until such time that either the Department of Corrections remits or plaintiff pays the entire outstanding balance due." Grabinski v Kinross Correctional Facility Warden, unpublished order of the Court of Appeals, entered March 2, 2015 (Docket No. 325955). This order was based on MCL 600.2963(8), which provides, "A prisoner who has failed to pay outstanding fees and costs as required under this section shall not commence a new civil action or appeal until the outstanding fees and costs have been paid." Grabinski has yet to pay this obligation.

         In 2017, Grabinski filed the current civil action in the Court of Claims against the governor, attorney general, secretary of state, auditor general, director of the corrections department, and the warden of the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility. Grabinski sought an injunctive order for the recovery of bonds, prevention of a prison transfer, release of withheld mail, and accommodation in a single-occupancy cell. In a separate "common law tort claim suit," Grabinski essentially asserted that he was a "Sovereign American" and therefore the state and federal government had no jurisdiction to hold him prisoner. The Court of Claims summarily dismissed the action for failure to comply with MCL 600.5507(2), which requires a prisoner litigant to "disclose the number of civil actions and appeals [he or she] has previously initiated."

         Grabinski filed a delayed application for leave to appeal in this Court and concurrently filed a motion to waive the filing fee. This Court reminded Grabinski by letter that he was required to pay his outstanding balance of $375 from Docket No. 325955 or his current application would be dismissed pursuant to MCL 600.2963(8). Grabinski did not pay, and this Court dismissed his application for leave to appeal and denied his motion to waive fees as moot. Grabinski v Governor, unpublished order of the Court of Appeals, entered August 9, 2017 (Docket No. 339082).

         Grabinski then sought relief from the Supreme Court and requested that his filing fees be waived in that Court as well. The Supreme Court initially denied Grabinski's motion to waive his fees and ordered that Grabinski be barred from filing further civil suits until his outstanding balance was paid. Grabinski v Governor, 901 N.W.2d 405 (2017). The Court subsequently vacated our order dismissing Grabinski's application and ordered this Court to reconsider our dismissal following our resolution of In re Jackson (Docket No. 339724). Grabinski v Governor, 503 Mich. 868; 917 N.W.2d 83 (2018).

         This Court has now resolved the appeal in In re Jackson. In In re Jackson, 326 Mich.App. 629, 631-632; 929 N.W.2d 798 (2018), this Court held that "MCL 600.2963(8) cannot constitutionally be applied to bar a complaint for superintending control over an underlying criminal case if the bar is based on outstanding fees owed by an indigent prisoner-plaintiff from an earlier case and the prisoner-plaintiff lacks funds to pay those outstanding fees."

         II. ANALYSIS

         As directed by the Supreme Court, we now reconsider this Court's dismissal of Grabinski's current application for leave to appeal based on his failure to pay outstanding fees in a prior appeal as directed by MCL 600.2963(8). This case is distinguishable from Jackson and the cases upon which Jackson relied. Accordingly, this Court properly dismissed Grabinski's application.

         Jackson's holding was limited to the situation before it: the unconstitutional prohibition of an appeal in a case that was criminal in nature although designated as civil. In Jackson, 326 Mich.App. at 632, the prisoner-plaintiff filed an original complaint for superintending control in this Court because the trial court in his criminal case failed to rule on a motion for reconsideration. The prisoner-plaintiff was required to file a separate civil action to force the criminal court's action because absent a final order in the criminal matter, the prisoner-plaintiff could not pursue a direct appeal. Id. at 636. The Jackson Court acknowledged that Griffin v Illinois, 351 U.S. 12; 76 S.Ct. 585; 100 L.Ed.2d 891 (1956), and a series of subsequent cases had deemed unconstitutional "legal rules that bar an indigent person from seeking review in a higher court because of an inability to pay filing fees or fees for the preparation of transcripts, particularly in the context of criminal appeals." Jackson, 326 Mich.App. at 635. This Court declined to be limited by "[f]ormalistic procedural labels," recognized the criminal nature of the superintending control complaint, and found unconstitutional MCL 600.2963(8)'s bar as applied. Id. at 636-637.

         In Jackson, 326 Mich.App. at 638, the American Civil Liberties Union filed an amicus brief arguing "that application of MCL 600.2963(8) would be unconstitutional whenever it would bar an indigent prisoner from proceeding with a civil appeal or original action because of outstanding fees owed for an earlier civil case subject to MCL 600.2963." The Jackson panel declined to reach that issue, but noted that its opinion was "rooted in the heightened protection given to criminal defendants for access to the courts in criminal cases for purposes of securing the federal constitutional right to the appellate process." Id. The panel left "for another day" the issues of whether MCL 600.2963(8) could be used to block appellate access to an indigent prisoner "in a civil case that does not seek relief related to an underlying criminal case and that is not otherwise provided heightened protection for purposes ...

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