Attorney General opinions are NOT law, but they can be persuasive information to present in a court proceeding.
STATE OF MICHIGAN
BILL SCHUETTE, ATTORNEY GENERAL
UNIFORM TRAFFIC CODE:
MICHIGAN VEHICLE CODE:
CONST 1963, ART 7, § 29
Soliciting on public streets and highways.
Released July 29, 2016
Section 676b, MCL 257.676b, of the Michigan Vehicle Code, MCL 257.1 et seq., prohibits a person from soliciting contributions, including contributions on behalf of civic or charitable organizations, from the occupants of vehicles if the person soliciting blocks, obstructs, impedes, or otherwise interferes with the normal flow of vehicular traffic upon a public street or highway in this State. No other statute or rule authorizes or permits the authorization of a person to engage in this activity.
Rule 713, Mich Admin Code, R 28.1713, of the Uniform Traffic Code, prohibits a person in the improved portion of a roadway from soliciting contributions in support of a civic or charitable organization from the occupant of any vehicle. Mich Admin Code, R 28.1713.
Opinion No. 7291
July 29, 2016
The Honorable Phil Pavlov
Lansing, MI 48909
You have asked whether charitable and civic organizations may solicit contributions in public roadways.
Although your request did not identify a particular organization, this office is aware that members of various charitable and civic organizations sometimes solicit contributions from persons occupying vehicles while in a public roadway. Your request and information included with it note that the Village Council for the Village of Sebewaing (Village), Huron County, decided it would no longer permit organizations to do so. The Village cited a number of laws to support its decision, including Rule 28.1713 of the Uniform Traffic Code. Mich Admin Code, R 28.1713.
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The Michigan Vehicle Code sets forth requirements for the licensure and regulation of drivers and vehicles using publicly maintained streets and highways and, to a lesser extent, the use of those streets and highways by pedestrians. “The purpose of the Vehicle Code is to protect citizens and vehicles while on the public highways.” People v O’Neal, 198 Mich App 118, 122 (1993) (internal citation omitted). As pertinent here, Chapter 6, Obedience to and Effect of Traffic Laws, MCL 257.601 through 257.750, provides that the chapter applies “uniformly throughout this state and in all political subdivisions and municipalities in the state.” MCL 257.605(1).
Section 676b of the chapter provides in subsection (1) that:
A person, without authority, shall not block, obstruct, impede, or otherwise interfere with the normal flow of vehicular or pedestrian traffic upon a public street or highway in this state, by means of a barricade, object, or device, or with his or her person. This section shall not apply to persons maintaining, rearranging, or constructing public utility facilities in or adjacent to a street or highway. [MCL 257.676b(1) (emphasis added).]
A violation of this statute constitutes a civil infraction. MCL 257.676b(2). This section is broadly worded and prohibits a person from using his or her body in a way that interferes with the normal flow of traffic on a public street unless authorized to engage in the activity. A person soliciting contributions on behalf of a charitable organization from the occupants of vehicles on public streets or highways may fall within this prohibition. So too may any other person soliciting contributions, including panhandlers or persons attempting to engage in commercial activities, such as selling goods or offering services to vehicle occupants.. . .
These terms share similar meanings. For example, the terms “obstruct” and “impede” are incorporated into the definition of “block” as “anything that stops movement or progress; obstruction, obstacle, or hindrance; . . . to impede the passage or progress of; obstruct.” Webster’s New World Dictionary (3rd ed, 1988). And the word “interfere” means “[t]he act or an instance of hindering, obstructing, or impeding.” The American Heritage College Dictionary (3rd ed, 1997).
Again, your request does not include specific facts. But it is reasonable to conclude based on the plain language of the statute that the presence of a person in a street requesting contributions from vehicle occupants would ordinarily block, obstruct, impede, or otherwise interfere with the normal flow of traffic on that street. Similarly, a person standing near a street or highway, for instance on a curb, requesting contributions from an occupant of a vehicle in the street or highway could very well block, obstruct, impede, or otherwise interfere with the normal flow of traffic upon that street or highway by means of his or her person. MCL 257.676b(1). Id. Whether this is true will depend upon the particular facts and circumstances. With respect to cities, villages, and townships, it is the “duty” of local law enforcement to “enforce the street traffic regulations . . . and all state vehicle laws that are applicable to street traffic” in the city, village, or township. See Mich Admin Code, R 28.1101.
