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The following opinion is presented on-line for informational use only and does not replace the official version. (Mich Dept of Attorney General Web Site - www.ag.state.mi.us)



Opinion No. 6525

June 17, 1988

SOCIAL SERVICES: Insurance coverage for members of county social services board

There is no distinction with respect to possible liability or insurance coverage between state-appointed and county-appointed members serving on a county social services board.

Peter J. Hollenbeck

Schoolcraft County Prosecutor


Room 208

Manistique, Michigan 49854

You have requested my opinion regarding the following question:

Is there a distinction in regard to possible liability or insurance coverage between state-appointed and county-appointed members serving on a county social services board?

A county social services board is created by the Social Welfare Act, Sec. 45(1), MCL 400.45(1); MSA 16.445(1), which provides:

'There is created a county department of social services in each county of this state, which shall possess the powers granted and perform the duties imposed in this act. The county department shall consist of a county social services board and the director of the county department, together with assistants and employees as may be necessary to operate the county department.'

Pursuant to Sec. 46(1) of the Social Welfare Act, MCL 400.46(1); MSA 16.446(1), the county social services board is composed of three persons, two of whom are appointed by the county board of commissioners and the third is appointed by the Director of the State Department of Social Services. To this effect, Sec. 46(1), MCL 400.46(1); MSA 16.446(1), provides in pertinent part:

'The administration of the powers and duties of the county department shall be vested in a county social services board of 3 members, appointed from persons residing within the county and not holding an elective office, for 3-year terms as follows: 2 members shall be appointed by the county board of commissioners, and 1 member by the director of social services.'

The Social Welfare Act, Sec. 45(2), MCL 400.45(2); MSA 16.445(2), sets forth a list of powers and duties of the county social services board:

'The powers and duties of the county social services board shall include all of the following:

'(a) Supervision of and responsibility for the administration of the county infirmary and county medical care facility and child care institution, except as provided in sections 55(c) and 58.

'(b) Conduct, in conjunction with the state department, an annual review of social service programs operating within the county.

'(c) Development of policy and supervision of the administration of social service programs authorized by the county board of commissioners or financed solely from county funds or county administered funds.

'(d) Development and administration of employment programs and work training projects complementary to and not in conflict with the state general public relief or categorical assistance policy.

'(e) Review and submit recommendations on contracts involving programs administered by the state department proposed to be entered into between the state department and public or private agencies within the county including proposed purchases of service contracts from applicant agencies within the county eligible for funding under Title 20 of the social security act, 42 U.S.C. 1397 to 1397f. A contract shall not be entered into between the department and a public or private agency within the county until the board has been provided an opportunity for review of the contract. The board shall be advised by the department within 30 days after contracts have been signed with an explanation of the differences between contracts recommended by the board and those actually entered into.

'(f) Act as the agency for the county board of commissioners in the development of coordinated or consolidated approaches to the delivery of social services and cooperative service delivery arrangements between the state department and each public and private social service agency within the county.

'(g) Represent the county board of commissioners in all negotiations between the county and the state department.

'(h) Make annual policy recommendations to the Michigan county social services association on annual departmental appropriations, priorities for utilization of Title 20 funds, eligibility standards for general public relief and burial, employment programs, work training projects, and other related issues.'

See also MCL 400.66a, 400.66b, 400.68 and 400.69; MSA 16.466(1), 16.466(2), 16.468, and 16.469. As illustrated in the foregoing provisions, there is no distinction in function or responsibility between the state-appointed board member and the county-appointed board members serving on the county board of social services.

Under Sec. 45(4) of the Social Welfare Act; MCL 400.45(4); MSA 16.445(4), the salaries and expenses of all board members are fixed by the county board of commissioners. Pursuant to Sec. 46(2); MCL 400.46(2); MSA 16.446(2), a majority of the board must be present to transact the business of the board and the business of the board must be conducted at a public meeting held in compliance with the Open Meetings Act, MCL 15.261 et seq; MSA 4.1800(11) et seq. Under Sec. 46(4), MCL 400.46(4); MSA 16.446(4), if any member of the county social services board is absent from three consecutive regularly scheduled meetings without reasonable cause, the county board of commissioners is authorized to remove such member from the board.

