PRYOR R CROWE V CITY OF DETROITAnnotate this Case
Michigan Supreme Court
Lansing, Michigan 48909
C hief Justice
Maura D. Cor rigan
Michael F. Cavanagh
Elizabeth A. Weaver
Clifford W. Taylor
Robert P. Young, Jr.
Stephen J. Markman
FILED JULY 20, 2001
PRYOR R. CROWE, ALBERT E. CONANT,
and EUAN D. SINGLETON,
CITY OF DETROIT,
BEFORE THE ENTIRE BENCH
In this case we are called upon to construe section
161(1)(c)1 of the Worker’s Disability Compensation Act, MCL
Section 161(1)(c) provides:
Police officers, fire fighters, or employees
of the police or fire departments, or their
dependents, in municipalities or villages of this
state providing like benefits, may waive the
provisions of this act and accept like benefits
that are provided by the municipality or village
but shall not be entitled to like benefits from
both the municipality or village and this act;
Section 161(1)(c) authorizes municipalities and
villages to offer injured police officers and fire fighters a
form of compensation that, while like that provided through
Michigan’s statutory worker’s compensation system, MCL 418.101
et seq., can be tailored to the needs of public safety
officers. The statute allows officers to bargain collectively
for beneficial alternatives to the otherwise mandatory state
Accepting the invitation of the Legislature, the city of
Detroit provides an alternative benefits plan2 in tit IX, ch
VII, art VI, part B, § 2 of the Detroit City Charter.
charter grants payments during an officer’s working life
commenced) that exceed what the officer would receive under
the WDCA. But after the twenty-five-year period, described as
the “creditable service” period, the officer receives the same
amount as an uninjured, retired officer.
During this second
however, this waiver shall not prohibit such
employees or their dependents from being reimbursed
under section 315 for the medical expenses or
portion of medical expenses that are not otherwise
provided for by the municipality or village. This
act shall not be construed as limiting, changing,
or repealing any of the provisions of a charter of
a municipality or village of this state relating to
benefits, compensation, pensions, or retirement
independent of this act, provided for employees.
This section was last amended on November 5, 1968, and
has been in effect since January 1, 1969.
benefit period, i.e., the “retirement” period,3 the officer
usually receives less than he would have obtained under the
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Detroit Officers Crowe, Conant, and Singleton, following
work-related disabling injuries, accepted municipal disability
benefits under the city charter.
After twenty-five-years of
creditable service, they each received the reduced benefit
provided by the plan that they had selected.
At that point,
they sought to revoke their previous elections to avoid the
retirement reductions discussed above.
Although they acknowledged having received the enhanced
supplement the “retirement” benefit to match the comparable
WDCA benefit. In two of the proceedings, involving plaintiffs
Conant and Crowe, the magistrate and the Worker’s Compensation
Appellate Commission ruled in favor of defendants, reasoning
remained in effect and that § 161(1)(c) does not provide for
In the third proceeding, involving plaintiff Singleton,
The Detroit charter plan describes these reduced
benefits as a “reduced disability allowance.” Detroit City
Charter, tit IX, ch VII, art VI, part B, § 2(b).
the magistrate and the WCAC ruled against defendant, relying
on Hatton v Saginaw, 159 Mich App 522; 406 NW2d 871 (1987).
Hatton held that disability benefits provided by the Saginaw
City Charter that are reduced when a worker reaches a certain
age were not “like” WDCA benefits.
The WCAC nonetheless
agreed with the magistrate’s criticism of Hatton: § 161(1)(c)
“is not intended to allow plaintiff the opportunity to jump
between benefit programs as it suits his fancy or as benefits
The Court of Appeals consolidated the plaintiffs’ cases
and held that they could not alter their election in order to
avoid the reduction in compensation after twenty-five years.
Because defendant’s charter required the reductions, the Court
of Appeals concluded that plaintiffs could not properly claim
that they had been surprised:
While it is true that the amount of benefits
plaintiffs now receive represents the same amount
they would have received had they retired healthy
after twenty-five years of service, it is also true
that the amount they now receive remains governed
plaintiffs receive has been reduced, that reduction
constitutes part of defendant’s disability pension
plan for police officers. The payments plaintiffs
disability. Consequently, we hold that the benefit
payments plaintiffs received from defendant are
“like benefits” under § 161(1)(c). [237 Mich App
397, 401-402; 603 NW2d 107 (1999).]
The Court of Appeals reasoned that the altered calculation of
benefits did not change their nature.
We granted leave to consider whether plaintiffs may
withdraw their waivers of WDCA benefits.
plaintiffs chose the entire disability plan provided in the
charter, including reduction of benefits after twenty-five
The plain language of § 161(1)(c) does not allow
plaintiffs to change their election.
