Appeals Court Affirms Ruling for Jewish Group, which Sued MHSAA

Aug 28, 2009

A Michigan state appeals court has sided with a Jewish school in a case in which the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) punished the academy for refusing to play sporting events from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
The Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit, which had staked out its position out of respect for the Jewish Sabbath, had been victorious at the trial court level, securing an injunction against the MHSAA’s decision to revoke its association membership. In so ruling, that court relied on the Civil Rights Act, MCL 37.2401 et seq., and the plaintiff’s Michigan and United States Constitutional rights.
The MHSAA appealed the ruling, arguing that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to grant the plaintiff’s request for an injunction.
In considering the appeal, the panel reviewed the sole question presented by the defendant:
“Did the Circuit Court have subject matter jurisdiction to enter the injunction and relief requested in this litigation?
“’Circuit courts of this state have subject matter jurisdiction to issue declaratory rulings, injunctions, or writs of mandamus.’ Const 1963, art 6, § 3; MCL 600.605; Citizens for Common Sense In Government v Attorney General, 243 Mich App 43, 50; 620 NW2d 546 (2000). Further, MCL 37.1606 provides, in pertinent part:
“(1) A person alleging a violation of this act may bring a civil action for appropriate injunctive relief or damages, or both.
“(2) An action commenced pursuant to subsection (1) may be brought in the circuit court for the county where the alleged violation occurred, or for the county where the person against whom the civil complaint is filed resides or has his principal place of business.
“(3) As used in subsection (1), ‘damages’ means damages for injury or loss caused by each violation of this act, including reasonable attorneys’ fees.
“On the basis of this authority, we conclude that the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction under the Michigan Constitution, MCL 37.1606(1), MCL 37.1606(2), and MCL 600.605 to grant an injunction, and subject matter jurisdiction under the plain language of the Civil Rights Act, MCL 37.1606(3), to grant the attorney fees requested by plaintiff.
“To the extent that defendant argues that the trial court otherwise improperly granted the injunction, defendant has waived these arguments by failing to include them as issues in its statement of the questions presented. Caldwell v Chapman, 240 Mich App 124, 132; 610 NW2d 264 (2000). Furthermore, this Court should abstain from deciding constitutional questions where, as here, the case can be decided on other grounds. J & J Const Co v Bricklayers & Allied Craftsmen Local 1, 468 Mich 722, 734; 664 NW2d 728 (2003). Accordingly, we decline to discuss defendant’s arguments further.
MHSAA Communications Director John Johnson issued the following statement through the media:
“The court of appeals turned down the association’s request to overturn the lower court’s ruling. Consistent with our history, we’ll appeal anything we feel will harm the legitimate interests of hundreds of other membership schools. We have a very diverse membership. This is a situation that would really disrupt the academic and athletic schedules of thousands of students and create hardships for parents, students, adults, spectators, students, coaches, media and others if this were to happen, if the court says we have to rearrange our tournament schedule to accommodate one school.
“While we respect the academy for its strong belief, we desire that it fulfills its promise when it voluntarily joins the association every year by school board resolution to follow the rules as a requirement of membership. What’s at issue here is that we’re asking them to respect the tournament schedules that the other 750 some odd schools have to play by.”
Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit v Michigan High School Athletic Association, et al.; Ct. App. Mich.; No. 283885, 2009 Mich. App. LEXIS 1348; 6/16/09


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