State Rep. Martin Howrylak introduced legislation to update citizen protections in the Open Meetings Act (OMA).
Rep. Howrylak’s proposal would clarify that OMA violations can be in the past or ongoing when a citizen files a civil action against a public body. The bill specifies that an OMA violation must be tried in the state Court of Claims unless a lawsuit has been filed. This reform would also ensure that an individual who commences a civil action which results in a judicial finding that a public body did not comply or is not complying with OMA can recover court costs and legal fees.
These reforms are necessary in light of the Speicher v Columbia Township Board of Trustees case (2014). In that case, Speicher sued the Columbia Township Board of Trustees under the Open Meetings Act and was awarded the recovery of attorney fees. The Michigan Supreme Court raised questions regarding the Court of Appeals’ decision to award attorney fees under the Open Meetings Act. The Supreme Court argued that the plain language in the Open Meetings Act indicates that a person may not recover court costs or attorney fees unless he or she succeeds in obtaining injunctive relief.
“Public bodies have a responsibility to operate transparently. When they fail to do so, citizens should not be forced to foot the legal bill for exposing an injustice,” said Rep. Howrylak, of Troy. “My bill will ensure that citizens have the ability to recover legal expenses related to filing a violation that results in any judicial finding that a public body did not comply with the Open Meetings Act.”
HB 4766, which was referred to the House Law and Justice Committee for consideration, is the reintroduction of HB 5778 from the 2015-16 session.