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149168-9 - Nash, Pers Rep v Duncan Park Commission

Diane Nash, Personal Representative of the Estate of Chance Aaron Nash,
Mark R. Granzotto
(Appeal from Ct of Appeals)
(Ottawa – Hulsing, J.)
Duncan Park Commission,
John J. Schutza
Diane Nash, Personal Representative of the Estate of Chance Aaron Nash,
Duncan Park Trust, and Edward Lystra, Rodney Griswold and Jerry Scott, Individually and as Trustees of the Duncan Park Trust,


A sledding accident at Duncan Park in Grand Haven caused the death of an 11-year-old child.  Plaintiff Diane Nash, the personal representative for the child’s estate, filed two lawsuits, one against the Duncan Park Commission and the other against the Duncan Park Trust and its trustees. The defendants filed motions for summary disposition, arguing that Nash’s lawsuits were barred by governmental immunity. The governmental tort liability act grants tort immunity for “governmental agencies” that are engaged in the exercise or discharge of governmental functions.  MCL 691.1407(1). A “governmental agency” is defined as “this state or a political subdivision.”  MCL 601.1401(a). 
The trial court ruled that the Duncan Park Commission was authorized by a political subdivision of the state – Grand Haven – and was therefore entitled to the protections of governmental immunity.  Evidence established that, in 1913, the land comprising Duncan Park was conveyed by Martha Duncan to be used as a public park for the people of Grand Haven. The conveyance named three individuals to serve as trustees. As a condition for transfer of the land, the deed required the city to accept the dedication and create a “Park Board,” which came to be known as “The Duncan Park Commission,” composed of the three trustees, with full control and supervision of the park. The city enacted an ordinance creating the Duncan Park Commission.  In light of this history, held the trial court, the defendants were entitled to the protections of governmental immunity, and to summary disposition. 
Nash appealed to the Court of Appeals, which reversed the trial court in a published opinion.  The panel held that Martha Duncan’s conveyance created a trust that conveyed legal ownership of the land to the three trustees rather than to the city of Grand Haven. The panel also held that the Duncan Park Commission was a private organization empowered by the trust to manage the park without governmental oversight, and was not a “political subdivision.” Accordingly, held the Court of Appeals, the Duncan Park defendants could not invoke governmental immunity, and the trial court erred in granting their motions for summary disposition.
The Duncan Park defendants appealed. On October 24, 2014, the Court granted leave to appeal the March 20, 2014 judgment of the Court of Appeals limited to the issue whether the Duncan Park Commission constitutes “a district or authority authorized by law or formed by 1 or more political subdivisions; or an agency, department, court, board, or council of a political subdivision.” MCL 691.1401(e).