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Blogs | June 5, 2015
3 minute read

COA holds teacher’s termination in violation of the Revised School Code gives rise to private cause of action

In Summer v. Southfield Bd. of Educ., No. 320680, the Court of Appeals considered whether a teacher laid off in violation of the procedures established by the Revised School Code in MCL 380.1249 can bring a private cause of action against the school district in state circuit court.  The court held that the legislature’s clear intent was to allow this type of action to be brought in a court of competent jurisdiction as provided for in MCL 380.1248(3).  Because it found that the Code allowed for a private cause of action under this section, the court reversed the portion of the trial court’s decision granting summary disposition to the defendants.

Plaintiff Meredith Summer began working as a teacher in the Southfield Public Schools system in 1999.  After filing an internal complaint against a colleague for harassment, plaintiff received a “minimally effective” performance evaluation before ultimately being laid off.  Plaintiff filed a complaint in Oakland County Circuit Court alleging that her termination was in violation of the Revised School Code, MCL 380.1 et seq.  Specifically, plaintiff asserted that her termination violated MCL 380.1249, which requires school boards to adopt and implement rigorous, transparent, and fair performance evaluation systems, as well as MCL 380.1248, which requires the effectiveness evaluation system described in Section 1249 to be based on such factors as student growth, the teacher's pedagogical skills, the teacher’s management of the classroom, the teacher’s attendance and disciplinary record, and the teacher’s accomplishments, contributions, and special training.  MCL 380.1248(3) provides a specific remedy for any teacher alleging a violation of that section, allowing the teacher to seek reinstatement by bringing an action against the school district in a court of competent jurisdiction.

Defendants moved for summary disposition pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(4), alleging that the court lacked jurisdiction over the subject matter of the complaint and under MCR 2.116(C)(8), alleging the plaintiff failed to state a claim on which relief can be granted.  In support of the motion, defendants argued that jurisdiction over the claim rested exclusively with the Teacher Tenure Commission, or, to the extent the claim arose from plaintiff’s union activity, with the Michigan Employment Relations Commission.  The trial court granted summary disposition to the defendants under both MCR 2.116(C)(4) and (8).

The Court of Appeals reversed the grant of summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(4), finding that MCL 380.1248(3) granted jurisdiction over the claim to the circuit court rather than the Teacher Tenure Commission and that the complaint did not allege any claims related to plaintiff’s union status and therefore need not be brought through the Michigan Employment Relations Commission.  Although the court affirmed the portion of the decision finding that MCL 380.1249 does not contain its own cause of action, it held that the private cause of action provided for in MCL 380.1248 allowed the plaintiff to bring such claims.  Because the trial court did not specifically articulate the grounds which would support the finding that plaintiff’s complaint failed to state a viable claim, the court vacated the aspect of the trial court’s order granting summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(8) and remanded for further proceedings.