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State Supreme Court won’t yet decide if Michigan’s forced quarantine was constitutional

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivers remarks on Midland-area flooding at a press conference in front of Midland High School on Wednesday, May 20, 2020 in Midland, Mich. Gov. Whitmer surveyed flood damage from a helicopter earlier in the morning. (Riley Yuan | MLive.com/TNS)
June 06, 2020

Three days after Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer lifted her stay-home order, the state Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal asking it deem the order unconstitutional.

Steve Martinko, owner of an Oakland County landscaping business, and four other Michigan residents on April 14 filed a lawsuit against the governor and other state officials, claiming the stay-home order infringed on their constitutional rights and should be declared invalid. The “mandatory quarantine” and in-state travel restrictions violated due process rights, the plaintiffs argued.

Plymouth-based lawyer David Helm, who represents the plaintiffs, filed a motion for a preliminary injunction asking the state Court of Claims to issue an expedited decision invalidating and declaring unconstitutional Whitmer’s order. The court declined.

Michigan Court of Claims Judge Christopher Murray on April 29 found that while Whitmer’s stay-home order did “temporary harm” to the constitutional rights of Michigan residents, the harm didn’t outweigh the public health risk posed by the coronavirus outbreak.

“Our fellow residents have an interest to remain unharmed by a highly communicable and deadly virus,” Murray wrote in his opinion. “And since the state entered the Union in 1837, it has had the broad power to act for the public health of the entire state when faced with a public crisis.”

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Forcing Whitmer to end the stay-home order would not “serve in the public interest,” Murray ruled.

After losing in the Court of Claims, Helm appealed the ruling directly to the state Supreme Court, asking it to intervene. The court declined in a ruling issued Thursday, June 4, stating it wasn’t “persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed by this court.”

The case now returns to the Court of Claims and depending on the eventual ruling, Helm said the case could again make its way back to the state Supreme Court.

While some of the issues in the lawsuit are now moot, since the stay-home order has been lifted, Helm said his clients still want the Court of Claims to rule on the constitutionality of a forced blanket quarantine. He said a decision on the matter is especially important if there is a resurgence of COVID-19 and further attempts by the governor to impose a quarantine.

Martinko, owner of Contender’s Tree and Lawn Service in Waterford and Farmington Hills, is also part of a separate lawsuit filed in federal court, which sought a court order to end the stay-home order and financial damages. That lawsuit is still pending.

The state lawsuit was originally filed April 14. At the time, landscaping and most other businesses were barred from operation under Whitmer’s existing stay-home order that limited commerce and social activity in an effort to curb the spread of the new coronavirus. On April 24, Whitmer extended her order until May 15, but relaxed certain restrictions, allowing certain businesses, including landscaping companies, to reopen.

The stay-home order was first put in place March 24, suspending activities “not necessary to sustain or protect life.”

Whitmer on Monday said retail businesses could open June 4, bars and restaurants on June 8, both with safety and capacity restrictions, and public gatherings of up to 100 people are now allowed. Gyms, hair salons, indoor theaters and casinos are among the businesses that will remain closed. Whitmer during a radio interview on the Mojo in the Morning show Thursday said “in coming days,” barbershops, salons and other cosmetology services could reopen in the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula.

Coronavirus cases have slowed. Michigan, the 10th-most populous state, now ranks ninth in confirmed cases and sixth in reported deaths. At the end of April, Michigan had tallied the third most coronavirus deaths in the nation.

As of Thursday, Michigan had reported 58,241 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, including 5,595 COVID-19 deaths.

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© 2020 MLive.com