WAYNE COUNTY V WAYNE COUNTY RETIREMENT COMMISSIONAnnotate this Case
STATE OF MICHIGAN
COURT OF APPEALS
June 28, 2005
Wayne Circuit Court
LC No. 04-431663-AW
WAYNE COUNTY RETIREMENT
COMMISSION, WAYNE COUNTY
EMPLOYEES RETIREMENT SYSTEM
ELECTION COMMISSION and WAYNE
COUNTY EMPLOYEES RETIREMENT
WAYNE COUNTY AIRPORT AUTHORITY,
MICHIGAN AFSCME COUNCIL 25,
Wayne Circuit Court
LC No. 04-431663-AW
WAYNE COUNTY RETIREMENT
COMMISSION, WAYNE COUNTY
EMPLOYEES RETIREMENT SYSTEM
ELECTION COMMISSION and WAYNE
COUNTY EMPLOYEES RETIREMENT
WAYNE COUNTY AIRPORT AUTHORITY,
MICHIGAN AFSCME COUNCIL 25,
Before: Gage, P.J., and Whitbeck, C.J., and Saad, J.
A. Docket No. 259839
In Docket No. 259839, intervening defendant, Wayne County Airport Authority (the
Authority) appeals as of right the November 1, 2004, order granting summary disposition in
favor of plaintiff, Wayne County (the County), and entering judgment for the County in this
cause of action for a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief. We affirm.
B. Docket No. 259883
In Docket No. 259883, defendants, the Wayne County Retirement Commission (the
Retirement Commission), the Wayne County Employees Retirement System Election
Commission (the Election Commission), and the Wayne County Employees Retirement System
(the Retirement System) appeal as of right the November 1, 2004, order granting summary
disposition in favor of the County and entering judgment for the County in this cause of action
for a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief. We affirm.
II. Basic Facts And Procedural History
A. Creation Of The Authority
On March 26, 2002, the Michigan Legislature enacted Act 901 to transfer the
management and operation of qualifying airports from local government to an “airport
authority.”2 Act 90 defined a nonmilitary airport with ten million or more enplanements within a
MCL 259.108 et seq.
MCL 259.108; MCL 259.110. See also Wayne Co Bd of Comm’rs v Wayne Co Airport Auth,
253 Mich App 144; 658 NW2d 804 (2002) (upholding the constitutionality of Act 90).
twelve-month period as a “qualified airport.”3 At the time of the statute’s enactment, the Detroit
Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (Detroit Metro) and Willow Run Airport were under the
operation of Wayne County and were the only two “qualified airports” in the state. Act 90
essentially combined the two airports into the Authority. The Authority was empowered by
statute “to manage and operate” the qualified airports and their facilities.4
B. Transfer Of Employees
Act 90 gave Wayne County employees working at Detroit Metro and Willow Run
airports the option to transfer their employment to the Authority or to remain county employees
and be reassigned within the county government.5 The majority of Wayne County employees
chose to become employees of the Authority. Under Act 90, an individual who chose to transfer
employment to the Authority or to become a new employee of the Authority “shall remain or
become a participant in the local government retirement system until the authority has
established its own retirement system or pension plan.”6 About 714 employees of the Authority
chose to remain participants in the Retirement System because the Authority had not yet
established a retirement system or pension plan. Under Act 90, the Authority was obligated to
make employer contributions to the Retirement System on behalf of those employees who
transferred employment to the Authority but remained participants in the Retirement System.7
Act 90 also required the Authority to assume the obligations of any collective bargaining
agreements covering employees who transferred employment from Wayne County to the
C. The Retirement System
Wayne County’s Charter and enabling ordinances established the Retirement System to
provide “retirement income to eligible employees and survivor benefits.” The Retirement
Commission is the administrative body responsible for overseeing the operational and
administrative functions of the Retirement System. Pursuant to § 6.112 of the Charter and § 14135 of the Retirement Ordinance, the Retirement Commission consists of eight trustees, including
the chairperson of the county commission, the county executive, and six other members who are
elected to their seats. The Retirement Commission created the Election Commission to supervise
the elections. Generally, nominations for office must be filed with the Director of Wayne
County’s Department of Human Resources, who is responsible for certifying the eligibility of
D. Elections To The Retirement Commission
The term for one of the elected seats on the Retirement Commission was due to expire on
December 31, 2004. On July 27, 2004, the Director of Retirement, Ronald Yee, posted a notice
to all members of the Retirement System regarding an upcoming election for the open trustee
seat. The notice informed the members that a primary election would be held on November 1,
2004, followed by a general election on December 13, 2004. Robert E. Murphy and Raymond J.
