Michigan Supreme Court rejects Mike Morse appeal in assault lawsuit against him

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The Michigan Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected prominent attorney Michael Morse’s request to appeal the reinstatement of an sexual assault lawsuit against him.

That means the case brought by Renee Swain, whose original lawsuit sought $10 million in damages from Morse on allegations that he touched her breast at an Oakland County restaurant in 2017 but later was dismissed, can proceed.

In their one-paragraph order filed Wednesday, the judges said Morse’s appeal was denied “... because we are not persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed by this Court."

Mike Morse

"The Michigan Supreme Court today has rejected Michael Morse’s request to appeal a Court of Appeals case that reinstated Renee Swain’s sexual assault case against him," said Geoffrey Fieger, whose firm represented Swain, in a news release Wednesday.

"In November 2018, the trial court dismissed Swain’s sexual assault case as a sanction for statements made during her deposition. The Court of Appeals held that the trial court abused its discretion, reversed, and reinstated the case.

"Significantly, the Court of Appeals also reversed a separate ruling by the trial court and held, as a matter of law, that reasonable people could consider sexual assault to be extreme and outrageous conduct. This is a landmark ruling in Michigan and a significant legal tool to help victims of sexual assault hold assailants accountable for their misconduct."

Proceedings as a result of the ruling Wednesday have not yet been scheduled, said Samantha Teal, an assistant to Fieger.

However, Morse's attorney, Deborah Gordon, faulted the Michigan Supreme Court's opinion, saying the Oakland County trial court dismissed Swain’s case in 2018 because it concluded she had “blatantly lied” under oath. 

“Swain was lying about her motive — her large monthly payments from a male companion were about to stop when she concocted this case," Gordon told The Detroit News.

Swain's lawsuit accused Morse of allegedly grabbing her breast when they were posing for a photo in Farmington Hills.

Morse has denied the allegations.

Gordon has argued the complaint was a "sham" designed by Swain and Fieger to "smear and harass" Morse, because he was viewed as a competitor for clients.

In late 2018, an Oakland County Circuit judge dismissed Swain’s suit after saying the woman had perjured herself on the record.

Swain’s legal team later appealed. In a June 2020 opinion, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that the trial court abused its discretion and remanded the case for further proceedings.

“The Court of Appeals did not dispute the serious, manipulative lies, but held that dismissal was too severe a sanction. I disagree," Gordon said. "Our justice system must be vigilant as to blatant lies designed to manipulate the system. Now Ms. Swain’s ‘blatant lies’ will be put in front of the jury. She will not fare any better there.”

Gordon has argued that Swain was asked at her deposition in 2018 if she had been receiving payments each month, at first for $10,000 and then $5,000, from a male friend and that the payments had stopped the same month she sued Morse, providing a motive for her to set him up to obtain money.

In her 2018 opinion dismissing Swain’s suit, Oakland County Circuit Judge Phyllis McMillen said Swain “hid the fact that for 27 months she had been receiving monthly deposits into her bank account" from a male friend and “blatantly lied and her lies were an attempt to manipulate the legal process … and tamper with the administration of justice …”

In its June 2020 opinion, the Court of Appeals said the trial court “did not clearly err by finding an intentional misstatement on the duration of ... support. That said, the fact that there is some ambiguity and equivocation in plaintiff’s answers counsels against dismissal, and it also demonstrates why courts should be hesitant to impose sanctions based upon a finding that the deponent intentionally made false statements.”

After Swain sued Morse, two former co-workers accused him of sexual misconduct and turned to Fieger for lawsuits. A paralegal, Jordan Smits, and a receptionist, Samantha Lichon, alleged that Morse had grabbed their breasts in separate incidents.

Morse has denied the allegations.

Judges in Oakland and Wayne counties ruled the claims against Morse should be handled privately through arbitration. In March 2019, the Court of Appeals ruled that an arbitration clause for workers at his law firm didn’t fit the cases involved.

Later that year, the state Supreme Court said it would hear arguments involving the claims.

“We had oral argument in front of the Michigan Supreme Court several months ago, and are waiting for an opinion from the Michigan Supreme Court,” Teal told The Detroit News on Wednesday regarding the former co-workers' lawsuits.