Amicus Brief

Karen Renny v Michigan Department of Transportation

Case Year: 2007
Case Forum: Michigan Supreme Court
Keywords: Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA), governmental immunity, public building exception
Amicus Counsel:

Mary Massaron Ross (P43885) | Hilary A. Dullinger (P69979) |
Plunkett Cooney | 535 Griswold St, Suite 2400 | Detroit, MI 48226 | 313-983-4801

CoAmicus Parties:

1. Michigan Municipal League Liability and Property Pool (Pool)
2. Michigan Townships Association (MTA)


In holding that a plaintiff can maintain a design defect claim under the public building exception, the court of appeals has deviated from this court’s well-established principles governing the interpretation of the Michigan Governmental Tort Liability Act requiring that its immunity provisions be given broad effect to protect governmental agencies from tort liability and that any exceptions must be narrowly construed. This Court has employed this textual approach in the context of the highway exception, MCL 691.1402(1), and has held that the statutory duty to “repair” and “maintain” does not by implication impose a duty to “design.” When the Court judicially decides whether to apply a principle that must be seen as a correct statement of the law to only some cases rather than to all cases, it harms the
administration of justice. It results in an uneven application oflaw violating the basic norm of appellate law that like cases be treated alike. A directive that the holding is to have prospective application fosters the error arising from earlier courts’ mishandling of MCL 691.1406, a mishandling that severely undercut the Michigan Legislature’s broad grant of governmental immunity and narrow construction of governmental immunity exceptions. Limiting the effect of
its holding would lend judicial endorsement to the mistaken interpretation of MCL 691.1406. Sound jurisprudential principles demand adherence to the general rule of full
retroactivity. Only under such an approach will the Court be vindicating the statutory provision intended to limit liability under the public building exception to injuries occasioned by a
governmental agency’s failure to repair and maintain public buildings under its control.


Michigan Supreme Court:
We hold that design defect claims are not cognizable under the
unambiguous, plain language of the public building exception, which refers onlyto the governmental agency’s duty to “repair and maintain” the public building. Therefore, while we affirm the Court of Appeals reversal of summary disposition in favor of MDOT, we reverse the Court of Appeals holding that design defects are actionable under the public building exception, and we remand the case to the Court of Claims for further proceedings consistent with this decision.

MSC requested LDF amicus brief? Yes

Plaintiff Karen Renny visited a rest area in Roscommon County, Michigan, in January 2000. She alleged that while leaving the rest area building, she slipped on a patch of snow and ice on the sidewalk in front of the doorway and suffered serious injuries to her right wrist. Plaintiff sued MDOT, alleging that her injuries resulted from a defective condition of the rest area building. Plaintiff attributed the accumulated snow and ice, in part, to MDOT’s failure to install and maintain gutters and downspouts around the roof of the building. Plaintiff maintained that gutters and downspouts would have safely channeled the snow and ice that melted off the roof away from the sidewalks. Moreover, plaintiff alleged that MDOT had actual or constructive notice of these defects for more than 90 days before the accident, but failed to remedy them. MDOT moved
for summary disposition, which the Court of Claims granted on the basis of governmental immunity.

Case Number: 2006-15
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