This case requires us to examine the text of § 161(1)(c).
Statutory interpretation is a question of law that we review
The Herald Co v Bay City, 463 Mich 111, 117; 614
NW2d 873 (2000).
See also MCL 418.861a(14); Mudel v Great
Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co, 462 Mich 691, 700; 614 NW2d 607
discern and give effect to the intent of the Legislature:
This task begins by examining the language of
the statute itself. The words of a statute provide
“the most reliable evidence of its intent. . . .”
United States v Turkette, 452 US 576, 598; 101 S Ct
2524; 69 L Ed 2d 246 (1981). If the language of
the statute is unambiguous, the Legislature must
have intended the meaning clearly expressed, and
the statute must be enforced as written.
further judicial construction is required or
permitted. Tyrc v Michigan Veterans’ Facility, 451
Mich 129, 135; 545 NW2d 642 (1996). [Sun Valley
Foods Co v Ward, 460 Mich 230, 236; 596 NW2d 119
grounded in the doctrine of noscitur a sociis: ‘[i]t is known
from its associates,’ see Black’s Law Dictionary (6th ed), p
This doctrine stands for the principle that a word or
phrase is given meaning by its context or setting.”
Livonia Pub Schs, 459 Mich 382, 390-391; 590 NW2d 560 (1999).
Section 161(1)(c) plainly requires disabled officers to
choose either WDCA benefits or “like benefits” provided under
a municipal plan. Employees must elect an entire plan and may
not “re-elect” WDCA benefits after they have waived its
“municipalities or villages . . . providing like benefits” to
“waive the provisions of this act and accept like benefits
[officers] shall not be entitled to like benefits from both
the municipality or village and this act . . . .”
contemplates an election of a plan.
The Legislature plainly
distinguished municipalities that provide “like benefits” from
those that do not.
This distinction is based on whether a
municipality provides a plan. It does not refer to individual
payments or discrete provisions of a plan.
Similarly, the statute provides that an officer who
elects “like benefits” “waives the provisions of this act.”
The statute does not call for waiver of some WDCA benefits; it
requires a waiver of the provisions of the WDCA itself.
the Legislature intended to allow employees to change an
election or to waive some, but not all, benefits, it would not
have referred to a waiver of the provisions of the WDCA
Indeed, with regard to medical expenses, the
Legislature limited the effect of the waiver providing, “this
waiver shall not prohibit such employees or their dependents
from being reimbursed under section 315 for the medical
expenses or portion of medical expenses that are not otherwise
Moreover, the statute expressly states that a claimant
municipality or village and this act . . . .”
A claimant who
participates in the municipal plan thus cannot claim WDCA
In these cases, plaintiffs do not dispute that they opted
for and accepted benefits under the municipal plan.4
accepting those benefits, plaintiffs elected the municipal
plan in its entirety and waived the provisions of the WDCA.
They weighed the benefits and detriments of the WDCA and the
municipal scheme, and chose the more advantageous plan.5
Having made that choice, they now seek to withdraw from the
bargain because their retirement benefits are less than they
would have been under the WDCA.
Plaintiffs and the dissent ignore the plain language of
They compare the WDCA alternative plan with the
city’s other municipal plan. The statute, however, directs us
to compare the alternative WDCA plan with WDCA benefits, not
to compare one municipal plan with another municipal plan.
The question remains, nevertheless, whether disability
benefits provided by defendant’s charter are “like” WDCA
We believe that they are.
Our decision in MacKay
v Port Huron, 288 Mich 129; 284 NW 671 (1939), offers guidance
At oral argument, plaintiffs’ counsel questioned whether
an election had been made. The record reflects, however, that
plaintiffs stipulated that they had elected to receive
benefits under the municipal plan.
The net of that evaluation is a calculation of which
would produce a better return. This requires the officer and
his advisors, lawyers, or union representatives to set greater
present benefits off against reduced later, or “retirement,”
firefighter’s widow accepted a monthly pension under a city
While still receiving this pension, she sought WDCA
The pension was based on “the amount of retirement
salary that her deceased husband would have received had he
lived and been placed upon the retirement list at the date of
Id. at 132.
This Court found the pension
sufficiently similar to worker’s compensation benefits:
The term “like benefits,” employed in the
statute, does not mean identical benefits or co
extensive in every detail but, considering the full
scope thereof, similar in its salient features.
The charter benefit of $75 a month, or $900 per
remarries, while the compensation award of $18 per
week, or $936 per year, carries, if there is no
remarriage, for 300 weeks at the longest. The $36
per year difference, if considered an inequality,
loses sense as such when we give consideration to
the time of continuance of each benefit.
statute provides for funeral expenses and the
charter benefit does not but this was waived in
taking the longer time benefit. [Id. at 134.]
