COA Opinion: The Government Tort Liability Act does not protect governmental entities from contempt actions
In Estate of Stephen Bradley v. Kent County Sheriff’s Department, No. 299640, the Michigan Court of Appeals considered whether the Government Tort Liability Act (“GTLA”) bars contempt actions against governments, where the plaintiff is seeking tort-like damages. The Court held that the GTLA applies only to tort claims. Where the plaintiff could allege another type of claim, like civil contempt, regardless of the nature of the damages sought, the GTLA does not apply.
Here, Stephen Bradley’s sister obtained an order from the probate court requiring that Bradley be taken into custody for psychiatric evaluation. The Kent County Sheriff’s Department (the “KCSD”) failed to pick up Bradley, and Bradley killed himself. Bradley’s estate first filed a wrongful-death action against the KCSD. That action was dismissed, in part, because the court held that the KCSD enjoyed immunity from such suits under the GTLA. Bradley’s estate then reframed its claim as a civil-contempt action, seeking the same type of wrongful-death damages from the KCSD. The KCSD again sought dismissal of the suit under the GTLA. The Court of Appeals refused, holding that the GTLA does not protect the KCSD from contempt cases.