This case requires us to decide whether a provision of the Revised School Code, M.C.L. § 380.1263(3), exempts school construction projects from local land use regulations, including zoning controls and site plan reviews. Further, we must decide whether the statute unconstitutionally delegates legislative authority to the superintendent of public instruction. We conclude that the statute is constitutional and that its plain language exempts school construction projects from local land use regulations, including zoning and site plan reviews.
I. Factual and Procedural Background
Defendants planned construction of a new high school in Northville Charter Township. The township, along with area residents, requested that defendants alter construction plans to accommodate their concerns regarding parking, buffering, setback, storm water control, and tree preservation issues. Defendants declined to adopt all the requested changes, taking the position that the Revised School Code exempted them from local zoning regulations. The township filed a circuit court complaint requesting declaratory and injunctive relief. Individual property owners intervened, filing their own complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief.
II. Standard of Review
A motion under MCR 2.116(C)(9) tests the sufficiency of a defendant's pleadings. Village of Dimondale v. Grable, 240 Mich.App. 553, 564, 618 N.W.2d 23 (2000). Summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(9) is proper if the defenses are so clearly untenable as a matter of law that no factual development could possibly deny a plaintiff's right to recovery. Id. This Court reviews de novo a trial court's decision with respect to a motion for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(9). Village of Dimondale, supra at 563-564, 618 N.W.2d 23.
III. Revised School Code
As our Supreme Court explained in Dearden v. Detroit, 403 Mich. 257, 264, 269 N.W.2d 139 (1978), "legislative intent, where it can be discerned, is the test for determining whether a governmental unit is immune from the provisions of local zoning ordinances." To discern legislative intent, we "`look first to the specific language of the statute, resorting to judicial construction only where reasonable minds could disagree with regard to the statute's meaning.'" Eaton Farm Bureau v. Eaton Twp., 221 Mich.App. 663, 666, 561 N.W.2d 884 (1997), quoting Folands Jewelry Brokers, Inc. v. Warren, 210 Mich.App. 304, 307, 532 N.W.2d 920 (1995). "If the language used is clear, then the Legislature must have intended the meaning it has plainly expressed, and the statute must be enforced as written." Nation v. W. D. E. Electric Co., 454 Mich. 489, 494, 563 N.W.2d 233 (1997). Further, courts "may not speculate regarding the probable intent of the Legislature beyond the language expressed in the statute." Cherry Growers, Inc. v. Agricultural Marketing &
Guided by the above principles, we begin by examining the language of the Revised School Code, M.C.L. § 380.1263(3). The statute provides, in pertinent part:
Defendants argue that the statute clearly and unambiguously grants the superintendent of public instruction "sole and exclusive jurisdiction" over the review and approval of both construction plans and site plans for school buildings. Therefore, defendants argue that the statute exempts school construction projects from the application of local zoning regulations, including the site plan review process. Intervenors concede that the statute grants the superintendent "sole and exclusive jurisdiction" over school construction plans. However, intervenors argue that the superintendent's jurisdiction over site plans for school buildings is limited by the language of the construction of school buildings act (CSBA), M.C.L. § 388.851 to 388.855a.
Intervenors point to the first sentence of M.C.L. § 380.1263(3), which provides that a local school board may neither design nor build a school unless the design or construction complies with the CSBA. Intervenors then urge this Court to read the second sentence of M.C.L. § 380.1263(3) to mean that the superintendent has exclusive jurisdiction over site plans only to the extent that site plans are reviewed under the CSBA. Intervenors contend that the superintendent and his designates review site plans under the CSBA only for compliance with fire safety and barrier-free design regulations. Therefore, intervenors argue that the superintendent's "sole and exclusive jurisdiction" over the review and approval of site plans extends only to fire
In Dearden, supra at 265, 269 N.W.2d 139, the Court reviewed statutory language granting the Department of Corrections "exclusive jurisdiction" over penal institutions. The Court determined that the statutory language indicated the Legislature's intent to grant the DOC immunity from local zoning ordinances. Id. at 267, 269 N.W.2d 139. In Burt Twp. v. Dep't of Natural Resources, 459 Mich. 659, 667, 593 N.W.2d 534 (1999), the Court applied the Dearden analysis when it reviewed statutory language granting the Department of Natural Resources "power and jurisdiction" over land under the public domain. Because a statutory grant of "power and jurisdiction" was not the same as a statutory grant of "exclusive jurisdiction," the Burt Court determined that the Legislature did not intend to grant the DNR immunity from local zoning ordinances. Id. at 669-670, 593 N.W.2d 534. However, the Burt Court cautioned that the Legislature need not utilize any specific language to express its intent to immunize a governmental unit from local zoning ordinances. As the Court stated:
In the present case, the Legislature granted the superintendent of public instruction "sole and exclusive jurisdiction" over the review and approval of site plans for school buildings. This language satisfies Burt's requirement that the Legislature employ terms that convey a clear intention to grant a governmental unit exclusive jurisdiction. In fact, we fail to see how the Legislature's intent could have been more clearly expressed. The grant of jurisdiction to the superintendent of public instruction is exclusive, and the statute exempts school construction projects from local zoning regulations, including site plan reviews. Therefore, we conclude that the trial court properly denied intervenors' motion for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(9).
