E-filing project ordered for Ottawa County courts

The move toward statewide electronic document filing in the court system continues.

The Michigan Supreme Court announced yesterday that Ottawa County courts will participate in a five-year e-filing pilot project beginning Oct. 1.

The purpose of the pilot program is to study the effectiveness of electronically filing court documents in connection with the just, speedy, and economical determination of the actions involved in the pilot program. …

Participation may be initiated with new case filings or existing case files. At the discretion of the judge, participation may also include postdisposition proceedings in qualifying case types.

This is a voluntary e-filing project; however, once a case is designated as part of the e-filing project, it is presumed that all further documents will be filed electronically. Ottawa County recognizes that circumstances may arise preventing one from e-filing.

To ensure all parties retain access to the participating courts, parties that demonstrate good cause will be permitted to file documents with the clerk, who will then file the documents electronically.

The MSC’s directive, Administrative Order No. 2011-4, covers the 20th Circuit Court, the Ottawa County Probate Court and the 58th District Court.

The project will remain effective until Dec. 31, 2016 or until further order of the court.

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Bowling alley immunity bill rolls on

When Michigan’s smoking ban was enacted, bowling alley patrons who smoked, like all other smokers who frequent bars, restaurants and other public places, had to start trooping outside to have a cigarette.

Now, it’s a hassle to take off your bowling shoes and put on your street shoes for a quick puff. Bowling alley operators say most bowlers leave their bowling shoes on when they go outside and light up.

The problem is that when coming back in, bowlers might track in moisture and debris on the bottom of their bowling shoes. This can lead to hazardous footing conditions, which, in turn, can lead to serious slip-and-fall injuries while swinging a heavy bowling ball. Such injuries lead to personal-injury suits.

Bowling alley proprietors, like all business owners, are interested in limiting their liability exposure whenever possible.

SB 281 helps them do just that. From the Senate Fiscal Agency analysis of the bill:

The bill would create the “Bowling Center Act” to require a bowling center operator to post a specific notice about the danger of wearing bowling shoes outside, and provide the operator with immunity from civil liability for injuries to a bowler due to a slip and fall inside the bowling center that resulted from outside use of bowling shoes.

Specifically, the bill would require a bowling center operator to post a notice in a conspicuous place near each entrance to and exit from a bowling center. The notice would have to read:

“Bowling shoes are specialized footwear and are not intended to be worn outside a bowling center because the bowling shoes may be affected by substances or materials such as snow, ice, rain, moisture, food, or debris. Such substances or materials on bowling shoes that have been worn outside a bowling center may cause the person wearing the bowling shoes to slip, trip, stumble, or fall on the floor or alley surfaces in the bowling center.”

If an operator posted the required notice, the operator would not be civilly liable for injuries to a bowler resulting from a slip, trip, stumble, or fall inside the bowing center solely caused by a substance or material on the bowler’s bowling shoes that was acquired outside the bowling center immediately before the bowler entered or re-entered the bowling center.

The bill cleared the Senate on a 30-8 vote early this year. The House Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on the bill today.

Is a non-party’s Facebook page fair game in lawsuits?

An issue of the use of a non-party’s Facebook page as evidence in a brief has developed in a case over the legality of Farmington Public Schools’s sale of the closed Eagle Elementary School to the Islamic Cultural Association.

In the suit, FPS sold the school to the Islamic Center for $1.1 million. The center initially offered much less than that, but raised the offer to meet the appraised value.

The plaintiffs sued the district to stop the sale, alleging that the district could have sold it for much more, and that the board didn’t follow procedure. The district filed a motion for summary disposition. In a reply to the plaintiffs’ response to that motion, the district challenged the plaintiffs’ standing to sue to block the sale, alleging that their claims “are mere cover for religious and cultural intolerance.” In support of the statement, the district’s attorney, Michael Weaver of Plunkett Cooney, attached the Facebook page of an opponent of the sale, which contained several anti-Islamic posts, including ones referring to the sale of Eagle Elementary. [See footnote 3, and Exhibit B]. The page belonged to Sue Burstein-Kahn, a resident who is not part of the lawsuit. Her husband, Murray, is running for a seat on Farmington’s Board of Education. Burstein-Kahn wrote a letter to the editor of the Observer & Eccentric in August accusing the board, its president and a district administrator, by name, of trying to deceive the public and violating the public trust. While she didn’t express any anti-Muslim animus in her letter, some of the posts on her Facebook page attached as Exhibit B certainly did.

[UPDATE: This morning, Oakland County Circuit Judge Rae Lee Chabot dismissed the plaintiffs’ case against the district for lack of standing. HT: WestBloomfield.Patch.com]

Plaintiffs’ lawyer Robert C. Davis of Mount Clemens-based Davis Listman Brennan ripped Weaver for including the Facebook page.