Lambert, former Wayne County employees who transferred employment to the Authority, were
two of five nominees for the active representative seat. Murphy was also a member and elected
trustee of the Retirement Commission at that time.
On September 27, 2004, Yee sent a letter to Pamela Travis, the chairperson of the
Election Commission, certifying the names of the five individuals who filed satisfactory
nominating petitions. Subsequently, the Election Commission approved the five candidates for
incorporation on the primary election ballot. Lisa Laginess, a Department Executive with
Personnel Information Services, then sent the original petitions, along with a letter containing
information about the nominees, to Yee. Laginess also mailed letters to the nominees, including
Murphy and Lambert, advising them that their names were to be placed on the primary election
However, Timothy Taylor, Director of the Department of Human Resources for Wayne
County, subsequently sent a letter to Yee rescinding Laginess’ letter and explaining that his
office “inadvertently forwarded the original nominating petitions” to Yee’s office before the
mandatory petition review process had been conducted. Taylor requested that Yee return the
nominating petitions for completion of the review process. Taylor also mailed letters to Murphy
and Lambert rescinding Laginess’ letters and advising that their names could not be placed on
the ballot for the primary election because they were ineligible candidates as they were no longer
Wayne County employees. Taylor further sent a letter to Travis requesting that she schedule an
Election Committee meeting to approve the ballot for the primary election after completion of
the mandatory review process. Taylor explained, “I have determined that two candidates are
ineligible to participate in the election process because they are no longer Wayne County
employees . . . the nominating petitions submitted by Mr. Lambert and Mr. Murphy are invalid
and their names cannot appear on the ballot.”
Yee responded to Taylor’s letter by e-mail, explaining that the Election Commission
already certified all five names for the ballot and that a legal review of the matter was pending.
Yee refused to return the nominating petitions. Apparently, the Retirement Commission,
through the Election Commission’s oversight, intended to continue with the primary election
using ballots naming Murphy and Lambert as candidates.
E. The County’s Complaint
On October 12, 2004, the County filed a complaint for a writ of mandamus, declaratory
judgment, and injunctive relief against defendants. The County alleged that Authority
employees who opted to participate in the Retirement System were ineligible to vote and seek
election to the Retirement Commission because they were not “active members” as defined
under the Charter, Retirement Ordinance, and Election Rules and only names of “active
members” may be placed on the ballot for elections to the Retirement Commission.
The County also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order, show cause order, and
preliminary injunction based on the irreparable harm that would result if the names of Murphy
and Lambert remained on the ballots for the primary and general elections. Defendants opposed
the County’s request, contending that the Retirement Commission had the authority to establish
the rules and regulations guiding the elections of member representatives and that it was acting
within its authority in seeking to conduct the contested elections.
On October 12, 2004, the trial court entered an order temporarily restraining defendants
from placing the names of Murphy and Lambert or the names of any other individuals not
certified as active employees by the Wayne County Department of Human Resources on the
primary or general election ballots, printing the ballots, and holding the elections until the trial
court ruled on the motion for declaratory judgment. The trial court also ordered defendants to
show cause why a preliminary injunction should not be ordered and a writ of mandamus should
not be issued in this matter.
On October 15, 2004, the Authority filed a motion to intervene, contending that, as the
employer for approximately 750 employees participating in the Retirement System, it was
interested in ensuring the rights, privileges, and benefits of its employees under Act 90. Also on
October 15, 2004, Patrick Melton, one of the other nominees for the trustee seat, filed a motion
to intervene as a defendant. Melton requested that the trial court dismiss the County’s claim and
permit the election to proceed as scheduled. Moreover, AFSCME, the union representing several
of the former Wayne County employees who transferred employment to the Authority, filed a
motion to intervene as a defendant. AFSCME contended that, under collective bargaining
agreements with the County that the Authority assumed, employees represented by AFSCME
were designated and remained members of the Retirement System with the rights to fully
participate in the Retirement System that included the ability to vote and seek election.
