In this action for declaratory relief, plaintiffs appeal as of right the trial court's order denying their motion for summary disposition. We affirm.
I. Basic Facts and Procedural History
Defendant Northwest Michigan Community Health Agency (NMCHA) is a multi-county district health department organized by Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties under Part 24 of the Public Health Code (PHC), MCL 333.2401 et seq.
After the regulation was approved by each of the four counties, plaintiffs, each of whom resides or operates a business within defendant Charlevoix County, brought this action to invalidate the regulation by judicial declaration that the NMCHA was without authority to promulgate such a regulation and that the regulation itself was preempted by Part 126 of the PHC, MCL 333.12601 et seq., which prohibits smoking in buildings used by the public except in designated areas. In seeking summary disposition on these grounds, plaintiffs argued that nothing in Part 126 of the PHC, which is also known as the Michigan Clean Indoor Air Act (MCIAA),
Citing this Court's decision in Michigan Restaurant Ass'n v. City of Marquette, 245 Mich.App. 63, 626 N.W.2d 418 (2001), plaintiffs further asserted that smoking is an issue better suited to regulation on a statewide basis, and that local regulation must therefore yield to the preemptive provisions of the MCIAA. Plaintiffs additionally argued that, to the extent the regulation impinges on the common-law right of an employer to discharge an employee at will, the regulation violates public policy and is void. The trial court, however, disagreed and denied plaintiffs' motion. This appeal followed.
Plaintiffs assert that the trial court erred in denying their motion for summary disposition. In doing so, plaintiffs again argue that the NMCHA lacked the authority to promulgate regulations restricting smoking and that local regulation was, in any event, preempted by the MCIAA. We disagree.
A. Standard of Review
Resolution of the questions presented on appeal requires the interpretation of statutes, which is a question of law that this Court reviews de novo. See Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners v. Ferndale, 256 Mich.App. 401, 405, 662 N.W.2d 864 (2003). When interpreting a statute, this Court's goal is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the Legislature by applying the plain language of the statute. Gladych v. New
B. Overview of the Michigan Clean Indoor Air Act
The MCIAA, enacted in 1986 as Part 126 of the PHC,
In all other public places in which smoking is not "prohibited by law," the MCIAA permits a "person who owns or operates a public place" to designate a smoking area. MCL 333.12605(1).
C. Authority of the NMCHA to Promulgate Smoking Regulations
In challenging the validity of the regulation promulgated by the NMCHA, plaintiffs assert that nothing in Part 126 of the PHC authorizes a local health department to enforce or augment the smoking restrictions set by the MCIAA.
Moreover, even if the responsibility for the implementation and enforcement of the restrictions established by Part 126 had been exclusively granted to the Department of Community Health, that would not, by itself, deny a local health department the authority to promulgate, implement, and enforce similar regulations of its own devise. As previously noted, Part 24 of the PHC authorizes the creation of local health departments such as the NMCHA. See MCL 333.2415 and 333.2421. Pursuant to § 2433 of Part 24, such departments are charged with the duty to
The regulation at issue is consistent with these duties and is authorized to be promulgated by the NMCHA under §§ 2435 and 2441 of Part 24, which provide that a local health department may "[a]dopt regulations to properly safeguard the public health," MCL 333.2435(d), or regulations that "are necessary or appropriate to implement or carry out the duties or functions
We recognize plaintiffs' argument that, under a plain reading of § 2433(1), the fulfillment of the duties imposed by that section on local health departments is arguably limited to the institution of programs. The section must, however, be read in context and in light of the purpose of both Part 24 and the PHC in general. See Macomb Co. Prosecuting Attorney v. Murphy, 464 Mich. 149, 159, 627 N.W.2d 247 (2001). As noted earlier, MCL 333.2435(d) expressly grants a local health department authority to "[a]dopt regulations to properly safeguard the public health." Plaintiffs assert that the Legislature has also granted local health departments more specific powers.
Plaintiffs also argue that the regulation at issue is preempted by the MCIAA and that the regulation is therefore invalid regardless of whether the NMCHA was authorized to promulgate the regulation. Again, we disagree.
State law preempts regulation by an inferior level of government
1. Direct Conflict
For purposes of preemption, a direct conflict exists between a local regulation and a state statute when the local regulation permits what the statute prohibits or prohibits what the statute permits. People v. Llewellyn, 401 Mich. 314, 322 n. 4, 257 N.W.2d 902 (1977). Here, in challenging the validity of the NMCHA regulation by claiming that it is in conflict with the MCIAA, plaintiffs assert that § 12605 of the act grants owners and operators of public places the discretion to choose whether to maintain a smoking section or remain smoke-free, and thereby confers a statutory right impermissibly nullified by the regulation. See MCL 333.12605(1). Plaintiffs further argue that where the owner or operator of a public place chooses to exercise this right by designating a smoking area, § 12605 of the MCIAA requires only that existing physical barriers and ventilation be used to minimize the toxic effects of smoking. Thus, plaintiffs argue, by requiring that smoking be restricted to a separate enclosed area with independent ventilation, the regulation further conflicts with the MCIAA and must be found to be invalid. However, plaintiffs' interpretation of § 12605 disregards its plain language.
