Judge declines to halt actions at disputed WSU meeting
Detroit — A state Court of Claims judge declined Thursday to halt actions taken by four members of the Wayne State University Board of Governors, based on assertions by four other members that they lacked a quorum at a recent meeting.
Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens denied a request for a temporary restraining order, ruling that the board, and the governing boards of Michigan and Michigan State universities, are not governed by the state Open Meetings Act.
Stephens also ruled the four complaining governors of Wayne State had not shown irreparable harm would done if the actions were allowed to stand.
On a third issue, whether the president of Wayne State, and the other two universities by inference, may be considered part of a quorum on their governing boards, Stephens said the law is unclear.
But because the four governors seeking to halt the actions had not demonstrated a clear ability to prevail on their assertion that President M. Roy Wilson should not have been counted, the judge said she would not issue temporary injunctive relief.
Governors Michael Busuito, Anil Kumar, Sandra Hughes O'Brien and Dana Thompson sought to revoke decisions made at the June 21 meeting about student tuition and a controversial real estate transaction, which they opposed.
They asserted that the board did not have a quorum necessary to meet, and that some of its actions were taken in private session.
Stephens ruled that state law, university bylaws and court decisions do not directly address the issue of whether the university presidents may be counted for a quorum, as “ex-officio,” nonvoting members of the governing boards.
A fuller court hearing than that required for the purpose of temporarily halting the board of governors would be required to decide the issue, the judge said.
“There is an ambiguity,” Stephens ruled, “best determined on the merits, not preliminarily.”
Her ruling leaves open the option for the four complaining governors to seek a fuller hearing on injunctive relief.
Stephens also ruled that because of the wide discretion the state grants the boards to run their university, the boards can choose to meet in private because the Open Meetings Act does not apply to them.
As co-equal branches of government to the state Legislature, Stephens said, the boards can make their own rules about when to convene in public session.
And, the requirement that “formal sessions” of the board are open to the public does not extend the provision of the Open Meetings Act to the governing bodies of the universities, Stephens ruled.
“In summary the court finds that the plaintiffs failed to prove a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of the claim for relief under the Open Meetings Act (OMA) or the quorum issue,” she wrote in a ruling released Thursday.
“The plaintiffs also fail to meet to meet the burden on the issue of irreparable harm on the quorum-based claims,” Stephens ruled.
“In addition, because the OMA claim fails as a matter of law, the Court will grant summary disposition to defendants.”
The defendants included Wilson and four governors: Kim Trent, Bryan Barnhill, Mark Gaffney and Marilyn Kelly.
During the disputed meeting, Trent, Barnhill, Gaffney and Kelly voted to lease a former hospice at 400 Mack Ave., with an option to buy it by July 1, 2021, to house university physicians.
The battle between the two sides has been playing out for months as the faction that filed the lawsuit derailed talks to expand a partnership between Henry Ford Health System and the university medical school.