Where one has a right of election to take
either of two benefits but not both, and is
accorded and accepts and is receiving one, there is
waiver of the other. [Id. at 135.]
Further, in Johnson v Muskegon, 61 Mich App 121; 232 NW2d
disability retirement pension provision was “like” the WDCA
provisions even though the pension provision did not include
The salient feature in MacKay was held to be
precisely the salient feature in the case at bar,
periodic payments for disability.
cannot say that the absence of medical benefits is
such an “inequality” as to exclude the operation of
Like MacKay, the benefits in this
case are not “identical” or “co-extensive in every
detail,” nor are they required to be. Just as the
plaintiff in MacKay waived the funeral expenses
benefit by electing to receive the pension, so too
did the plaintiff in the case at bar waive the
medical benefits by accepting the longer benefits
under the disability pension. [Id. at 126.]
We reaffirm the principles articulated in MacKay and
Johnson. The statute does not require that municipal benefits
Rather, municipal benefits must be “like” WDCA
Under MacKay, “like benefits” are those that are
similar in their salient features.
The municipal benefits accepted by plaintiffs here meet
Like the WDCA, defendant’s charter provides a
total package including periodic payments for disability and
While the municipal benefits are not precisely
lower–they are “like benefits” as this Court and the Court of
Section 161(1)(c) now excludes from the waiver of WDCA
benefits any “medical expenses or portion of medical expenses
that are not otherwise provided for by the municipality or
Appeals have interpreted that phrase.7
Thus, under the plain
Plaintiffs’ reliance on language in certain Court of
Appeals cases is misplaced. In Teddy v State Police, 102 Mich
App 412; 301 NW2d 876 (1980), the Court of Appeals analyzed
whether the pension in that case was “like” worker’s
compensation benefits. It stated that “[w]hether the benefits
are like benefits depends on whether the pension was a
disability pension or a retirement pension.” Id. at 421. It
then determined that the pension in that case was a retirement
In Hatton, supra, the Court of Appeals held that a
Saginaw plan did not bar recovery of WDCA benefits by a
disabled firefighter who had reached the age of fifty-five.
It stated that, although the municipal pension was “still
referred to as a ‘disability pension,’ the worker who attains
age fifty-five is actually receiving retirement benefits to
which the worker would be entitled regardless of disability.
We believe that once a disabled worker attains age fifty-five
the pension should be considered a retirement rather than a
disability pension.” Id. at 531.
The Court of Appeals explained why the interpretation of
the Saginaw Charter in Hatton does not control here:
For several reasons, Hatton is not reliable
authority to be applied in the instant cases.
Significantly, the benefit plan in Hatton allowed
an employee to receive both plan benefits and
worker’s compensation benefits. The terms of the
Saginaw plan are discussed in Hatton and in Bannan
v Saginaw, 420 Mich 376; 362 NW2d 668 (1984), aff’g
Bannan v Saginaw, 120 Mich App 307; 328 NW2d 35
Furthermore, without much in the way of
meaningful analysis, Hatton disagreed with the
prior decision in Johnson, supra.
supra at 532. Yet the Johnson decision relied on a
Supreme Court decision, namely, MacKay, supra. In
addition, for part of its analysis Hatton was
guided by Franks v White Pine Copper Division, 422
Mich 636; 375 NW2d 715 (1985) [which the
Legislature has repudiated]. . . . In sum, Hatton
is not meaningful authority for deciding the issue
established by the city charter of Detroit. [237
Mich App 403-404.]
language of § 161(1)(c), they need not be identical.
One cannot rely on one component of the plan, such as the
recalculation under the charter after twenty-five years of
Rather, the relevant inquiry is the
nature of the entire plan, not its discrete components.
TO THE DISSENT
The dissent contends that our approach would allow a
municipality to change its plan after the option was chosen
“regardless of whether the benefits are like in kind or
purpose to the benefits offered by the WDCA.”
We reject this characterization.
Slip op at 7.
We do not hold that a city
Hatton and Teddy are distinguishable. Teddy involved a
deceased state police officer; § 161(1)(c) by its plain terms
applies to officer in municipalities or villages. Hatton
involved interpretation of the Saginaw City Charter.
charter contained language not present in the Detroit Charter.
We decline to construe the Saginaw Charter; it is not before
Thus, the Hatton and Teddy cases did not depend
necessarily on an analysis that is inconsistent with our
holding in this case.
Plaintiffs also cite Wiedmaier v Comm’r of Internal
Revenue, 774 F2d 109 (CA 6, 1985). In that case, the court
held that after twenty-five years of creditable service, the
reduced pension provided by the Detroit Charter is a
retirement allowance and thus “income” for tax purposes.
