Defendant and third-party plaintiff, the Monroe County Probate Court, appeals as of right from the December 21, 1992, order issued by visiting Monroe Circuit Court Judge Robert J. Colombo, Jr.,
On May 16, 1991, the plaintiffs in the underlying lawsuit, Cindy and Lawrence Cameron, sued the Monroe County Probate Court and James Seitz in his capacity as a Monroe County Probate Court judge, alleging claims of marital-status discrimination under the Civil Rights Act, MCL 37.2101 et seq.; MSA 3.548(101) et seq., and loss of consortium.
Mediation of plaintiffs' principal complaint resulted in a recommended award of $25,000 for the plaintiffs with respect to the Monroe County Probate Court. The plaintiffs and the Monroe County Probate Court accepted this mediation recommendation and, accordingly, a judgment for $25,000 was entered against the Monroe County Probate Court pursuant to MCR 2.403(M)(2).
Cross motions for summary disposition were subsequently filed with respect to the third-party complaint. At a hearing on October 20, 1992, Judge Colombo issued a ruling from the bench granting Monroe County's motion for summary disposition pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(1), and denying the Monroe County Probate Court's motion for summary disposition. Relying on Kell v Johnson, 186 Mich.App. 562; 465 N.W.2d 26 (1990), Judge Colombo ruled that, although Monroe County is
The parties are in disagreement over which party was Cindy Cameron's employer, as well as the significance of the existence of an employer-employee relationship. Monroe County argues that, because Cindy Cameron's underlying lawsuit was premised upon discrimination during the course of her employment, it may not be held liable for the judgment recovered by Cameron unless it was Cameron's employer, which it maintains it was not. Monroe County insists that the Monroe County Probate Court was Cameron's employer.
In Judges of the 74th Judicial Dist v Bay Co, 385 Mich. 710, 723; 190 N.W.2d 219 (1971), our Supreme Court held that district court employees are employees of the judicial district, not the city or county:
Here, too, the Monroe County Probate Court is an administrative unit of the state's one probate court, which in turn is a subdivision of Michigan's one court of justice. Const 1963, art 6, § 1:
The decision in Judges of the 74th Judicial Dist, supra, leads to the conclusion that Cindy Cameron was an employee of the Monroe County Probate Court, and not Monroe County. This conclusion is supported by OAG, 1979-1980, No 5553, p 372 (September 5, 1979), which held that the probate court, not the county, is the "public employer" of probate court employees for purposes of collective bargaining.
The Attorney General, representing the Monroe County Probate Court, now contends that the county was the employer. He relies on Nezdropa v Wayne Co, 152 Mich.App. 451; 394 N.W.2d 440 (1986), and Kain v Michigan, 109 Mich.App. 290; 311 N.W.2d 351 (1981), but most heavily on the recent case of Grand Traverse Co v Michigan, 450 Mich. 457; 538 N.W.2d 1 (1995). He does not refer to his 1979 opinion, supra.
We distinguish Kain because that case was resolved not on the basis that the city was the employer of the district court clerk but, rather, on the basis that the city was statutorily liable for payment of worker's compensation benefits because it was the district control unit for the judicial district. Indeed, that opinion expressly held that the clerk was not an employee of the city. Kain does not support the Attorney General's argument.
Nezdropa was also a worker's compensation dispute and is applicable only in that context.
The Attorney General on behalf of the Monroe County Probate Court contends that "only those employees of the State Judicial Council are considered employees of the State." However, neither of the two statutes cited for this proposition, MCL 600.593; MSA 27A.593 and MCL 600.8273; MSA 27A.8273, supports such a claim. The cited statutes merely indicate that certain employees of the Wayne Circuit Court, the Detroit Recorder's Court, and the 36th District Court are employees of the State Judicial Council. The statutes do not address the status of employees of other courts. The statutes merely define who is an employee of the "State Judicial Council." Merely because someone is not an employee of that particular state entity does not mean that they may not otherwise be considered a state employee. In any event, the ultimate issue to be decided in this case is not which entity was Cindy Cameron's employer, but, rather, which entity is legally responsible for payment of a money judgment rendered against the Monroe County Probate Court.
As the Supreme Court observed in Grand Traverse
The appellant probate court attempts to distinguish Kell on two different grounds. First, it contends that the holding in Kell is dicta. It isn't. A reading of Kell discloses that this Court's statement, id. at 565, that "the state would be primarily responsible for a judgment" was essential to its conclusion that the case belonged in the Court of Claims. Therefore, the statement is not dicta. Roberts v Auto-Owners Ins Co, 422 Mich. 594, 597-598; 374 N.W.2d 905 (1985).
The Monroe County Probate Court also contends
With respect to district courts, MCL 600.8104; MSA 27A.8104 establishes "district control units," which are defined as either the county, city, or township, depending on where the district court is located, and the statute provides that "a district control unit shall be responsible for maintaining, financing, and operating the court only within its political subdivision." A similar provision is not contained within the statutes governing the administration of the probate courts. MCL 600.801 et seq.; MSA 27A.801 et seq. However, the Legislature has explicitly allocated the burden of financing various aspects of the probate court to the local counties. See, e.g., MCL 600.817; MSA 27A.817 (county responsible for "all books, printed blanks and other stationary necessary for keeping the records in the office of the judge of probate, and all furniture, equipment, and supplies necessary for equipping and maintaining the office"); MCL 600.821(2); MSA 27A.821(2) (county responsible for payment of a portion of each probate judge's salary); MCL 600.829(3); MSA 27A.829(3) (county responsible for compensation of visiting judges); MCL 600.833; MSA 27A.833 (county responsible for compensation of probate register); MCL 600.835; MSA 27A.835 (county responsible for payment of compensation and expenses of official court stenographers). Just as in Kell with respect to district courts, there is no statutory obligation for a county to assume responsibility for payment of a money judgment rendered against a probate court.
In Grand Traverse Co, supra, our Supreme Court recognized that, while courts have always been regarded as part of state government, they have operated historically on local funds and resources,
Thus, because there is no statutory obligation for the county to pay a money judgment against the probate court, and because payment of a money judgment by the probate court is not a statutory function of the court, we believe the lower court did not err in ruling that the holding in Kell may properly be extended to the facts of this case so as to require the conclusion that the state is primarily responsible for the money judgment against the Monroe County Probate Court.
We also agree with the trial court that common-law indemnification is inapplicable and inappropriate here. The right to common-law indemnification is based on the equitable principle that where the wrongful act of one party results in another being held liable, the latter party is entitled to restitution. Neither the county nor the probate court engaged in any wrongdoing, but was, at most, a passive participant in what occurred.