After a hearing and oral arguments, the trial court granted the Authority’s motion to
intervene as a defendant. However, the trial court denied Melton’s motion to intervene after
finding that Melton failed to assert a position on the main legal issue of this case, and
“intervention would then serve no purpose.” The trial court also denied AFSCME’s motion to
intervene after finding that its clients lacked legal standing and that their interests were aligned
with the interests of the Authority. The trial court also ordered that the temporary restraining
order remain in effect until further order.
G. The Trial Court’s Decision
On October 20, 2004, the trial court heard oral arguments on the County’s motion for a
preliminary injunction. At the hearing, the trial court determined that the issue was a matter of
law and that there were no operative facts in dispute. The trial court stated that it would
“adjudicate this matter as a motion for summary disposition pursuant to MCR 2.116(I).”
On October 25, 2004, the trial court issued an opinion. The trial court found that
Authority employees were ineligible to seek election to the Retirement Commission and
indicated that it intended to grant the County’s request for declaratory relief. Specifically, the
trial court concluded:
Based on the foregoing, this Court will grant the County’s request for
declaratory judgment to the extent that the Court finds that, only active employees
of the County are eligible to be on the ballot for the election for the Commission.
Hence, in general, Airport Authority employees, and in particular, Murphy and
Lambert, are not eligible to seek a seat on the Commission. Further, the Court
will issue a writ of mandamus or an injunction that enjoins the defendants from
placing on the ballot for election to the Commission the names of Airport
Authority employees, specifically the names of Murphy and Lambert.
On November 1, 2004, the trial court entered an order in accordance with its prior
opinion, granting summary disposition in favor of the County pursuant to MCR 2.116(I)(1) and
entering judgment for the County by granting its requests for a declaratory judgment, mandamus,
and injunctive relief. Regarding the declaratory judgment, the trial court ordered that:
[O]nly active employees of the County of Wayne are entitled to have their
names placed on the ballot for the election for the Wayne County Retirement
Commission, and specifically that former employees of the County of Wayne who
are now employees of the Wayne County Airport Authority, including Raymond
J. Lambert and Robert E. Murphy, are not eligible to have their names placed on
the ballot for the election for the Wayne County Retirement Commission.
Regarding mandamus and injunctive relief, the trial court ordered that:
[T]he defendants, including their officers agents, representatives and/or
employees, are permanently restrained and enjoined from placing any names on
the ballot for the primary and election of persons who are currently employees of
the Wayne County Airport Authority, including Raymond J. Lambert and Robert
H. Post-Decision Proceedings
On November 1, 2004, the Authority filed a motion for clarification of the trial court’s
opinion, contending that the trial court’s opinion failed to “fully address the rights of the Wayne
County Airport Authority and its employees to participate in the Wayne County Retirement
System.” The Authority requested that the trial court issue an opinion answering the following
(a) Can Wayne County Airport Authority employees vote in the election of the
active trustee position on the Wayne County Retirement Commission?
(b) Can retired Wayne County Airport Authority employees seek election and
vote in the election of the retired trustee position on the Wayne County
(c) Are Wayne County Airport Authority employees “members” of the Wayne
County Retirement System entitled to receive the rights, privileges and benefits of
membership in the Retirement System?
(d) Can the Airport Authority and Airport Authority employees continue to make
contributions to the Retirement System?
On November 11, 2004, the trial court entered an order staying the proceedings pending
appeal. The order provided that the judgment was stayed and the temporary restraining order
continued pending this Court’s decision on the motions for expedited appeal and for immediate
consideration. The order further provided that if these motions were granted, “then the stay shall
remain in effect pending the final judgment of the Michigan Court of Appeals.” The order also
provided that “[s]hould the term of the active employee trustee seat on the Retirement
Commission expire on December 31, 200, without a final judgment of the Michigan Court of
Appeals, then the seat shall remain vacant until a superseding order is rendered by the Michigan
Court of Appeals.” However, the order provided that if this Court denied the motion for
expedited appeal, the stay would be vacated and the Retirement Organizations must schedule
primary and general elections according to the terms in the order.
On November 15, 2004, defendants filed a motion for reconsideration. Defendants
contended that they were not afforded the opportunity to file supporting documentation and offer
appropriate evidence to support their arguments; and that there was recent, additional support for
their position that would have changed the outcome of the case.