Thus, with respect to the Village of Sebewaing, local law enforcement officers would determine in the first instance whether the activity violates the statute. If the activity violates the statute under the particular facts, the activity would be prohibited if the person was otherwise “without authority” to do so. Because this activity is generally prohibited by statute, the “authority” to engage in the prohibited conduct must also be found in the law. See, e.g., Attorney General ex rel Brotherton v Common Council of City of Detroit, 148 Mich 71, 79 (1907) (“If a prohibitory constitutional provision, general in its character, is subject to exceptions, those exceptions must be found in the Constitution.”).
There are certain statutes and rules that authorize persons to engage in activity in a street or highway. For example, under the Uniform Traffic Code, police officers and firefighters are authorized to direct traffic. See Mich Admin Code, R 28.1102 and 1103; see also MCL 257.602. The Michigan Vehicle Code provides that workers “performing construction, maintenance, surveying, or utility work within a work zone may direct traffic within that work zone” if authorized by state or local officials. MCL 257.611a(1). Similarly, school crossing guards may stop traffic while on duty at their assigned crossings. MCL 257.613b. Subsection 676b(1) itself exempts persons working on public utility facilities. MCL 257.676b(1). And pedestrians may walk in a highway if no sidewalks are available, MCL 257.655, or may cross roadways in a designated place and manner, Mich Admin Code, R 28.1702 and 28.1705. But this office found no statute or rule expressly authorizing a person to request contributions from the occupants of vehicles while in, near, or moving upon a street or highway.
The closest statute is MCL 257.676a(1)–(2), which provides, in relevant part, that “a person” may request a “permit” from the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to “sell[ ] or offer[ ] for sale, or display[ ] . . . for sale, goods, wares, produce, fruit, vegetables, or merchandise . . . within the right-of-way of a state trunk line highway.” (Emphasis added). MDOT “may issue” the permit “if the permitted activities do not create an unsafe situation and do not interfere with transportation along the state trunk line highway.” MCL 257.676a(2) (emphasis added). In addition, “[a]s a condition of issuing a permit . . . [MDOT] shall require the municipality having jurisdiction over the site to pass a resolution authorizing the activities . . . and may require that the municipality . . . agree to enforce compliance with the permit.” Id.
This statute provides a limited opportunity for a person to ask MDOT for a permit to sell various goods or merchandise “within the right-of-way” of a “state trunk line highway” so long as the activity “does not create an unsafe situation” or “interfere” with travel, and the activity is also approved by the local municipality. In that case, this statute acts as an exception to subsection 676b(1) by providing the person with “authority” to engage in activity that may otherwise violate subsection 676b(1).
Accordingly, the question arises whether soliciting contributions for charitable and civic organizations falls within the activities for which a person may request a permit under subsection 676a(1). Again, your request did not include facts regarding the nature of the solicitation at issue. But under a plain reading of the statute, the solicitation and receipt of a monetary contribution for a charity would not qualify as an offer for, or the “sale” of, “goods, wares, produce, fruit, vegetables, or merchandise.” MCL 257.676a(1). The term “sale” is not defined in the Motor Vehicle Code but may be understood to mean “[t]he transfer of property or title for a price.” Black’s Law Dictionary (7th ed); see also MCL 440.2106(1) (a “sale,” as defined by the Uniform Commercial Code, is “the passing of title from the seller to the buyer for a price”). The receipt of a monetary contribution with no exchange of goods or merchandise would not constitute a “sale” for purposes of subsection 676a(1). This statute, therefore, does not authorize a person to request monetary contributions from the occupants of vehicles while in, near, or moving upon a street or highway in avoidance of subsection 676b(1).
Finally, while the Motor Vehicle Code authorizes “local authorities” to regulate in certain areas with respect to streets or highways under the jurisdiction of the locality, MCL 257.606, none of the permitted areas of regulation include authorizing a person to request contributions from the occupants of vehicles while standing near, in, or moving upon a street or highway so as to avoid the application of subsection 676b(1). MCL 257.676b(1).
It is my opinion, therefore, that section 676b, MCL 257.676b of the Michigan Vehicle Code, prohibits a person from soliciting contributions, including on behalf of civic or charitable organizations, from the occupants of vehicles if the person soliciting blocks, obstructs, impedes, or otherwise interferes with the normal flow of vehicular traffic upon a public street or highway in this State. No other statute or rule authorizes or permits the authorization of a person to engage in this activity.
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