In 2018 Crim PLC, undertook pro bono representation of the Yoder Family Farm in an appeal of MIOSHA citations and penalties. The incident that gave rise to the MIOSHA citations and penalties was the tragic accident in which John and Eva May Yoder’s 19-year-old son Alvin was fatally injured while working on their family’s farm. Alvin was cleaning out a grain bin when a metal pole he was using came in contact with an overhead power line, and he was electrocuted.
MIOSHA conducted two inspections of the Yoder Family Farm after the accident. Following MIOSHA’s inspections, it charged the Yoder Family Farm with four alleged serious violations of MIOSHA safety standards. MIOSHA used a policy designed to exert a deterrent effect on employers to impose the maximum penalties against the Yoders, as if the loss of their son was not enough. MIOSHA assessed $16,100.00 in penalties against the Yoders.
Crim PLC appealed the MIOSHA citations and proposed penalties through the administrative appeal process. Crim PLC argued that MIOSHA did not have jurisdiction to issue citations and impose penalties on the Yoder Family Farm under the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Act (MIOSH Act). The MIOSH Act requires an “employer-employee” relationship for MIOSHA to have jurisdiction. MIOSHA argued an expansive view of the “employer-employee” relationship, which would include a family member performing chores on a family farm.
Crim PLC challenged MIOSHA’s position in a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction. Administrative Law Judge Peter Plummer ruled that no “employer-employee” relationship existed and dismissed the MIOSHA citations. In his decision, ALJ Plummer stated, “Alvin Yoder’s relationship to Petitioner [Yoder Family Farm] was a familial, faith-based relationship, not an economic relationship.” MIOSHA appealed ALJ Plummer’s decision to the Board of Health and Safety Compliance and Appeals (“Board”). The Board affirmed ALJ Plummer’s decision.
MIOSHA then appealed the ALJ’s decision, and the Board’s Final Order, to the Ingham County Circuit Court. MIOSHA asserted that the ALJ and the Board had committed “substantial
and material error of law” and therefore, the ALJ’s decision and the Board’s Final Order should be overturned. Following briefing and oral argument, Circuit Court Judge Clinton Canady III ruled in favor of the Yoders.
In his decision, Judge Canady found that the ALJ and Board did
not commit “substantial and material error of law.” Rather, the ALJ
and Board were required to follow a Michigan Court of Appeals’ published opinion cited in the Yoder’s brief. The Court of Appeal’s opinion construed the MIOSH Act “employer-employee” relationship and held that for a person to be an “employee “under the MIOSH Act they must be paid.
MIOSHA has sought leave to appeal Judge Canady’s decision to the Court of Appeals. MIOSHA and the Yoders have filed briefs with the Court of Appeals and are awaiting the Court of Appeals’ decision on MIOSHA’s application for leave to appeal.