Michigan Supreme Court Reverses Court of Appeals Decision Forcing Workers Compensation Agencies to Remain Open at Certain Locations

The Michigan Supreme Court has reversed the Court of Appeals decision that held the Director of the Michigan Administrative Hearing System and the Director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs were required to maintain local offices for litigation of Workers’ Compensation Agency hearings.  Read the opinion here:

Younkin v. Zimmer

In September 2012, the Director of the MAHRS had announced new efforts to reorganize, including closing the Flint office that previously handled workers’ compensation claims and transferring those claims to an office in Dimondale, approximately 70 miles away.

The Plaintiff in the underlying case injured his back while at his job in Flint.  He filed a workers’ compensation claim.  Because of the reorganization, he was required to litigate his claim in Dimondale, rather than in the now-closed Flint office.

He filed a writ of mandamus in Circuit Court to compel the Directors to maintain the Genesee County (Flint) hearing site.  The circuit court issued the writ and the Directors appealed.  The Court of Appeals (M. J. KELLY, P.J., and FORT HOOD, J. (CAVANAGH, J., dissenting)), affirmed, holding that the trial court had not abused its discretion. 304 Mich App 719 (2014).

In a unanimous opinion released November 18, 2014, the Supreme Court reversed, holding the trial court abused its discretion by issuing a writ of mandamus compelling the Directors to hold workers compensation hearings in Flint.

MCL 418.851 provides that a workers’ compensation hearing must be held at the locality where the injury occurred. The Supreme Court reasoned Defendants, in their official capacities as administrators of the workers’ compensation hearing system, interpreted the term “locality” as meaning a district or a definite region. This interpretation was entitled to respectful consideration. Because it did not conflict with the Legislature’s intent, there were no cogent reasons to overrule it.

The Court continued, reasoning that in accordance with the Directors’ interpretation of the statute, they divided the state into 11 reasonably located hearing districts, and workers’ compensation claims were assigned from definite regions of the state to one of those hearing district offices depending on where the injury occurred.

Nothing in the Worker’s Disability Compensation Act, MCL 418.101 et seq., requires that there be a hearing site in every county. While the hearing should be held at a place convenient for parties and their witnesses, it was not unreasonable to conclude that the locality where the injury occurred in this case was Dimondale given the injury occurred in Genesee County and that county falls within the Dimondale district.

The Court concluded although having the hearing in the latter rather than in the former venue would doubtlessly be less convenient for plaintiff, this would not constitute an unreasonable inconvenience. Accordingly, plaintiff did not have a clear legal right to a hearing in Genesee county, and the Directors did not have a clear legal obligation to hold the hearing there.

I previously wrote about this case in an earlier blog here:

Court of Appeals Rules Workers Compensation Hearings Must Be Held in “Locality” Where Injury Occurred Forcing Directors of Administrative Hearing Systems to Reopen Closed Offices Throughout the State

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