On November 18, 2004, after hearing oral arguments on the matter, the trial court entered
an order granting in part and denying in part intervening defendant’s motion for clarification of
the opinion. The trial court clarified its prior order as follows:
[T]he intervening defendant’s employees are not eligible to vote in the
election for the active trustee position on the Wayne County Retirement
Commission. . . . [R]etired employees of the intervening defendant are not
eligible either to seek election or to vote in the election of the retired trustee
position on the Wayne County Retirement Commission. . . . [E]xcept as
otherwise provided for by pertinent Michigan statutes, including MCL 259.119,
for purposes of the Wayne County Retirement Ordinance, the intervening
defendant’s employees are not members of the Wayne County Retirement
Commission who are entitled to receive the rights, privileges and benefits of
membership in the Wayne County Retirement System.
The trial court refused to address the Authority’s request for clarification of whether the
Authority and its employees may continue contributing to the Retirement System.
On November 30, 2004, the trial court entered an order denying defendants’ motion for
reconsideration. On December 20, 2004, defendants filed a claim of appeal from the trial court’s
order granting summary disposition in favor of the County and entering judgment for the
County. On December 21, 2004, the Authority filed a claim of appeal from the trial court’s order
granting summary disposition in favor of the County and entering judgment for the County.
On December 21, 2004, the Authority filed motions for peremptory reversal, immediate
consideration, stay, and expedited appeal. On December 22, 2004, defendants filed motions for
peremptory reversal, immediate consideration, and expedited appeal. On February 3, 2005, this
Court entered an order granting the Authority’s motions for immediate consideration and for
expedited appeal but denying its motion for peremptory reversal pursuant to MCR 7.211(C)(4).
Also on February 3, 2005, this Court entered an order granting defendants’ motions for
immediate consideration and for expedited appeal but denying their motion for peremptory
reversal pursuant to MCR 7.211(C)(4). On its own motion, this Court ordered consolidation of
the appeals in Docket Nos. 259883 and 259839.
III. Participation By An Authority Employee In The Retirement System
A. Standard Of Review
We review a trial court’s decision to grant or deny summary disposition de novo.9 This
Court also reviews de novo a trial court’s decision concerning summary disposition in an action
for declaratory judgment.10 Moreover, the interpretation and application of a statute is a matter
of law that is subject to de novo review.11
B. Statutory Interpretation
When interpreting statutory language, the primary goal is to discern and give effect to the
legislative intent that may reasonably be inferred from the language of the statute.12 When the
language of the statute is certain or unambiguous, judicial construction is unnecessary, and a
court must merely apply the terms of the statute as written to the circumstances of the given
case.13 A court will not read into a clear statute that which is not within the manifest intention of
the legislature as derived from the statute itself.14 The appropriate standard for discerning if a
statute is ambiguous is not whether reasonable minds could differ regarding the meaning of the
statute.15 Rather, “a provision of the law is ambiguous only if it ‘irreconcilably conflicts’ with
another provision, or when it is equally susceptible to more than a single meaning.”16 Under this
Veenstra v Washtenaw Country Club, 466 Mich 155, 159; 645 NW2d 643 (2002).
Breighner v Michigan High Sch Athletic Ass’n, 255 Mich App 567, 570; 662 NW2d 413
(2003), aff’d 471 Mich 217 (2004).
Veenstra, supra at 159.
Neal v Wilkes, 470 Mich 661, 665; 685 NW2d 648 (2004).
Turner v Auto Club Ins Ass'n, 448 Mich 22, 27; 528 NW2d 681 (1995).
Omne Financial, Inc v Shacks, Inc, 460 Mich 305, 311; 596 NW2d 591 (1999).
Mayor of Lansing v Michigan Pub Service Comm, 470 Mich 154, 165-166; 680 NW2d 840
Id. at 166, quoting Klapp v United Ins Group Agency, Inc, 468 Mich 459, 467; 663 NW2d 447
traditional standard, “only a few provisions are truly ambiguous” and “a diligent application of
the rules of interpretation will normally yield a ‘better,’ albeit perhaps imperfect, interpretation
of the law.”17
In construing a statute, courts must give the words of the statute their common and
ordinary meaning.18 Moreover, a court must “give effect to every word, phrase, and clause in a
statute and avoid an interpretation that would render any part of the statute surplusage or
nugatory.”19 When enacting legislation, the legislature is presumed to have knowledge of
existing laws and to have considered the impact of new laws on the existing laws.20 The rules of
statutory construction apply to ordinances21 and city charters.22
C. The Enactments At Issue
(1) Act 90
The claim at issue requires consideration of three distinct but related legal authorities.
