The trial court entered judgment requiring the defendant, Ottawa County Road Commission (“OCRC”), to allow plaintiffs, Lee Scholma and David Morren, reasonable access to a 30–acre parcel of undeveloped land from Horizon Lane for farm operations.
The trial court held that under the RTFA, “[a]ny action taken by a local unit of government which impairs a farm or farm operation is improper.” On appeal, the OCRC argued that the trial court erred in failing to limit its review of the OCRC’s denial of the permit application to whether the decision was “totally unreasonable.” The OCRC further claimed that the trial court’s interpretation of the RTFA was too broad and that there was no conflict between the denial of the permit application and the RTFA.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals reasoned that the RTFA preempts any local ordinance, regulation, or resolution that purports to extend or revise in any manner the provisions of the RTFA or the GAAMPs pursuant to MCL 286.474(6). This section also states that local units of government shall not enact an ordinance, regulation, or resolution that conflicts in any manner with the RTFA or the GAAMPs. (emphasis added). Accordingly, the court held that under the plain language of the RTFA, only those ordinances, regulations, and resolutions by local units of government that either purport to extend or revise or that conflict with the RTFA or the GAAMPs are improper.
In this case, plaintiffs sought to compel the OCRC to grant them access to the property from Horizon Lane because the conditions of the property, especially in the spring, made it difficult to access the west side of the property from 56th Avenue. However, no provision of the RTFA requires a local unit of government to take affirmative action, and to thereby change the status quo, to allow or enable a farmer to more effectively comply with the GAAMPs. The court held that the RTFA was intended to be a shield to defend farmers, rather than a sword as it was here. The Michigan Court of Appeals therefore reversed the trial court’s holding, and denied plaintiffs’ request.
Scholma v. Ottawa County Rd. Commn., 840 N.W.2d 186 (Mich. App. 10/24/2013)
The opinion can be accessed at: http://publicdocs.courts.mi.gov:81/OPINIONS/FINAL/COA/20131024_C308486_48_308486.OPN.PDF