Joan Larsen of Michigan is a judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. She previously served as an Associate Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. Judge Larsen was a professor at the University of Michigan School of Law from 1998 until her appointment to the bench. In 2002, she temporarily left academia to work as an Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Judge Larsen received her law degree from Northwestern and clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia.
Justice Larsen allowed General Motors to coordinate compensation benefits with Social Security Disability Insurance benefits, effectively lowering employees’ monthly benefits. The UAW had renegotiated its contract with General Motors, and the renegotiated agreement allowed GM to coordinate worker’s compensation and disability benefits. GM had not been allowed to coordinate these benefits for the duration of the Plaintiffs career as an auto-worker, including at the time of his retirement. Justice Larsen and the Michigan Supreme Court held that the agreement was enforcable as applied to the Plaintiff because worker’s compensation is a non-vested benefit and the UAW has the power to bargain away its members’ non-vested benefits.
Under Michigan law, district courts have “exclusive jurisdiction in civil actions when the amount in controversy does not exceed $25,000.00.” Hodge was hit by a car, sued the driver in Michigan district court for $25,000, then presented proof of over $150,000 of injuries at trial. Michigan appellate courts reversed the district court’s $25,000 judgment for Hodge on the grounds that the district court lost jurisdiction when Hodge introduced proof exceeding $25,000. Justice Larsen and the Michigan Supreme Court disagreed, holding that the district court did have jurisdiction because the “prayer for relief controls when determining the amount in controversy [for jurisdictional purposes], and the limit of awardable damages.”
Paul Seewald and Don Yeochang allegedly falsely signed nominating petitions for former Congressman Thaddeus McCotter, then submitted them to the Michigan Secretary of State. Prosecutors charged Seewald with “conspir[ing] . . . to commit a legal act in an illegal manner,” a felony. Seewald argued that submitting the petitions was not a “legal act” because the submission was illegal when he signed it. Justice Larsen and the Michigan Supreme Court disagreed, reasoning that “to read the term ‘legal act’ to mean ‘an act that is legal in light of the specific facts of the case,’ instead of ‘an act that is legal generally,’ would threaten to drain all meaning from the legal-act prong of the conspiracy statute.”
Helen Yono sued the Michigan Department of Transportation after she fell into a depression in a parallel-parking space on a state highway. The DOT claimed government immunity and that the parallel-parking space did not fall into the government immunity exception for highways. Justice Larsen agreed with the DOT and held that the government could claim immunity because the parallel-parking spaces were not designed for vehicular travel and therefore did not fall into the highway exception.
In an article published by the Ohio State Law Review, then-Professor Joan Larsen argued that Rehnquist Court justices’ reliance on foreign sources for substantive decisionmaking found no basis in constitutional interpretation.
As a law student working with Professor Steven Calabresi, Judge Larsen argued that an original understanding of the Incompatibility Clause counsels that it has more to do with averting conflicts of interest and less to do with separation of powers.