Court reaffirms commitment to a litigant's right to be heard
Shaw Loughrige filed suit against the Civil Service Commission in order to dispute its denial of her administrative complaint. By law, she was required to name the Commission as a Defendant, however, she mistakenly entitled her claim as one against the Michigan Department of Civil Service. The trial court threw out her appeal on this basis, and denied her the right to amend to identify the Defendant properly, even though she had served the proper people with service. The Defendant did not argue that it suffered prejudice as a result of her naming error.
The Court of Appeals unanimously over-turned the lower court's decision, reminding readers of its opinion that Michigan's Legislature issued a clear statement on the subject of pleading mistakes and amendments: In MCL 500.2301, the legislature decreed that Michigan courts "at every stage of the action or proceeding shall disregard any error or defect in the proceedings which do not affect the substantial rights of the parties." Unfortunately, during the Engler Majority era of the past decade, this legislative pronouncement has been honored only in the breach, at least with regard to actions brought by injury victims.
The activist conservative majority claimed a "textualist" philosophy, but disregarded the above statement of principle regularly when faced with minor errors or inaccuracies in the pleadings of injury victims. In one recent case, the court's majority dismissed a malpractice claim because the victim served her notice of intent to sue on the defendant doctor at an address he had left a few weeks earlier---even though the doctor admitted receiving the notice through the regular mail forwarding service within days. Perhaps the Loughrige case represents a return to a more level playing field for all litigants and a renewed focus on what should be the ultimate goal of the court system: justice rather than gamesmanship.