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11 T. M. Cooley L. Rev. 853 (1994)
Compensatory Contempt

handle is hein.journals/tmclr11 and id is 861 raw text is: COMPENSATORY CONTEMPT
Three sanctions are available in Michigan to redress a viola-
tion of a court order: (1) criminal punishment to vindicate the
court's authority; (2) coercion to force compliance with the court's
order; and (3) compensation to indemnify for loss or injury result-
ing from the violation.1 The three sanctions for contempt of a
court order can be illustrated by the following hypothetical.2
Assume that Able and Baker both claim ownership of a unique
1954 Cadillac automobile. The court decides that Able owns the
automobile and enjoins Baker from disrupting Able's possession.
By means of a spare key, Baker drives the automobile off and con-
ceals its whereabouts. In response, upon proof of these facts, the
court could fine Baker $250 (criminal contempt), order Baker
jailed until Baker reveals the whereabouts of the Cadillac (coercive
contempt), or award Able damages for the loss of or injury to the
automobile (compensatory contempt).
Although criminal contempt is necessary to protect the dignity
and authority of courts, and coercive contempt makes interesting
news copy (recall the Dr. Elizabeth Morgan saga of the late
1980's)3 compensatory contempt is often of greater practical utility
to attorneys representing parties aggrieved by another's failure to
abide by a court order.
The purpose of this article is to explore the remedy of com-
pensatory contempt under Michigan law.4 A national survey in
1980 concluded with the observation that [flew states possess a
developed theory of compensatory contempt.5 Here is what has
Professor of Law, Thomas M. Cooley Law School. The Thomas M. Cooley Law Re-
view acknowledges that, pursuant to rule 10.3.1, all cases should be cited only to regional
reporters. However, to better serve local subscribers, the Thomas M. Cooley Law Review
will provide parellel citations for Michigan cases.
1. In re Contempt of Dougherty, 429 Mich. 81, 98, 413 N.W.2d 392, 398 (1987).
2. This illustration is adapted from Professor Rendleman's hypothetical in Douglas
Rendleman, How to Enforce an Injunction, LITIG., Fall 1983, at 23, 24.
3. See, e.g., John Elson, A Hard Case of Contempt, TIME, Sept. 18, 1989, at 66 (re-
porting a plastic surgeon's jailing for civil contempt for refusing to disclose the whereabouts
of her daughter).
4. A minority of jurisdictions, including California, do not recognize compensatory
contempt. See Annotation, Right of Injured Party to Award of Compensatory Damages or
Fine in Contempt Proceedings, 85 A.L.R.3d 895 (1978 & Supp. 1994) [hereinafter Contempt
5. Douglas Rendleman, Compensatory Contempt: Plaintiff's Remedy When a Defend-


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