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A new low in judicial activism

   In Kwiatkowski v. Coachlight Estates, two judges of the Michigan Court of Appeals reached a new low in judicial activism and result-oriented reasoning.  The Court acknowledged that the Plaintiff was "severely" injured when he approached the trailer park manager's mobile home to meet with the manager.  The manager, Mr. Rupp, attempted to open the door for Mr. Kwiatkowski, accidentally struck Kwiatkowski with the door, and knocked him off the small exterior porch.  The Court acknowledged that the manager could see Mr. Kwiatkowski standing on the porch.

     In a remarkable piece of absurdist reasoning, two judges concluded that the case should be dismissed because there was NO evidence that the Manager was negligent or careless.  These judges suggested that it was not even a question of fact whether the manager opened the door at the wrong time or too forcefully.  They suggested that he bore no "moral blame" [a concept that we believe to be novel in Michigan jurisprudence, since we have never previously seen legal responsibility for negligence dependent upon proof of "moral blame"] and that there was "no degree of certainty" that opening a screen door into someone could cause them harm. 

        While paying lip service to the fundamental axiom that all persons owe a reasonable duty to others not to act in a manner that may cause injury, the two-judge majority concluded that a reasonable juror COULD NOT conclude that the property manager was negligent in causing Mr. Kwiatkowski's unfortunate and severe injuries.  These two judges even suggested that it was the small porch on the mobile home that caused Plaintiff's injuries, not the Manager's actions in opening the door in to him.  This argument turns the famous Palsgraf case on its ear by parsing cause and effect to a degree which even a five year-old would find laughable.

        The Dissent noted that the Court was REQUIRED to accept the Plaintiff's well-pleaded allegations as true when presented with a summary disposition motion, and that it was obligated to leave to the jury the factual determination of whether the Manager's actions were unreasonable and unsafe.  The dissenting judge would have agreed with the Trial Court, which had concluded that it was up to the jury to decide whether the Defendant had violated his common law duty by "slamming a door into someone".

           While persons of conscience can disagree with regard to whether we should have "premises liability" and "liability for negligence", that was not the question presented to these judges, and it is the height of judicial arrogance and activism for them to re-write the laws of our state in order to arrive at an outcome which they personally would prefer.  Our law makes everyone responsible for injuries that he or she has caused through unreasonable conduct, and it is the jury's province--if reasonable minds could differ--to decide what actions are unreasonable or negligent.  Allegedly "slamming a door into someone" standing on your porch is at least arguably negligent and a question for jurors.  Sometimes we are embarrassed by the intellectual dishonesty patent in court decisions:  it is hard for someone who believes in the rule of law to accept a decision such as this one.

         We're sitting here kind of wondering if maybe one of these judges was standing with his head too close to a door when someone "slammed it open".  If this is an honest opinion and it is not the thinking of someone suffering from a head injury, we wonder how this level of critical thinking survived law school.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
309 East Front Street
Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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