In a statement emailed Tuesday evening, the plaintiffs’ attorney Robert C. Davis of Davis Listman Brennan in Mt. Clemens criticized use of the personal Facebook page. “This is how people act when they become defensive. They resort to name calling and personal attacks to deflect the real issues,” he wrote. “It is corrupt and wrong. The cover is worse than the original violations.”

The issue here is simple: Is a non-party’s Facebook page being offered as evidence of public sentiment fair game? It’s fairly well-settled that social network users give up much of their rights to privacy for things they post, sometimes leading to bad things. While it may be unfair in some instances, such as when a Facebook “friend” tags someone in a photo the person wouldn’t want an employer to see, the fact is that no one should really have an expectation of privacy for things they put on Facebook. But should those posts wind up in a court filings? Let us know what you think in the comments.

DOL to target employee misclassification

It’s time for employer clients to take a good look at how they are classifying their workers. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis hosted a photo opp this week to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Internal Revenue Service that the secretary says will help to end the business of misclassifying employees in order to avoid providing employment protections.

Labor commissioners and other agency leaders from seven states –Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Utah and Washington — also signed similar memos with the Wage and Hour Division, and, in some cases, with the Employee Benefits Security Administration, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, and Office of the Solicitor. Solis said agreements with Hawaii, Illinois, Montana and New York will be next.

According to a press release from the Department of Labor, “The memorandums of understanding will enable the U.S. Department of Labor to share information and coordinate law enforcement with the IRS and participating states in order to level the playing field for law-abiding employers and ensure that employees receive the protections to which they are entitled under federal and state law.

“Business models that attempt to change, obscure or eliminate the employment relationship are not inherently illegal, unless they are used to evade compliance with federal labor laws — for example, if an employee is misclassified as an independent contractor and subsequently denied rights and benefits to which he or she is entitled under the law. In addition, misclassification can create economic pressure for law-abiding business owners.”

Pro bono fairs set for next month

We’re less than two weeks away from Pro Bono Month, and the State Bar of Michigan’s Pro Bono Initiative is giving attorneys plenty of opportunity to find what suits them best.

The group will launch its first ever Michigan Pro Bono Fairs, and will host them at the following locations and dates:

Oct. 6: Oakland & Macomb Pro Bono Fair; The Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Auburn Hills; 4:30-6:30 p.m.; Info: Dionnie Wynter, (248) 751-7800, Ext. 7742.

Oct. 11: Detroit Pro Bono Fair; Dykema Gossett PLLC, Detroit; 4-6:40 p.m.; Info: Heidi Naasko, (734) 214-7710.

Oct. 11: Grand Rapids Pro Bono Fair; The Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Grand Rapids; 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.; Info: Karen Rowlader, (616) 301-6800, Ext. 6708.

Oct. 17: Lansing Pro Bono Fair; The Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Lansing; 4-6:30 p.m.; Info: Dionnie Wynter, (248) 751-7800, Ext. 7742.

Attorneys attending the pro bono fairs are under no obligation to take a case or to make a time commitment. The fairs are meant to be a chance to learn more, network with colleagues, and to consider new ways to provide pro bono services.

To learn more, contact Robert Mathis, SBM pro bono service counsel, at (517) 346-6412 or rmathis@mail.michbar.org.

Arrr, mates: We be talkin’ pirate at th’ MSC

Aye, she’s a saucy lassie, that Marcia McBrien, the usually demure public information officer of the Michigan Supreme Court.

When International Talk Like a Pirate Day rolls around each September 19th, McBrien treats members of the press, and anyone else who will listen, to a bit of swashbuckling language to celebrate the occasion. From her Monday email concerning upcoming oral arguments before the MSC:

Pay heed, ye feisty wenches an’ bold lads o’ th’ Fourth Estate, or I’ll keel-haul the lot of ye!

Th’ Supreme Court be holdin’ oral arguments from October 4-6, startin’ each day at three bells o’ the forenoon watch! (That’s 9:30 a.m. for you landlubbers out there.) Turn yer weather eye on th’ attached scuttlebutt. Case summaries’ll be posted online next week.

Me shipmates, Buccaneer Barb an’ Cap’n Leslie, join me in biddin’ ye a Happy International Talk Like a Pirate Day! May yer timbers never shiver and yer swash ne’er buckle!

A fair wind an’ good sailin’, mates —

Mad Marcia
Pirate Information Officer

And t’ that I be addin’: “May a scurvy dog never yer path t’ cross.”

E.D. Bankruptcy Court ECF upgrade

Planning on putting in some extra time this weekend to catch up on bankruptcy matters? If you practice bankruptcy in the Eastern District of Michigan, consider watching Saturday afternoon college football or a trip to a cider mill instead.

The court’s Electronic Case Filing System will be inaccessible on Saturday, September 24, 2011 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.. During this time the court’s IT Department will perform necessary system upgrades.