The foregoing provisions contain no distinctions in authority or responsibility between the state-appointed board member and the county-appointed board members. Furthermore, as illustrated by the above-cited provisions of the Social Welfare Act, the county social services board acts as a single entity and the individual members have no authority to conduct board business other than at a public meeting at which at least two of the board members are present. "The powers of county boards must be exercised by them as boards and not as individuals." County of Saginaw v Kent, 209 Mich 160, 167; 176 NW 601 (1920), quoting from 11 Cyc. p 391. Crain v Gibson, 73 Mich App 192, 200; 250 NW2d 792, lv den 400 Mich 828 (1977).

The tort liability of governmental agencies and employees is dealt with in 1964 PA 170, MCL 691.1401 et seq; MSA 3.996(101) et seq (hereinafter referred to as the governmental immunity statute). The preamble of this Act states, in pertinent part, that it is:

'AN ACT to make uniform the liability of municipal corporations, political subdivisions, and the state, its agencies and departments, officers, employees, and volunteers thereof, and members of certain boards, councils, and task forces when engaged in the exercise or discharge of a governmental function, for injuries to property and persons, . . ..'

'Governmental agency' is defined in MCL 691.1401(D); MSA 3.996(101)(d), as 'the state, political subdivisions, and municipal corporations.' 'Political subdivision' is defined in MCL 691.1401(b); MSA 3.996(101)(b), as including 'any . . . county . . . and any agency, department, court, board, or council of a political subdivision.' MCL 691.1407; MSA 3.996(107), sets forth the parameters of statutory tort immunity for governmental agencies and their officers and employees. All governmental agency employees and officers are treated alike under this section. Thus, under the governmental immunity statute, the method of appointing a county social service board member does not affect the board member's potential liability. The Michigan Supreme Court decision in Ross v Consumers Power Co (On Rehearing), 420 Mich 567, 591-592; 363 NW2d 641 (1984), also illustrates that the source of appointment of a governmental officer or employee is not a factor in determining whether or not such officer or employee will incur liability for his or her acts.

In your letter of request you refer to the fact that your county participates as a member, with other local governments, for insurance purposes in a self-insured association. This type of association is authorized pursuant to 1951 PA 35, MCL 124.1 et seq; MSA 5.4081 et seq. To this effect, Sec. 5(1) of the Act, MCL 124.5(1); MSA 5.4085(1), states:

'(1) Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, any 2 or more municipal corporations, by intergovernmental contract, may form a group self-insurance pool to provide for joint or cooperative action relative to their financial and administrative resources for the purpose of providing to the participating municipal corporations risk management and coverage for pool members and employees of pool members, for acts or omissions arising out of the scope of their employment, including any or all of the following:

'(a) Casualty insurance, including general and professional liability coverage.

'(b) Property insurance, including marine insurance and inland navigation and transportation insurance coverage.

'(c) Automobile insurance, including motor vehicle liability insurance coverage and security for motor vehicles owned or operated, as required by section 3101 of the insurance code of 1956, Act No. 218 of the Public Acts of 1956, as amended, being section 500.3101 of the Michigan Compiled Laws, and protection against other liability and loss associated with the ownership of motor vehicles.

'(d) Surety and fidelity insurance coverage.

'(e) Umbrella and excess insurance coverages.'

It is noted that Sec. 1 of the Act, MCL 124.1; MSA 5.4081, defines 'municipal corporation' for purposes of the Act to include any county. Nothing in this statute would preclude insurance coverage of any county social services board member, regardless of how such board member was appointed.

It is my opinion, therefore, that there is no distinction in regards to possible liability or insurance coverage between state-appointed and county-appointed members serving on a county social services board.

Frank J. Kelley

Attorney General

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