The issue here differs from that decided in Wiedmaier.
In considering whether municipal benefits are “like” WDCA
benefits, we are bound by the plain language of § 161(1)(c).
A federal court’s interpretation of a federal tax regulation
does not control our analysis of the text of a provision of
may offer “virtually anything” “regardless of whether the
benefits are like in kind or purpose to” WDCA benefits.
Instead, we have followed the plain language of § 161(1)(c)
and our decision in MacKay, which is, to repeat, that a
municipal plan must offer “like” WDCA benefits, i.e., similar
in its salient features.
The statute does not refer to discrete components of a
“municipalities or villages of this state.”
directs that a disabled officer who elects “like” municipal
benefits waives “the provisions of the WDCA” itself.
statutory directive means that we must compare an entire
municipal plan to the WDCA.
The municipal plan here is
provides periodic payments for disability.
The dissent disregards the statutory directive by failing
to consider the municipal plan in its entirety.
components to the WDCA, concluding that benefits received
after the twenty-five-year reduction are not “like” WDCA
Under the dissent’s approach, plaintiffs would
receive the best of preretirement and postretirement periods,
i.e., higher benefits during their “creditable service” years
approach is not consistent with the statute or our precedent.
Next, the majority and the dissent apparently agree that
Had the Legislature intended to permit
“identical,” “equivalent,” or “exactly the same” instead of
“like.” But the Legislature did not employ those phrases. We
thus conclude that the plans need not provide exactly the same
The dissent fails to explain why it does not share
Next, the dissent states that we have “ignore[d] our duty
to recognize that the WDCA is a remedial statute that should
be liberally construed in favor of the employee, and must be
construed to grant rather than deny benefits.”
Slip op at 7.
We do not think that the statute at issue is ambiguous.
In any event, if the statutory language were ambiguous,
The dissent agrees that for the period leading up to the
twenty-five-year retirement limitation, Detroit gives its
disabled police officers and firefighters “like benefits” even
though those “like benefits” amount to more than similar WDCA
However, when the twenty-five-year
retirement limit is reached, Detroit’s benefits are “reduced”
to the level of all other retirees. The dissent claims that
those benefits cease to be “like benefits” at that time
because of the reduction. Thus, the dissent’s test for “like
benefits” seems to depend on whether the benefits are less
than or greater than those provided by the WDCA.
our first duty is to attempt to discern the legislative intent
underlying the ambiguous words.
Only if that inquiry is
fruitless, or produces no clear demonstration of intent, does
a court resort to the remedial preferential rule relied on in
The dissent would hold that the Legislature intended
nondisabled after twenty-five years of creditable service.
This scheme would encourage employees to become disabled as
retirement approached to obtain greater benefits.9 The act has
never been construed as providing a disincentive for recovery
and return to work.10
We decline to “construe” this section of
In Franks, supra at 654, we observed that worker’s
compensation benefits are meant, as are other similar social
welfare benefits programs, to provide a “safety net [by] means
of income maintenance for persons who have met misfortune or
whose regular income has been cut off.”
In the course of determining that the Legislature could
properly provide for coordination of benefits, we quoted
remarks made by Governor William Milliken concerning the
coordination of benefits legislation that are equally
applicable in the current context:
To start with, we must keep in mind that the
purpose of workers’ compensation, after all, is to
restore wage-earning capacity lost in on-the-job
Worker’s compensation was never
intended to be more lucrative than gainful
employment or to be a retirement bonus. [Franks,
supra at 655, quoting remarks by Governor William
G. Milliken to the Ann Arbor Chamber of Commerce on
November 18, 1981.]
As Theodore J. St. Antoine, the Governor’s Special
Counselor on Workers’ Compensation, stated in a report
the WDCA to create incentives that other areas of the act
disabled employees–i.e., officers disabled before reaching
twenty-five years of service and
officers disabled after
differently without apparent reason.
Under the dissent’s
approach, those injured early would receive greater benefits
than those injured later.
A reasonable inference is not
available that the Legislature intended to create unequal
municipalities to repeal ordinances providing “like benefits”
and thus ultimately deprive police and fire personnel of a
If we were to judicially engraft onto the
statute a right to make two elections of benefits--one at the
time of the disability and the second when the years-of
entitled, Report on Workers’ Compensation in Michigan: Costs,
Benefits, and Fairness, presented on December 12, 1984 to
Governor James J. Blanchard’s Cabinet Council on Jobs and
Economic Development, there is a “long-standing notion that
income replacement should not be total lest it prove a
disincentive to work . . . .” [Quoted in Franks, supra at
The record reflects that plaintiffs Crowe and Conant
received greater benefits under the municipal disability plan
than they would have received under the WDCA.
establish an independent disability scheme because it would
lead to increased costs.