IV. Unconstitutional Delegation of Legislative Authority
Intervenors next argue that the Revised School Code unconstitutionally delegates legislative authority to the superintendent of public instruction to review and approve site plans without the guidance of a single standard. Intervenors argue that the statute impermissibly grants the superintendent "unbridled discretion" over the review of site plans because neither the Revised School Code nor the CSBA contains a specific set of land development standards to replace those
The constitutionality of a statute is a question of law that we review de novo. Citizens for Uniform Taxation v. Northport Public School Dist., 239 Mich.App. 284, 287, 608 N.W.2d 480 (2000). Statutes are presumed constitutional unless unconstitutionality is clearly apparent. McDougall v. Schanz, 461 Mich. 15, 24, 597 N.W.2d 148 (1999). Further, the "power to declare a law unconstitutional should be exercised with extreme caution and never where serious doubt exists with regard to the conflict." Council of Organizations & Others for Ed. About Parochiaid, Inc. v. Governor, 455 Mich. 557, 570, 566 N.W.2d 208 (1997).
In Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Michigan v. Governor, 422 Mich. 1, 51-52, 367 N.W.2d 1 (1985), our Supreme Court set forth the criteria that appellate courts must use to evaluate claims that a statute unconstitutionally delegates legislative authority:
Intervenors correctly note that the Revised School Code does not expressly define the term "site plan." MCL 380.3 to 380.7. However, the statute does provide that a school building may not be designed or built unless the design or construction complies with the provisions of the CSBA. M.C.L. § 380.1263(3). Contrary to intervenors' argument, the Revised School Act does not look to the CSBA for guidance on construction issues alone. Rather, the act also refers to the provisions of the CSBA for guidance regarding design issues. MCL 380.1263(3). A site plan expresses the design that a local school district has chosen for the construction of new school facilities. We agree with defendants that the CSBA provides the superintendent with extremely detailed standards governing the design and construction of school buildings. MCL 388.851 to 388.855a. We conclude that these standards are sufficiently precise and provide adequate guidance to the school officials who undertake to design school construction projects.
Intervenors complain that the Revised School Code does not sufficiently protect the interests of persons owning real property located adjacent to a school construction site. Relying on the belief that local zoning regulations will better protect their interests, intervenors argue that local zoning authorities must be allowed to control the design of school construction projects through the site plan review process. Intervenors correctly observe that the instant statutes do not place the interests of adjacent property owners in a paramount position. Instead, the Revised School Code instructs school officials to pursue "the interests of public elementary and secondary education in the school district." MCL 380.11a(3). To the extent that the interests of local property owners and the interests of public education conflict, the Legislature has chosen the side of public education.
Finally, we conclude that the Revised School Code and the CSBA contain adequate safeguards to ensure against misuse of delegated power. Blue Cross, supra at 52, 367 N.W.2d 1. As our Supreme Court
In the present case, it is undisputed that school officials involved with the design and construction of new public school facilities are highly proximate to the elective process. The local school board involved in this case convinced local voters to approve a large bond issue to support construction of the new high school on the property at issue. Further, the superintendent of public instruction is appointed by the state board of education, a body elected directly by the people of this state. Const. 1963, art. 8, § 3. If intervenors take issue with the decisions made by these school officials regarding the design and construction of new school facilities, then their recourse is found in the polling booths during school elections, not in the courts. We conclude that the trial court properly rejected intervenors' claim of unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority.