Thursday, June 14, 2007
A three-judge panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals reverses a divorce court's grant of default judgment against Husband based on his refusal to participate in arbitration. An important issue in the case was when the parties separated (the case provides great facts for a hypothetical on this issue). The litigation at trial was complicated by being heard by three different judges, none of whom had provided the necessary disclosures regarding arbitration required by Michigan's domestic relations arbitration statute. The majority held that the trial court erred in granting default judgment in light of is failure to comply with the requirements of the statute regarding written agreements to arbitrate and judicial disclosures regarding the process.
The dissent by Judge Murray agreed that the trial court had not complied with the statutory requirements but would have upheld the default judgment as a sanction for the Husband's failure to comply with a court order. The concurring opinion by Judge O'Connell agrees that, while litigants must obey court orders, court must equally follow statutory dictates. The exchange between the two judges in their opinions provides a lovely example of policy argumentation for our students. For example, Judge O'Connell argues:
plaintiff was ordered to forego recourse to our primary institution of justice, surrender his rights, and submit the substance of his legal dispute to the discretion of an unknown, unelected, unappointed, and largely unaccountable third party. Although our courts have always respected a party's consent or contractual freedom to take a more streamlined approach to dispute resolution, they have never shirked their constitutional duty by requiring litigation in an alternative, unofficial forum. ... Domestic relations necessarily involve personal, rather than pecuniary, issues, so our legal system has been especially slow to sanction extrajudicial resolution of any of these matters, even when founded on the parties' mutual assent.
Johnson v. Johnson, 2007 Mich. App. LEXIS 1480 (June 7, 2007)