As a result, disabled police and
fire personnel in the future would be forced to rely entirely
on the disability benefits conferred by the WDCA.
statutory option of “like benefits”
for which public safety
Further, would the Legislature have created a pending
Legislature’s invitation, to create a beneficial program for
injured public safety officers?
The majority believes the
Legislature would not do such a thing, but this outcome would
ensue if the dissent’s approach prevailed.
Detroit, either as
a self-insurer offering “like benefits,” or as an insured
paying premiums to an insurance company on the basis of the
risks, would be forced to finance benefit payments for which
no insurance reserves exist; that is, for unanticipated, and
Further, the current “like benefits” options resulted
from collective bargaining between the city and the police and
firefighters’ unions. The collectively bargained city charter
provision treats all retirees the same. Once the twenty-five
years-of-credited-service limitation is reached, all police or
fire retirees--whether disabled or able-bodied--receive
benefits at the same level. It is not surprising that a union
would seek to obtain identical benefits for its members rather
than to create discrete classes of employees who would receive
thus unfunded, risks.
The Legislature plainly expressed no
intent to require cities to raise local taxes or cut other
programs to finance such additional responsibilities.
light of these considerations, any ambiguity in the statute
would support our conclusion that the Legislature did not
intend to allow a second election of benefits.
Finally, the remedial rule of preference cited by the
dissent requires courts to determine how an interpretation of
the statute would affect all similarly situated claimants, not
merely the particular claimants in a particular case.
dissent stands the doctrine on its head; it construes the
statute in favor of the particular plaintiffs, but against the
approach, these municipal plans would cease to exist.
support our conclusion.
plain language of MCL 418.161(1)(c), requires a
disabled police officer to choose either WDCA benefits or
“like benefits” provided by a municipality or village.
Section 161(1)(c) does not permit an officer
to change an election after it has been made.
accepted periodic payments for disability under defendant’s
Accordingly, we affirm the Court of Appeals decision.
TAYLOR , YOUNG , and MARKMAN , JJ., concurred with CORRIGAN , C.J.
S T A T E
M I C H I G A N
PRYOR R. CROWE, ALBERT E. CONANT
and EUAN D. SINGLETON,
Nos. 115983, 115984
CITY OF DETROIT,
CAVANAGH, J. (dissenting).
I am unpersuaded that the plaintiffs continued to receive
“like benefits” as defined by MCL 418.161(1)(c) after reaching
respectfully dissent from the majority’s holding.
I cannot agree with the majority’s implication that, once an
employee has chosen to receive benefits under a municipal
plan, he is thereafter precluded from challenging the benefits
he receives as not being “like benefits” under the Worker’s
Disability Compensation Act.
I would hold that the benefits
the plaintiffs received before the twenty-five-year reduction
were “like benefits” for the purposes of § 161, but that the
reduced benefits received thereafter were not “like benefits.”
Therefore, I would reverse.
The Detroit City Charter provides the following with
respect to disability pensions:
Part B—Total Disability Pension and Retirement
If a member shall become totally incapacitated
for duty by reason of injury, illness or disease
resulting from performance of duty and if the Board
of Trustees shall find such injury, illness or
disease to have resulted from the performance of
duty, on written application to the Board of
Trustees by or on behalf of such member or by the
head of his Department such member shall be retired;
notification he may have separated from service;
provided, the Medical Director, after examination of
such member shall certify to the Board of Trustees
his total incapacity. If said member was separated
application, and he had attained 25 years or more of
service prior to the date of separation, the Board
of Trustees, shall retire said member, under this
part B (As amended November 5, 1968.
January 1, 1969).
Sec 2. Benefits
A member, as defined under article IV, section
1(a), (b), or (c) retired under section 1 above
shall receive the following benefits:
(a) If such member shall not at the time of his
retirement have a total of twenty-five years of
creditable service, he shall receive a disability
pension of sixty-six and two thirds percent of his
final compensation at the time of his retirement.
(b) If such member, at the time of his
retirement, shall have a total of twenty-five years
or more of creditable service or on the expiration
of the period when a member retired and receiving
benefits under (a) above would have such total had
he continued in active service, he shall receive a
reduced disability allowance computed in the same
manner as the allowance provided in Part A of this
Article with optional benefits as provided in Part
H of this Article. [Tit IX, ch VII, art VI.]
The present plaintiffs were retired because of disability
at times when each had not attained twenty-five years of
Each employee received two thirds of his
final compensation at the time of retirement in accordance
with art VI, part B, § 2(a) of the city charter.
However, the plaintiffs’ benefits were reduced pursuant
to § 2(b) of the city charter when each plaintiff reached what
would have been twenty-five years of creditable service.
amount of “reduced disability allowance,” by the terms of
subsection (b)’s reduction provision, was “computed in the
same manner as the allowance provided in Part A of this
Article with optional benefits as provided in Part H of this
Part A is entitled “Service Retirement Allowance,”
and discusses the standard retirement allowance.1
disability allowance provided by § 2(a) in lieu of receiving
worker’s compensation benefits.
Those payments are not at
In other words, part A is not disability based.
issue on appeal.
issue on appeal, instead, is the
contention that the plaintiffs were impermissibly reduced
pursuant to § 2(b).
According to the plaintiffs, they were
entitled to receive both worker’s compensation benefits and
plaintiffs under the municipal plan were changed from injury
based benefits to retirement benefits when each plaintiff had
twenty-five years of creditable service.
retirement plan under which the plaintiffs elected to receive
benefits after they were injured.
Thus, the defendants argue,
compensation benefits, and the plaintiffs are precluded from
receiving “dual” benefits by § 161 of the WDCA.
Thus, in order to fully analyze the parties’ arguments,
it is necessary to examine the language of the municipal plan
under which the plaintiffs are currently entitled to receive
benefits, to consider the language of limitation used in
§ 161, and to determine whether that language of limitation
allows the plaintiffs to recover benefits under both the
municipal plan and under the WDCA.
charter is provided above.
The language of the
The disputed statutory “election
provision” of § 161(1)(c) reads as follows:
Police officers, fire fighters, or employees of
the police or fire departments, or their dependents,
in municipalities or villages of this state
providing like benefits, may waive the provisions of
this act and accept like benefits that are provided
by the municipality or village but shall not be
entitled to like benefits from both the municipality
or village and this act . . . .” [Emphasis added.]
Further, the act discusses municipal charters by providing
This act shall not be construed as limiting,
changing, or repealing any of the provisions of a
charter of a municipality or village of this state
relating to benefits, compensation, pensions, or
retirement independent of this act, provided for
With charter and statute in hand, we can turn to the
question whether MCL 418.161(1)(c) allows the city of Detroit
to deny the payment of worker’s compensation benefits to the
disability pension benefits pursuant to § 2(a) of the city
charter in lieu of WDCA benefits.
Stated alternatively, the
question is whether the conversion of the officers’ pensions
to reduced disability allowances after twenty-five years of
service changed the benefits so that they were no longer “like
benefits” for the purposes of § 161.
The crux of plaintiff’s
argument is that the benefits were not “like benefits” under
§ 161 because they were converted from disability benefits to
municipal plan benefits were “like benefits” at the time of
election, and retained their character as “like benefits”
after the reduction because the benefits were created as part
of an overall plan designed to be “like” the WDCA formulation.
In the majority’s words, “The plain language of MCL
418.161(1)(c) requires a disabled police officer to choose
municipality or village.
By accepting ‘like benefits’ an
officer elects the entire municipal plan.”
Slip op at 13.
However, nothing in the statutory language provides that an
employee may elect a benefits plan and that if he does so, he
is forever precluded from asserting that the payments being
majority’s assertion that “[e]mployees must elect an entire
plan and may not re-elect WDCA benefits after they have
received its provisions,” is unsupported by either authority
Slip op at 6.
Although the opinion asserts that
a “contextual” reading of the statute supports the approach,
nothing in the text or context of the statute says anything
about all-encompassing plans.
Rather, the statutory language
provides only that designated employees shall not be entitled
to receive “like benefits” from the municipality and under the
WDCA at the same time.
Under the majority’s approach, an employee is able to
elect an overall plan by accepting payment from the city under
the city’s municipal plan.
Thereafter, the employee could be
bound to accept virtually anything the city offers as part of
the plan, regardless of whether the nature of the benefits
changes and regardless of whether the benefits are like in
kind or purpose to the benefits offered by the WDCA.
unconvinced that the majority’s approach is supported by the
language of the WDCA.
Further, the majority ignores our duty
to recognize that the WDCA is a remedial statute that should
be liberally construed in favor of the employee, and must be
construed to grant rather than deny benefits.
GenCorp Automotive, 457 Mich 720; 579 NW2d 347 (1998); Sobotka
v Chrysler Corp (After Remand), 447 Mich 1, 20, n 18; 523 NW2d
The majority criticizes my citation of a rule that
pertains to construction of the WDCA. Yet, this Court has
explicitly stated that “[c]ertain general principles govern
any inquiry into the applicability of a provision of the
worker’s compensation act. . . . First, the worker’s
compensation act is remedial in nature, and must be ‘liberally
construed to grant rather than deny benefits.’” Hagerman at
739 (emphasis added); see also DiBenedetto v West Shore Hosp,
461 Mich 394, 402; 605 NW2d 300 (2000)(citing the remedial
rule as supplemental to and not in contravention of the rules
offered by the majority). Despite this mandate, the majority
would sidestep the rule, and substitute its own preferred
Worse, though the majority claims to merely apply the
statute as written, labeling statutory language unambiguous
does not make it so. As pointed out in this opinion, the text
of the statute itself makes no mention of municipal “plans.”
