Law School Case Brief
Cty. of Wayne v. Hathcock - 471 Mich. 445, 684 N.W.2d 765 (2004)
The primary objective in interpreting a constitutional provision is to determine the text's original meaning to the ratifiers, the people, at the time of ratification. A constitution is made for the people and by the people. The interpretation that should be given it is that which reasonable minds, the great mass of the people themselves, would give it. For as the constitution does not derive its force from the convention which framed, but from the people who ratified it, the intent to be arrived at is that of the people, and it is not to be supposed that they have looked for any dark or abstruse meaning in the words employed, but rather that they have accepted them in the sense most obvious to the common understanding, and ratified the instrument in the belief that that was the sense designed to be conveyed. In short, the primary objective of constitutional interpretation is to realize the intent of the people by whom and for whom the constitution was ratified.
Plaintiff county sought to condemn the defendant property owners' land for the construction of a large business and technology park. The court found that the county was authorized to condemn property under Mich. Comp. Laws § 213.23 and that the creation of jobs was a public purpose within its authority. The county's charter provision regarding its authority, Wayne County, Mich., Charter § 1.112, fell within the scope of its home rule powers under Mich. Const. art. 7, §§ 1, 2, 34 and Mich. Comp. Laws § 45.515(c). The lack of an identified purchaser did not defeat a finding of necessity. Defendant appealed and the court reversed and remanded for entry of an order of summary disposition in the property owners' favor.
Was the proposed condemnation within constitutional bounds?
The court concluded, however, that the proposed condemnation did not pass constitutional muster because the taking was not for public use within the meaning of Mich. Const. art. 10, § 2. The business park was not an enterprise dependent on the use of land that could be assembled only by government action. The park would not be subject to public oversight after being sold to private entities. There were no facts of independent public significance, such as health and safety issues, that might justify the condemnation. In so holding, the court overruled Poletown Neighborhood Council v. Detroit, 410 Mich. 616 (1981).
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