Hon. Peter D. O’Connell turned to the Court of Claims seeking a writ of mandamus to force the the Director of Elections to consider his Affidavit of Candidacy for a six-year term on the Court of Appeals (COA). When the Court of Claims (COC) dismissed his complaint for want of subject-matter jurisdiction, he appealed to the Court of Appeals (Peter D. O’Connell v Director of Elections, Bureau of Elections and the Department of State. No 332132, Court of Claims, LC No. 16-000038-MB).
The COA reversed the COC order and remanded the matter back to that court.
Judge O’Connell was reelected to the COA for a six-year term beginning in November, 2012 and ending on January 1, 2019. Judge O’Connell will be ineligible to run for re-election for his term ending in November, 2018 because he will be 70 years old. In the meantime, Judge Gadola, appointed to complete the term of retiring Judge Whitbeck, can run for election in November 2017 for a term to end in 2023. Judge O’Connell, who will not be 70 in 2017, decided to step down from his current position and run for re-election for that 2017-2023 term.
To that end, he filed an Affidavit of Candidacy and Affidavit of Identity, which were rejected by the Bureau of Elections. Judge O’Connell then filed a Complaint for Mandamus in the COC. The COC dismissed his complaint because, it decided, it didn’t have subject-matter jurisdiction. Judge O’Connell appealed that decision to the COA.
Standard of Review and Principles of Construction:
Because this matter is a statutory question, it will be reviewed de novo or anew and the court will use the plain meaning of the words of the laws to determine the legislature’s intent.
The COA agreed with Judge O’Connell that the COC has subject matter jurisdiction over actions for mandamus or an order to a public official or a state department to perform its duty. The decision in his favor was based on:
1. Subject matter jurisdiction is the court’s authority to try the type of case before it regardless of the facts.
2. In 1997, the legislature stated that a writ of mandamus against a state officer shall be commenced or started in the court of appeals or in the circuit court with the geographic location or venue at the choice of the party starting the action. (MCL 600.4401 (1)
3. This interpretation of the law conflicts with the law creating the Court of Claims which states that the jurisdiction of the COC is exclusive and it has authority over demands for an extraordinary writ such as mandamus against the state, its departments and officials. (MCL 6401)
4. The same law states that “this chapter does not deprive the circuit court of exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine…remedial” injunctions such as writs of mandamus.
5. The Constitution grants the circuit court original jurisdiction to hear and order mandamus orders against state officials but the power is not exclusive or limited to the circuit court. Therefore, the law granting the power to the COC was proper.
6. The COA decided that to the extent that the laws of jurisdiction of the courts conflict, the Legislature intended the COC law (MCL 600.6419) and the law regarding the circuit courts (MCL 600.6419) to be interpreted together.
Using the words of the law as a basis for its decision, the COA decided that the Court of Claims law superseded the Circuit Court jurisdictional law and the COC does have the power to hear and decide Judge O’Connell’s case.