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Cases to Watch

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Ronald D. Richards Jr.
Foster Swift Municipal Law News
April 30, 2014

Municipalities’ rights under Michigan’s cable franchise law

A case pending in federal court involves whether Michigan’s franchise law – or the federal cable law – controls a municipality’s decision to enter into a franchise with a cable provider. This case is technically entitled City of Detroit v Michigan et al but is often called the Comcast case. A federal judge ruled that the federal cable law does not trump Michigan’s cable law’s renewal provisions; and that Michigan’s cable law allows a municipality to refuse to approve a cable provider’s franchise renewal proposal as long as it acts on the proposal within Michigan law’s 30-day limit. Since the city timely rejected Comcast’s renewal proposal and Comcast later stopped negotiating, Comcast had no proper franchise and so was a trespasser. Of course, Comcast appealed. So the case is now pending in a federal court of appeals. A decision is expected in 2014. Any municipality presented with a cable franchise renewal request in the near future should stay tuned and keep aware of the pending federal court decision.

Is a town’s practice of starting meetings with a prayer Constitutional?

The United States Supreme Court will decide soon whether a town’s practice of starting each board meeting with a short prayer is Constitutional, (Galloway v Town of Greece).  The federal trial court ruled in favor of the town. But the appellate court reversed and ruled against the town, finding the prayer practice illegal. Interestingly, the appellate court cited some related decisions in striking down the practice: it cited the Supreme Court ruling in 1983 that the Nebraska Legislature’s practice of opening sessions with prayer by a state-appointed clergyman was legal. And it cited the 1989 Supreme Court suggestion that legislative prayers that invoke particular religious beliefs may be illegal. It also noted the 1987 decision in the 6th Circuit appellate court (which covers Michigan), which stated that prayers that “go beyond the American civil religion may be illegal.” The Supreme Court heard arguments in Galloway in November 2013.  A decision is expected in June or July 2014.