Michigan Court of Appeals
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The Michigan Court of Appeals is the intermediate-level appellate court of the state of Michigan. It was created by the Michigan Constitution of 1963, and commenced operations in 1965. Its opinions are reported both in an official publication of the State of Michigan, Michigan Appeals Reports, as well as the unofficial, privately published North Western Reporter, published by West. Appeals from this court's decisions go to the Michigan Supreme Court.
The court consists of 28 judges. Cases are heard by panels of 3 judges, similarly to the U.S. Courts of Appeals. Like most appellate courts, the Court of Appeals observes the principle of stare decisis, where a court's reasoning in its past precedents binds its present decisions. When a panel of the court disagrees with a prior precedent, it must abide by the earlier decision in deciding the case at hand. When a panel expresses its disagreement with a prior precedent, there is a mechanism to convene a special 7-member "conflict panel" (similar to the en banc procedure in the U.S. Courts of Appeals) that would resolve the conflict between the earlier decision and the expressed desire of a panel of the court's judges to depart from that precedent.
The court has four districts: District I is based in Detroit, District II is based in Troy, District III is based in Grand Rapids, and District IV is based in Lansing. Each District elects seven judges, but the judges on the various panels are not drawn from specific districts, and the court's precedents must be consistent statewide (i.e., each district may not maintain its own precedents as in the various circuits in the federal judicial system). Because there is no connection between the district in which a case arises and the judges who sit on the panel, there are some slight differences between the election districts (which are redrawn every 10 years to maintain approximate population equality) and the case filing districts (which only are to maximize convenience). Due to the enormous geographic size of the 4th District, the court will, on occasion, schedule a panel to hear cases in a northern Michigan city (such as Petoskey), for the convenience of the parties.
The court originally had only nine judges, but this number was steadily increased by the Michigan Legislature to accommodate the court's growing caseload—to 12 in 1969, to 18 in 1974, to 24 in 1988, and to 28 in 1993. In 2012, Michigan Governor Richard D. Snyder signed into law legislation that provides for the elimination of the next vacant judicial seat in each of the court's 4 electoral districts, which will bring the court back to 24 judges over time through attrition.