On October 16, 2012, Governor Snyder signed into law HB 5128, sponsored by Rep. John Walsh, as Public Act 333 of 2012. The Business Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan, a group of business law attorneys, supported the new law and provided meaningful input on drafts of the bill. This new law will require State of Michigan circuit courts with three or more judges (currently there are 17 such courts) to establish specialized “business dockets.” Beginning January 1, 2013, business courts will have exclusive jurisdiction over business and commercial cases in which the amount involved exceeds $25,000. The legislation was designed to enhance the accuracy, consistency and predictability of decisions on business cases in Michigan.

Cases assigned to business courts would include all sorts of disputes between two businesses; but would also include disputes between businesses and their customers and competitors, disputes between stockholders, stockholder derivative actions, and certain disputes involving non-profit organizations. Several types of cases would be specifically excluded from assignment to the business court including personal injury cases, product liability cases, family law cases, criminal cases, and mortgage foreclosure cases.

The reason for creating Michigan business courts was to allow business disputes to be resolved more efficiently and, theoretically, with more predictability. Currently, most circuit court judges in the State of Michigan routinely handle a diverse docket including criminal matters, divorce cases, and other civil cases, as well as business cases. Because many of the laws and statutes impacting commercial disputes are detailed and extensive, attorneys and legislators determined that some circuit court judges were not able to hear enough business cases to develop a strong working knowledge of business law.

In Kent County, the 17th Circuit Court has already created a specialized business court, by assigning its business cases with disputes over $25,000 to one judge, the Hon. Christopher P. Yates. Whether the new law creating business courts will fulfill its purpose of creating greater efficiency and predictability in business lawsuits remains to be seen.