City of Royal Oak loses specious defense argument over sidewalk; sanctions are upheld for defense claims that lacked foundation
Judith Angeloff sued the City of Royal Oak after being injured on an allegedly defective sidewalk. The City argued that the sidewalk was actually owned by Grand Trunk Western Railroad, which owned the adjacent overpass, and that Grand Trunk was responsible for its maintenance. The City also argued that the sidewalk didn't meet the definition of a "sidewalk" under the statute that would make the City responsible for maintaining it. Ultimately, the Oakland County Circuit Judge granted summary disposition against the City on the issues of definition and responsibility, and also awarded sanctions to the Railroad for being forced to defend specious arguments raised by the City. The City appealed.
The Court first affirmed the summary disposition, noting that all of the facts of the case and the existing precedent supported the lower court's finding that the area of injury was a "sidewalk" under the City's control. It expressly noted that the deed issued to Grand Trunk involving the subject property made it "subject to the public's right of way" and the subdivision plat noted that the area was dedicated to public use. The area was clearly within the Thirteen Mile Road right of way--and "paved"-- and therefore met the statutory definition of a sidewalk the City was required to maintain. The Court also dismissed the self-serving claims by the City Engineer attempting to explain the City's motive in paving the area of injury.
With regard to the sanction motion, the higher court agreed with the City that there is no provision in existing law allowing one defendant to collect its expenses from another defendant as a "prevailing party." Nevertheless, the Court of Appeals upheld the sanctions imposed, pointing out that the City and its attorneys had no factual support for the false claims they raised in attempting to avoid responsibility for the injury.