Michigan Real Estate Disputes: Which way is the possession arrow pointing?
In New Products Corp. v. Harbor Shores BHBT Land Development, Mich App (December 23, 2014, No 317309), the Michigan Court of Appeals rejected the plaintiff’s claim that it was entitled to a trial by jury on its claims to quiet title under MCL 600.2932. The only claim brought by the plaintiff that was subject to plaintiff’s jury demand was its trespass claim.
The court’s holding brings clarity to litigants and their counsel regarding jury demands in quiet title actions. What should not be overlooked, however, is that the court’s opinion also contains an excellent discussion of the common law action of ejectment. The court explained that in Michigan, the common law action of ejectment was one brought to vindicate a plaintiff’s right to possession of real property. The court’s discussion of ejectment should assist property owner’s and their counsel in crafting complaints involving boundary disputes, access disputes and similar lawsuits.
Interestingly, the discussion may also be helpful in commercial lease disputes. For example, a landlord seeking to evict a tenant in Michigan would typically proceed by filing a lawsuit in the state district court under the Michigan Summary Proceedings Act. The jurisdictional limit of $25,000 in district court, however, may limit a landlord’s ability to regain possession of the premises, and obtain an award for money damages in excess of $25,000, in the same lawsuit. In such a case, the landlord would have to bring two lawsuits: one in district court for possession and one in circuit court for money damages. By filing an action in circuit court for money damages and ejectment, a landlord might both recover possession and obtain damages in excess of $25,000 in the same lawsuit.
For a variety of reasons it will still likely make sense in many landlord tenant disputes to bring separate actions in the district and circuit courts for possession and money damages. But, the discussion of ejectment in the New Products case should assist litigants and judges alike in determining when (and how) to avoid having to file two lawsuits by bringing an ejection action in circuit court as a method of eviction and recovery of money damages in excess of $25,000.