Sidewalks and SOL on judiciary committee’s agenda

The House Judiciary Committee is considering HB 4589, which would give municipalities the benefit of the “two-inch rule” for any sidewalk they maintain.

The “two-inch” rule creates a rebuttable inference that a sidewalk is properly maintained if the height difference between two slabs is less than two inches.

The legislation would apply the two-inch rule to sidewalks adjacent to municipal and state highways, in addition to sidewalks adjacent to county highways.

The bill also revises how the term “highway” is defined. Currently, the term means a public highway, road, or street that is open for public travel and includes bridges, sidewalks, crosswalks, trailways, and culverts on the highway and does not include an alley, tree, or utility pole.

The bill would delete the reference to “trailways” and “culverts” and add “an appurtenance” to the list of things that “highway” does not include.

The bill affects MCL 691.1401, MCL 691.1402 and MCL 691.1402a.

The committee will also consider SB 77, which would amend MCL 600.5805 and MCL 600.5839 to make actions against architects, professional engineers, and professional surveyors subject to the two-year statute of limitations on malpractice actions.

The legislation would remove language under which the period of limitations on actions against those professionals and contractors is governed by MCL 600.5839.

SB 77 would legislatively overrule the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision in Ostroth v. Warren Regency, 474 Mich. 36 (2006). In Ostroth, the MSC ruled that MCL 600.5805(14) unambiguously directs that the period of limitations for actions against architects is provided by MCL 600.5839(1). Moreover, the six-year period of MCL 600.5839(1) operates as both a statute of limitations and a statute of repose.”

Critics of Ostroth say the decision allows too much time in which to sue architects, professional engineers and contractors.

The committee’s hearing on the legislation is scheduled for June 16, 2011, 521 House Office Building, Lansing, at 10:30 a.m.

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Man v. Pothole

The Detroit Free Press is reporting the story of one man who succeeded where so many have failed: He was the only person last year to be reimbursed by the State of Michigan for damage caused to his car when he hit a pothole in Lansing.

Julio Zacks fought for more than a year, against all odds (and governmental immunity laws) to receive about half of the $1,898 claim.

MSC grants leave in ‘two-inch rule’ sidewalk defect case

The Michigan Supreme Court has granted leave in Gadigian v. City of Taylor, a case involving a defective municipal sidewalk and the two-inch rule of MCL 691.1402a.

The statute provides a “rebuttable inference” of reasonable repair if a discontinuity between two sidewalks slabs is less than two inches.

In Gadigian, the Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court ruling that sent the case to a jury after plaintiff rebutted the statutory inference with testimony from an engineer, who said the sidewalk was dangerous, and from a city foreman, who said the city knew about the defect for years.

In doing so, the COA clarified that a sidewalk defect measuring less than two inches creates a rebuttable inference, not a rebuttable presumption, that the city has maintained the sidewalk in reasonable repair.

The Gadigian panel noted that prior cases dealing with the two-inch rule had used the terms “inference” and “presumption” interchangeably, when, in fact, the distinction between the two words is legally significant.

The Gadigian ruling was criticized by attorneys involved with the case, see “Creating concrete confusion: In sidewalk cases, ‘two-inch rule’ inference may not win dismissal for cities,” who said the decision sent mixed signals about whether a municipality was entitled to summary disposition if a plaintiff did not rebut the statutory inference.

In its leave granted order, the MSC asked that parties to brief “(1) whether the Court of Appeals correctly interpreted MCL 691.1402a(2); and (2) what evidence a plaintiff must present to rebut the inference of reasonable repair.”

Will patience pay off in civil suit against prosecutors and police?

In February 2006, Claude Zain McCollum was convicted of murdering a Lansing Community College professor, but he walked out of prison last fall after Ingham County Prosecutor Stewart Dunnings III told the Michigan Court of Appeals a mistake had been made.

Yesterday, McCollum’s legal team walked into Ingham County Circuit Court and filed a 50-page civil complaint against almost everyone, including Dunnings, who had anything to do with his arrest and prosecution.

The complaint contains an impressive mix of constitutional and tort-based claims. Whether this actually goes anywhere remains to be seen. Most of the named defendants are prosecutors and police officials. Governmental immunity is a pretty thick shield to pierce.

But you can’t fault McCollum for trying.

According to McCollum’s complaint, when Dunnings asked the Court of Appeals in September 2007 to vacate the conviction, he said a new suspect had been identified. He also cited videotape evidence “showing that [McCollum] may have been somewhere other than the crime scene at the time of the crime.” The complaint alleges that what Dunnings didn’t tell the COA is that the defendants in McCollum’s civil complaint allegedly had known about that video evidence since March 2005, a couple of months after the professor was killed and McCollum had been arrested. The complaint goes on to say that the evidence was never disclosed to McCollum’s trial attorney, and the jury never heard about it.

At an October 2007 press conference to announce that he was seeking dismissal of the charges against McCollum, Dunnings again mentioned the new suspect. Later, the Michigan State Police went one better. They said the new suspect had confessed to the murder.

Last Sunday, the Lansing State Journal published an exhaustive report about McCollum’s saga, including the fact that his attorneys had a civil suit in the works.

On Tuesday, Jan. 22, Dunnings said he still believes McCollum is innocent but wants to keep open the option to recharge McCollum on the off chance that the Michigan State Police, who are resifting the evidence, might turn up something against him. For that reason, Dunnings said, he would resist McCollum’s efforts to have the dismissal of the murder charge converted from a dismissal without prejudice to a dismissal with prejudice.

Yesterday, as mentioned, McCollum’s suit was filed. Paragraph 123 of the complaint unambiguously states what McCollum’s lawyers think about Dunnings’ latest statements: “Defendant Prosecutors furthermore continue as recently as January 22, 2008 to threaten Plaintiff [McCollum] with possible prosecution, motivated not out of a search for the truth for the real killer, but for political or other improper means, if not continued animus toward Plaintiff, all to his significant detriment.”

The Lansing State Journal, in its Sunday report about McCollum’s case, said he “is not bitter about his imprisonment. If anything, he expects wrongs will be righted.

“‘I believe by being patient,’ the Lansing man said, ‘it will pay off.'”

Time will tell. He may need the patience of Job for this one.