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Ricks v. State

Court of Appeals of Michigan

October 29, 2019

DESMOND RICKS, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
STATE OF MICHIGAN, Defendant-Appellee.

          Court of Claims LC No. 17-000159-MZ

          Before: Jansen, P.J., and Cameron and Tukel, JJ.

          Cameron, J.

         Plaintiff, Desmond Ricks (Ricks), filed a lawsuit for compensation pursuant to the Wrongful Imprisonment Compensation Act (WICA), MCL 691.1751 et seq., after his 1992 convictions for second-degree murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (felony-firearm) were vacated and the charges were dismissed. Ricks appeals an order of the Court of Claims, which awarded him $1, 014, 657.53 under WICA, but denied him additional compensation of $216, 438.36. Finding no error, we affirm.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Ricks was originally incarcerated on February 19, 1987, following his conviction of armed robbery and assault with intent to rob while armed. Ricks was sentenced to 4 to 10 years' imprisonment for each conviction. On May 30, 1991, Ricks was paroled. On September 23, 1992, while on parole, Ricks was convicted by a jury of second-degree murder and felony-firearm. On October 12, 1992, Ricks was sentenced to 30 to 60 years' imprisonment for the second-degree murder conviction and two years' imprisonment for the felony-firearm conviction.[1] On October 13, 1992, Ricks' parole for his 1987 convictions of armed robbery and assault with intent to rob was revoked. The Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) Basic Information Sheet[2] regarding Ricks provided, in relevant part, that "the parole order under which [Ricks was] released" was "rescinded" "[b]y reason of [Ricks] incurring another sentence while on parole[.]" The Basic Information Sheet specifically referenced the second-degree murder and felony-firearm convictions. Ricks was imprisoned as a result of the parole violation concerning the 1987 convictions from October 13, 1992 to February 8, 1997. Ricks began serving the sentences on the second-degree murder and felony-firearm convictions on February 9, 1997.

         In early 2017, new evidence came to light that supported that Ricks did not commit the crimes of second-degree murder and felony-firearm. Based on the new evidence, the prosecution agreed that a new trial was necessary. An order of nolle prosequi was later entered because the prosecution determined that there was insufficient evidence to proceed to trial. Ricks was released from MDOC custody on May 26, 2017.

         On June 6, 2017, Ricks filed a WICA complaint, claiming he was entitled to $1, 231, 918.00, plus interests, costs, and attorney fees for the time he spent in prison from October 13, 1992 through May 26, 2017. The State of Michigan agreed that Ricks was entitled to compensation in the amount of $1, 014, 657.53 for the period between February 9, 1997 and May 26, 2017. However, the State of Michigan argued that Ricks was not entitled to compensation for the period between October 13, 1992 and February 8, 1997 because he was imprisoned for parole violations during that time, not the murder-related convictions.

         The Court of Claims held a hearing to determine the correct amount of compensation. Ricks argued that the only reason he was incarcerated between October 13, 1992 and February 8, 1997 was because he was found to have violated a condition of his parole in relation to the 1987 convictions after he was convicted of second-degree murder and felony-firearm in 1992. Ricks argued that but for the 1992 wrongful convictions, the MDOC would not have revoked his parole and he would not have been reincarcerated. In relevant part, the State of Michigan claimed that Ricks was entitled to compensation under WICA "only for the time that he was exclusively serving for the vacated murder conviction," which was the period between February 9, 1997 and May 26, 2017.

         The Court of Claims agreed with the State of Michigan, stating:

I will compensate for the length of time that has been agreed to that the gentleman served on the substantive offense before us[, ] and I will not compensate for the amount of time that he served on a violation of parole; that he had to serve first before he began to serve on the case before us nor will I compensate for any time spent in the county jail awaiting trial.

         Thereafter, the Court of Claims entered a stipulated order of judgment, awarding Ricks the undisputed amount of compensation, plus costs and attorney fees. The stipulated order of judgment reflected that Ricks was not waiving the right to appeal the denial of the additional $216, 438.36 by stipulating to the entry of the order of judgment and accepting payment of the amount ordered by the Court. This appeal followed.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Ricks argues on appeal that the Court of Claims erred by determining that he was not entitled to compensation for the time he was incarcerated from October 13, 1992 through February 8, 1997 as a result of the MDOC's decision to revoke his parole in relation to the 1987 convictions. We disagree.

         This Court reviews de novo issues of statutory interpretation. Ameritech Mich. v Mich. PSC, 239 Mich.App. 686, 690; 609 N.W.2d 854 (2000). When interpreting a statute, the "goal is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the Legislature." Portelli v IR Constr Prods Co, Inc, 218 Mich.App. 591, 606; 554 N.W.2d 591 (1996). Where the language of the statute is unambiguous, the statute must be applied as written. Velez v Tuma, 492 Mich. 1, 16-17; 821 N.W.2d 432 (2012). However, appellate courts have no authority to reevaluate legislative policy choices or to reconfigure a statute on the basis of a public policy concern that is not embodied in the text of a statute. Lash v Traverse City, 479 Mich. 180, 197; 735 N.W.2d 628 (2007). "Only when an ambiguity exists in the language of the statute is it proper for a court to go beyond the statutory text to ascertain legislative intent." Whitman v City of Burton, 493 Mich. 303, 312; 831 N.W.2d 223 (2013).

         Michigan courts have long recognized that "[t]he State, as sovereign, is immune from suit save as it consents to be sued, and any relinquishment of sovereign immunity must be strictly interpreted." Manion v State Hwy Comm'r, 303 Mich. 1, 19; 5 N.W.2d 527 (1942). "[T]he state can only waive its immunity and, consequently, consent to be sued through an act of the Legislature or through the constitution." Co Rd Ass'n of Mich. v Governor, 287 Mich.App. 95, 119; 782 N.W.2d 784 (2010).

         As relevant here, WICA allows "[a]n individual convicted under the law of this state and subsequently imprisoned in a state correctional facility for 1 or more crimes that he or she did not commit" to seek compensation from the State of Michigan. MCL 691.1753. MCL 691.1755 provides, in relevant part, the following:

(1) In an action under this act, the plaintiff is entitled to judgment in the plaintiff's favor if the plaintiff proves all of the ...

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