The majority implicitly engages in construction, and
interprets the statute as meaning that the purpose of
§ 161(1)(c) is to allow municipalities to create plans that
Subsection (1)(c) of § 161 allows injured police officers
and firefighters, such as the plaintiffs, to choose whether
they wish to receive “like” benefits under a municipal plan
rather than under the WDCA.
If a plaintiff chooses to receive
benefits from the municipality, and those benefits are “like
benefits,” then § 161(1)(c) operates to bar the employee from
simultaneously receive “like benefits” under the WDCA and the
serve as an alternative form of disability compensation. The
majority arrives at a statutory meaning only after construing
the context of and purposes behind § 161(1)(c).
surprisingly, the fruit of the hunt is a statutory meaning
that supports the policy concerns expressed at great length by
the majority. Slip op at pp 15-18.
Despite the majority’s distaste for the idea that
officers who have been disabled while acting in the line of
duty and thereby been prevented from continuing in active
service might receive compensation greater than that of their
“able-bodied” counterparts, it is not for this Court to
declare that such a result would be unjust. In fact, making
such a determination flies in the face of Michigan’s
disability compensation system. The worker’s compensation act
is designed to balance various competing considerations; among
other factors, the WDCA accounts for the fact that an employer
may have limited resources to pay for debilitating personal
injuries incurred on the job, the fact that under the WDCA
injured employees have no right to sue under negligence
principles, and the fact that such employees may have lost the
ability to work and advance in their fields of choice. See
MCL 418.131(1) and DiBenedetto, supra. While § 161 (1)(c)
provides municipalities, as self-insurers, to further similar
purposes through their own plans, it only bars dual benefit
recovery for like benefits.
employee is entitled to receive both worker’s compensation
benefits and municipal benefits when the two benefits are not
like in kind.
Because § 161 does not define the phrase “like benefits,”
guidance from precedent.
As the majority acknowledges, this
Court long ago stated that the determination whether benefits
are “like” hinges on whether the benefits are similar in
“salient features” considering the full scope of the benefits.
MacKay v Port Huron, 288 Mich 129; 284 NW 671 (1939).
MacKay was decided under a prior version of the WDCA, I agree
with the majority’s use of the salient features test under the
current version of the WDCA.
However, in my view, our duty to
consider the full scope of the benefits requires that we
currently being received and challenged, and not only at the
benefits received because of an initial election made by a
While the fact that the benefits may be associated with
an overall benefit plan may be relevant to our determination
of whether particular benefits share salient features, I do
not believe that a plaintiff’s decision to elect benefits
under a municipal plan forecloses a determination that a
addresses the interests intended to be protected by the WDCA.
In other words, simply because one aspect of a municipal plan
provides benefits that are “like benefits” because they have
salient features similar to benefits available under the WDCA,
it does not follow that every benefit allocation made in a
municipal plan should automatically be considered a like
I believe that duty binds us to carefully examine
the reduced disability benefits the plaintiffs are currently
receiving and to determine whether those benefits have salient
features similar to the benefits that would be available to
the plaintiffs under the WDCA.
Further, I strongly disagree with the majority and the
defendant that the “waiver” language of § 161 refers to waiver
in the sense that the plaintiffs are barred from asserting a
claim of inadequate compensation if they “elect” the city
The waiver provision is associated with the election
It is true that an injured employee may choose
It is also true that an employee who
chooses between “like benefits” waives entitlement to benefits
under the alternative plan.
However, the employee does not
waive WDCA protection for other benefits.
Thus, the city has
no right to reduce a plaintiff’s overall entitlement to a
degree that the benefits are no longer “like benefits.”
In the instant case, the plaintiffs base their claim on
the theory that once their benefits were reduced, they were
put on a par with nondisabled retired employees.
plaintiffs’ view, their reduced disability allowances were
actually in the nature of retirement benefits rather than in
the nature of disability compensation benefits.
As such, the
benefits were not “like benefits” for the purposes of § 161.
I agree with the plaintiffs.
In my view, the “reduced disability allowance” provided
to the plaintiffs after twenty-five years of service does not
share salient features with the disability-based benefits
recoverable under the WDCA.
Though the benefits are called a
“disability” allowance, it is clear that the purpose of § 2
In their brief, the defendants argue that the
plaintiffs should not be entitled to a windfall that would
allow them to receive more money after twenty-five years of
creditable service than would be received by their nondisabled
retired counterparts. The fundamental flaw in the defendant’s
retirement has been fairly structured, but nonetheless claims
that the benefits received after twenty-five years of service
are akin to WDCA benefits.
If the defendant’s argument is
accepted, then the conclusion that follows is that employees
receive no compensation for their disabilities after they
reach the point when they would have put in twenty-five years
If the WDCA would continue to provide benefits
after that point, the charter fails to provide a “like”
Under the city of Detroit Charter, several aspects of
disability payment change once an employee would have had
twenty-five years of creditable service.
Most obviously, the
Although MacKay noted that the quantitative amount of benefits
need not be exactly the same under a city plan and under the
WDCA in order to constitute a “like benefit,” MacKay also
recognized that the full scope of benefits must be considered.
In this case, the purpose of the quantitative reduction was to
put disabled officers who would have had twenty-five years of
The majority criticizes this approach by concluding
that municipalities would be discouraged from creating
beneficial municipal plans and that individual employees would
be encouraged to become disabled. I disagree with both of
First, my approach provides for nothing
more than the WDCA itself.
Municipalities will not be
discouraged from providing municipal plans under my approach;
rather, they will be encouraged to provide like benefits.
Second, I do not share the majority’s fear that employees will
be motivated to injure themselves to the point of disability
so that they will be entitled to disability payments
thereafter. In any event, if an employee does become disabled
late in his years of service, the payment he would receive
under the approach I offer would not be an enhanced retirement
benefit. Instead, it would be the standard retirement benefit
provided by the municipal plan, plus any non-like disability
benefit available to any disabled employee under the WDCA.
This is clearly evidenced by the fact
that the charter states that an officer’s “reduced disability
allowance” is to be “computed in the same manner as the
allowance provided in Part A of this Article . . . .”
Moreover, at the point when an officer’s disability allowance
is reduced, he is no longer required to undergo a medical
examination to certify his continued disability.4 This further
provides evidence that the plaintiffs’ status as disabled
officers has little bearing on the payments they receive after
twenty-five years of creditable service.
This Court has not taken up the exact question presented
Further, a change in the method of benefit calculation
also occurs. In Wiedmaier v Comm’r of the IRS, 774 F2d 109
(CA 6, 1985), the court held that payments received by an
injured fireman after twenty-five years of service were
nothing more than a retirement allowance, and were not
excludable from gross income as benefits in the nature of
workmen’s compensation. The court reasoned:
The clear purposed of the [IRS] regulation is
to distinguish between benefits that are intended
to compensate an employee for lost earning capacity
due to an injury . . . and those benefits that are
simply a retirement pension in consideration for
past services. . . . Under that case, once the
twenty-fifth anniversary step-down occurs, the IRS
will treat the pension as part of gross income.
As in Wiedmaier, the Detroit post-twenty-five-year pension for
disabled employees is calculated in precisely the same way as
a normal retired person’s pension is calculated. Wiedmaier is
persuasive, and tends to support the conclusion that the
benefits being challenged in this case are not like benefits.
by this case, but in Bannan v Saginaw, 420 Mich 376; 362 NW2d
668 (1984), we considered a city ordinance that adjusted
plaintiffs’ pension benefits when they reached fifty-five
years of age.
With regard to the benefit reduction, this
Court stated, “We agree with the plaintiffs’ contention that
to deprive duty disabled retirees of their earned retirement
income, after they have become 55 years of age, is contrary to
the underlying purpose of the pension ordinance.”
385; see also Hatton v Saginaw, 159 Mich App 522, 532; 406
NW2d 871 (1987).
Though Bannan is not directly on point
because it held § 161 to be inapplicable on the grounds that
the pension reduction at issue occurred pursuant to a city
ordinance rather than a city charter, the overall logic of
Bannan is persuasive and its message rings loudly.
present case, depriving the plaintiffs of their disability
benefits after they logged twenty-five years of service would
be contrary to the purposes behind plans that compensate
officers injured while carrying out their duties.
would apply Bannan by analogy and consider the city of Detroit
Charter in light of the purposes behind compensating injured
is clearly attempting to avoid making
double payments to the plaintiffs.
However, I am unconvinced
that the they are simply attempting to avoid paying double
as might potentially be precluded by
Rather, I am persuaded that
attempting to avoid making simultaneous retirement payments
and disability payments to injured employees.
employer would have recourse under a different section of the
WDCA, but I do not believe that the remedy lies in § 161
because the benefits being sought are not “like benefits.”
would therefore carry out our duty to liberally interpret the
WDCA in favor granting benefits,
Hagerman; Sobotka, supra,
and grant the relief requested by the plaintiffs in this case.
WEAVER and KELLY , JJ., concurred with CAVANAGH , J.