High court hears case involving 911 operators

Two 911 operators who treated a five-year-old boy’s emergency calls as a prank seek to have lawsuits against them dismissed in an appeal that the Michigan Supreme Court will hear in oral arguments next week.

The boy, Robert Turner, called 911 twice, telling operators that his mother had passed out.

The first operator told Turner that she would dispatch police, but did not, logging the call as a prank; the second operator, whom the boy called about three hours later, did send an officer after scolding the boy for “playing on the phone.”

Turner’s mother died of a heart attack, apparently sometime during the three-hour interval.

Turner’s older sister sued the operators on his behalf and on behalf of her mother’s estate, alleging wrongful death and intentional infliction of emotional distress (Patterson v Nichols and Sutton).

Both operators moved to dismiss these claims, contending in part that their conduct did not rise to the level of gross negligence and that they did not intend to cause the boy any distress.

But both the trial court and the Court of Appeals refused to dismiss the lawsuits, with the Court of Appeals observing in part that the operators had been grossly negligent and that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether their gross negligence was the proximate cause of the mother’s death.

Also before the court are People v Kolanek and People v King, in which the defendants assert the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act as a defense to drug charges.

In Kolanek, the defendant did not apply for a medical marijuana registry identification card until after his 2009 arrest for marijuana possession, although he had spoken with his doctor, who supported his medical use of marijuana, before the MMMA passed in 2008.

The defendant sought to have the drug charges dismissed under § 8 of the MMMA, which provides an affirmative defense for patients who, although they do not have a registry identification card, meet certain criteria for the medical use of marijuana.

The Court of Appeals declined to dismiss the drug possession charges, holding that, to assert the § 8 affirmative defense, a person must obtain the physician certification required by § 8(a) after the MMMA’s passage and before being arrested.

The Court of Appeals also held that the defendant may raise the § 8 defense before a jury.

In King, the defendant had a valid registry identification card, but was arrested and charged with two counts of manufacturing marijuana.

A divided Court of Appeals upheld the drug charges; the majority found that the defendant did not satisfy the MMMA’s requirement of keeping marijuana plants in an “enclosed, locked facility.”

King kept his marijuana plants in an unlocked living room closet and in an outdoor locked chain-link dog kennel without a top and not anchored to the ground.

The dissenting judge would have held that the kennel was an “enclosed, locked facility”; moreover, in the absence of evidence that others had access to the home, the defendant’s home qualified as an “enclosed, locked facility,” the dissenting judge added.

The court will also hear People v Grissom, in which the defendant, who was convicted of rape, seeks a new trial based on information that came to light after his trial.

The defendant contends that the information, which includes several police reports from California, shows that the complainant is a habitual liar who had falsely reported being sexually assaulted on other occasions.

A divided Court of Appeals upheld the defendant’s conviction, with the majority finding that the new information did not have a bearing on the charge against the defendant, and that there was substantial evidence of his guilt that did not depend on the complainant’s credibility.

The dissenting judge said that the new information would have changed the complexion of the case and that it was reasonably probable that the outcome would have been different if the complainant had been cross-examined using the information.

The remaining six cases that the court will hear include terminations of parental rights, criminal, and insurance law issues.

The court will hear oral arguments in its courtroom on the sixth floor of the Michigan Hall of Justice on January 11 and 12, starting at 9:30 a.m. each day.
The court’s oral arguments are open to the public.