The first is Act 90, which permits transferring employees to remain “participants” in the
Retirement System. The statute provides in relevant part:
(2) Local government employees employed at an airport from which
operational jurisdiction will be transferred to an authority may agree to transfer to
the employment of the authority on or before a date established by the authority.
The date established by the authority shall not be later than the approval date.
Local government employees, who do not agree to transfer to the employment of
the authority, shall be reassigned within the local government. The local
government shall not, as a result of the creation or incorporation of an authority
for a period of not more than 1 year, layoff or reduce the pay or benefits of any
employee of the local government into whose position a local government
employee who was previously employed at the airport is reassigned. The
authority shall consider any person hired by the authority to fill a position that had
been previously filled with a local government employee who did not agree to
transfer to the employment of the authority to be under the collective bargaining
agreement covering, and to be represented by the collective bargaining
representative of, the local government employee who did not agree to transfer to
the authority. The authority shall accept the transfers without a break in
State Farm Fire & Cas Co v Old Republic Ins Co, 466 Mich 142, 146; 644 NW2d 715 (2002).
Walen v Dep’t of Corrections, 443 Mich 240, 248; 505 NW2d 519 (1993).
Gora v Ferndale, 456 Mich 704, 711; 576 NW2d 141 (1998).
Detroit v Walker, 445 Mich 682, 690-691; 520 NW2d 135 (1994).
employment, subject to all rights and benefits held by the transferring employees
under a collective bargaining agreement. Transferring employees shall not be
placed in a worse position by reason of the transfer for a period of 1 year after the
approval date, or any longer period as may be required in connection with the
assumption of any applicable collective bargaining agreement, with respect to
wages, workers’ compensation, pension, seniority, sick leave, vacation, or health
and welfare insurance or any other term and condition of employment that a
transferring employee may have under a collective bargaining agreement that the
employee received as an employee of the local government. . . . Employees who
elect to transfer shall not by reason of the transfer have their accrued local
government pension benefits or credits diminished.
(3) If a local government employee described in this section elects to
transfer to an authority or if a person is hired by the authority as a new employee
after the date on which the authority assumes operational jurisdiction over an
airport, the employee shall remain or become a participant in the local
government retirement system until the authority has established its own
retirement system or pension plan. During this period the employee remains or is
a participant in the local government system, the employee’s post-transfer service
with the authority during this period and his or her post-transfer compensation
from the authority during this period shall be counted in determining both
eligibility for and the amount of pension benefits that the employee will be
eligible to receive from the local government system or plan.
(4) If a local government employee described in this section elects to
transfer to the authority, then the transferred employee may elect to remain a
participant in the local government retirement system in lieu of participation in
any retirement system or pension plan of the authority. By electing to remain a
participant in the local government system, the employee’s post-transfer service
with the authority and his or her post-transfer compensation from the authority
shall be counted in determining both eligibility for and the amount of pension
benefits that the employee will be eligible to receive from the local government
system or plan. . . . Employees eligible to make the election described in this
subsection shall be those employees who immediately before their transfer date
were participating in the local government system and who agree to make any
employee contributions required for continuing participation in the local
government system and also agree to meet all requirements and be subject to all
conditions which, from time to time, apply to employees of the local government
who participate in the local government system.
MCL 259.119 (emphasis added).
(2) The Wayne County Charter
Second, Wayne County Charter § 6.112 pertains to the structure of the Retirement
Commission and the election of individuals to the Retirement Commission, and provides:
The Retirement Commission is composed of 8 members: The CEO or the
designee of the CEO, the chairperson of the County Commission, and 6 elected
members. The members must be residents of Wayne County. Four members shall
be active employees elected by active employees of the County in the manner
provided by ordinance and 2 members shall be retired employees elected by
retired employees of the County in the manner provided by ordinance. The term
of the elected members is 4 years. The Retirement Commission shall administer
and manage the Retirement System. The costs of administration and management
of the Retirement System shall be paid from the investment earnings of the
Retirement System. [Emphasis added]
(3) The Wayne County Ordinance
Third, Wayne County Ordinance § 141-35(a)(1)(c), referring to the composition of the
Retirement Commission, states, “Four members of the retirement system, who are residents of
the county, to be elected by the members of the retirement system [sic]. Each member trustee
shall be from a different county department, . . . [stating several county departments].