With respect to designation of a smoking area, § 12605(1) of the MCIAA provides:
As argued by defendants, a plain reading of the statute indicates that exercise of the discretion to designate a smoking area afforded by § 12605(1) is expressly excepted from those public places "in which smoking is prohibited by law." This Court has previously recognized that "[t]he term `law' may include those principles promulgated in constitutional provisions, common law, and regulations as well as statutes." Vagts v. Perry Drug Stores, Inc., 204 Mich.App. 481, 485, 516 N.W.2d 102 (1994) (emphasis added). That the Legislature intended the regulations of a local health department to have such force and effect is supported by § 2441 of the PHC, which states that the "[r]egulations of a local health department supersede inconsistent or conflicting local ordinances," MCL 333.2441(1), and renders violation of a local health department regulation "a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment for not more than 90 days, or a fine of not more than $200.00, or both," MCL 333.2441(2). Thus, contrary to plaintiffs assertion, the regulation does not prohibit what the MCIAA permits. Llewellyn, supra at 322 n. 4, 257 N.W.2d 902. Accordingly, there is no conflict between the two regulatory schemes.
2. Exclusive Occupation
As noted, however, regulation of smoking by the NMCHA is nonetheless precluded if the state statutory scheme preempts the regulation by occupying the field of regulation to the exclusion of local regulation. Id. In Llewellyn, supra at 323-324, 257 N.W.2d 902 our Supreme Court set forth the following four guidelines for determining whether a state statute so occupies a field of regulation that local regulation by inferior levels of government is preemptively precluded:
With regard to application of these guidelines to the regulatory schemes at bar, plaintiffs correctly do not assert that the MCIAA expressly preempts local regulation of smoking. Indeed, there is nothing in the provisions of Part 126 to support such an assertion. To the contrary, by excepting those public places "in which smoking is prohibited by law" from the right of an owner or operator of a public place to designate a smoking area, the Legislature has left open the possibility of additional regulation by inferior levels of government, including local health departments. MCL 333.12605(1).
Plaintiffs also do not argue that preemption is implied by the legislative history of the MCIAA. However, we find guidance in the history of the MCIAA and its place within the PHC. The legislative declaration accompanying
Moreover, contrary to plaintiffs' assertion, the scheme of smoking regulation established by Part 126 of the PHC is not so broad and detailed in scope as to require a determination that it has precluded all local regulation in that area. Although the MCIAA sets specific requirements for the designation of smoking areas, those requirements are not all-encompassing. To the contrary, the MCIAA expressly addresses many of its requirements as "minimums," see MCL 333.12605(3) and 333.12607, to be employed "to provide, as nearly as practicable, a smoke-free area," MCL 333.12607(b). Further, as noted earlier, although seemingly broad in scope, the definition of "public place" provided by the MCIAA renders the act inapplicable to most private-sector workplaces and public areas that are not themselves enclosed. MCL 333.12601(m).
With regard to the final guideline set forth by the Court in Llewellyn, plaintiffs rely on this Court's decision in Marquette, supra, for the proposition that the regulation of smoking is a statewide issue better left to uniform regulation by the Legislature. However, we agree with defendants that the majority's statement that "[s]moking is a statewide issue that is not local in character" is merely dictum and, therefore, does not constitute binding precedent under MCR 7.215(J)(1).
Nonetheless, we agree with the majority in Marquette, supra at 67, 626 N.W.2d 418, that smoking is inherently an issue of statewide concern that does not necessarily call for regulation adapted to local conditions. Again, however, there is nothing in the legislative declaration accompanying the enactment of the MCIAA to indicate legislative concern for state-wide, uniform regulation of that subject matter. To the contrary, and as already discussed, the MCIAA, as enacted by the Legislature, allows for local regulation in this area. Under such circumstances, we conclude that the statewide nature of the subject matter of the NMCHA regulation does not support preemption.
E. Employment at Will
Finally, plaintiffs argue that because the regulation's provision that an employer cannot discharge, refuse to hire, or otherwise retaliate against a person for exercising his or her right to a smoke-free environment adversely affects the common-law right of an employer to discharge an employee at will, the NMCHA regulation violates public policy and is therefore void. Again, we disagree.
Plaintiffs correctly argue that, in the absence of a contract providing to the contrary, employment is usually terminable by the employer or the employee at any time, for any or no reason whatsoever. Suchodolski v. Michigan Consolidated Gas Co., 412 Mich. 692, 694-695, 316 N.W.2d 710 (1982). It is well settled, however, that an employer is not free to discharge an employee at will when the reason for the discharge contravenes public policy. See id. at 695, 316 N.W.2d 710.
In Suchodolski, supra at 695-696, 316 N.W.2d 710, our Supreme Court provided three examples of public policy exceptions to an employer's right to discharge an at-will employee under the employment at will doctrine. An at-will employee's discharge violates public policy if any one of the following occurs: (1) the employee is discharged in violation of an explicit legislative statement prohibiting discharge of employees who act in accordance with a statutory right or duty; (2) the employee is discharged for the failure or refusal to violate the law in the course of employment; or (3) the employee is discharged for exercising a right conferred by a well-established legislative enactment. Id.
Although not itself a legislative enactment or statement, the regulation at issue here provides employees with certain specified rights and was, as required by MCL 333.2441(1), approved for application by the governing bodies of each of the various counties served by the NMCHA.
HENRY WILLIAM SAAD, MICHAEL R. SMOLENSKI, JJ., concur.
Enclosed indoor areas that are not owned or operated by a state or local governmental unit, but are included in the definition of "public place" if used by the general public, include educational facilities, homes for the aged, nursing homes, county medical care facilities, hospices, hospital long-term care units, auditoriums, arenas, theaters, museums, concert halls, and "[a]ny other facility during the period of its use for a performance or exhibit of the arts." MCL 333.12601(m)(ii)(A)-(H).