Employees of all other county agencies shall be considered collectively to be employees of one
additional county department for the purposes of this provision.”
D. The Plain Language Of Act 90
We conclude, as did the trial court, that it is unnecessary to look beyond the language of
Act 90 to determine whether Authority employees and retirees are eligible to vote for and be
elected as trustees to the Retirement Commission. Generally, courts must construe provisions of
the law on the same subject or sharing a common purpose as harmonious.24 Because both
provisions of subsections 119(3) and (4) of Act 90 relate to the retirement benefits of an
employee who elects to transfer employment from Wayne County to the Authority, we must read
them so that they harmonize. The plain language of the two subsections provides that those
employees opting to transfer employment to the Authority and remain in the Retirement System,
whether before the Authority creates its own retirement system or after such an event, did so as
“participants” in the Retirement System.25 In addition, the transferring employees who elected to
remain in the Retirement System were to be subject to the “conditions” of that system.26
See Rockwell v Bd of Ed, 393 Mich 616, 648; 227 NW2d 736 (1975).
Act 90 therefore does not guarantee employees of the Authority the same rights and
privileges they possessed while employees of Wayne County or the same rights as those enjoyed
by current employees of Wayne County. A general principle of statutory construction is the
doctrine of expressio unius est exclusio alterius, which means the express mention of one thing
implies the exclusion of another.27 Act 90 enumerates certain rights protected, including “wages,
workers’ compensation, pension, seniority, sick leave, vacation, or health and welfare insurance
or any other term and condition of employment.”28 Regarding a transferring employee’s
pension, Act 90 specifically protects the employee’s right to have his “post-transfer service” and
“post-transfer compensation” counted toward eligibility for and the amount of pension benefits
to be received from the local government retirement system.29 Act 90 also provides that
transferring employees shall not have their “accrued local government pension benefits or credits
diminished.”30 Therefore, Act 90 clearly protects transferring employees’ financial benefits. It
does not provide transferring employees the right to vote in elections for the Retirement
Commission or to seek and hold a position on the Retirement Commission.
Similarly, Act 90 grants Authority employees the right to participate in “the local
government retirement system.”31 However, it does not reserve the right to administer or
manage that system through election to the Retirement Commission. Self-evidently, the rights of
Authority employees regarding participation in the Retirement System exist only to the extent
that Act 90 clearly grants them. Because the Legislature was silent regarding the voting and
election rights under the Retirement System, it would be entirely improper for this Court to read
into the statutory language a provision guaranteeing Authority employees such rights.32
Moreover, this Court is precluded from creating a provision that is not present in a statute merely
because it may have made sense for the Legislature to do so.33 Accordingly, the participatory
rights of transferring employees are governed by the local laws governing the local retirement
system or, in this case, by the Charter and the Retirement Ordinance for Wayne County.
Because the statute does not contain provisions directly conflicting with the local law as
provided in the Charter and the Retirement Ordinance, the doctrine of preemption is
Bradley v Saranac Bd of Ed, 455 Mich 285, 298; 565 NW2d 650 (1997).
MCL 259.119(3) and (4).
MCL 259.119(3) and (4).
Omne Financial, supra at 311.
Houghton Lake Area Tourism & Convention Bureau v Wood, 255 Mich App 127, 152-153;
662 NW2d 758 (2003).
E. Application Of The Charter And The Retirement Ordinance
Pursuant to the Charter, § 6.112, membership on the Retirement Commission is explicitly
restricted to “active employees of the County.” Under the substantive provisions of Act 90,
employees of Wayne County may elect to transfer employment to the Authority or remain
employees of Wayne County.34 Accordingly, Authority employees are no longer employees of
Wayne County and, under the Charter, are ineligible to seek membership on the Retirement
Commission. We note, as did the trial court, that the Retirement Ordinance defines the
composition of the Retirement Commission in broader terms than the Charter. According to the
Retirement Ordinance, any “member” of the Retirement System may be elected to the
Retirement Commission. According to the Charter, membership on the Retirement Commission
is expressly limited to “active employees of the County” and the election is to be conducted in
“the manner provided by ordinance.” Although, in general, provisions of the law on the same or
similar subject must be construed as harmonious, where an ordinance and a charter conflict, the
express terms of the charter take precedence.35 Because the Charter explicitly restricts eligibility
to seek election on the Retirement Commission to employees of Wayne County, the Retirement
Ordinance cannot provide for greater or lesser rights than those expressed in the Charter.36
Therefore, we construe the two provisions to mean, with respect to election to the Retirement
Commission, that membership in the Retirement System is synonymous with active employment
with Wayne County.
We note that, contrary to the Authority’s assertion, the Charter and the Retirement
Ordinance envision more than two classes of persons; that is, members and retirees. We further
note that even before enactment of Act 90, the Retirement System contained participants without
voting and election privileges. Both the Charter and the Retirement Ordinance preclude
participants who are not residing in Wayne County and who are spousal beneficiaries from
voting in or seeking election on the Retirement Commission. Therefore, the Retirement System
can contain both employee members and non-employee participants.
Moreover, the trial court’s judgment and post-judgment orders do not prohibit the
participation expressly provided under Act 90. The trial court refused to clarify its ruling by
addressing whether Authority employees were permitted to continue making contributions to the
Retirement System. The trial court reasoned that the issue of continued contributions was not
raised before it and did not necessarily follow from its analysis of this case. The trial court
further reasoned that the issue “was directly dealt with by the statute” and needed no
clarification. Thus, the trial court allowed the “participation” expressly provided for in Act 90
while – properly, in our view – declining to rule on matters not before it.
Bivens v Grand Rapids, 443 Mich 391, 400-401; 505 NW2d 239 (1993).
A. Standard Of Review
We review a trial court’s application of the doctrine of laches for clear error.37 “A
decision is clearly erroneous where, although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court
is left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.”38
B. Applying The Doctrine
“The doctrine of laches is a tool of equity that may remedy ‘the general inconvenience
resulting from delay in the assertion of a legal right which it is practicable to assert.’”39 This
doctrine applies to cases where “there is an unexcused or unexplained delay in commencing an
action and a corresponding change of material condition that results in prejudice to a party.”40
“Generally, ‘where the situation of neither party has changed materially, and the delay of one has
not put the other in a worse condition, the defense of laches cannot . . . be recognized.’”41
The basis for defendants’ claim of laches was that the County contested neither Murphy’s
eligibility to remain a trustee on the Retirement Commission nor the voting rights of Authority
employees who participated in the Retirement System immediately after the enactment of Act
90. The County, however, contended that the reason it brought this action at this time was that a
controversy arose because of the impending opening of a trustee seat and the certification of a
ballot for the related election with what the County deemed were ineligible candidates under Act
90. The trial court rejected defendants’ claim that the doctrine of laches precluded the County
from filing this action because “defendants have not come forward with any showing that the
delay of the County in asserting its position that Airport Authority employees may not seek to be
elected to the Commission in any way prejudiced the defendants, the Airport Authority
employees or those who presently sit on the Commission.”
Even assuming that the County’s delay in filing this action was unacceptably lengthy, we
conclude that the trial court properly refused to apply the doctrine of laches to bar the County’s
lawsuit because there was no showing of prejudice to defendants. The County claimed that only
employees of Wayne County were eligible to vote and seek election to the Retirement
Commission under the applicable rules governing the Retirement System. As we have
City of Jackson v Thompson-McCully Co, LLC, 239 Mich App 482, 492; 608 NW2d 531
Kitchen v Kitchen, 465 Mich 654, 661-662; 641 NW2d 245 (2002), citing In re Attorney Fees
& Costs, 233 Mich App 694, 701; 593 NW2d 589 (1999).
Public Health Dep’t v Rivergate Manor, 452 Mich 495, 507; 550 NW2d 515 (1996) (citations
Kuhn v Secretary of State, 228 Mich App 319, 334; 579 NW2d 101 (1998) (citation omitted).
concluded above, the limitations to participation expressed in Act 90, the Charter and the
Retirement Ordinance did not deny employees transferring their employment from Wayne
County to the Authority the right to participate in their prior pension plans. Rather, these
enactments made the participation of such transferring employees subject to the conditions of the
Retirement System. One of the conditions of the Charter, which was in existence at the time that
the employees could elect to transfer their employment, precluded individuals not employed by
Wayne County from seeking election to the Retirement Commission. Therefore, we conclude
that seeking to apply this preexisting condition to Authority employees did not subject them to
any new restrictions. It necessarily follows that transferring employees cannot claim prejudice
from any delay in bringing this action.
/s/ William C. Whitbeck
/s/ Hilda R. Gage
/s/ Henry William Saad