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Denise Langford Morris
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Denise Langford Morris

JAMS Mediator, Arbitrator and Referee/Special Master

Retired Judge, Oakland County Circuit Court

General Biography
Practice Areas
Business & Commercial
Class Action & Mass Tort
Employment Law
Entertainment & Sports
Family Law
Governmental/Public Agency
Higher Education & Title IX
Product Liability
Professional Liability
Real Estate & Real Property
Honors, Memberships, and Professional Activities
Background and Education

Denise Langford Morris, Retired Judge, Oakland County Circuit Court, joined JAMS in Detroit in 2022 after serving on the Oakland County (Michigan) bench for 30 years. Judge Langford Morris was the first African American and the first female dean of the Oakland County bench since its inception in 1848. During her tenure on the bench, she presided over thousands of civil, business, family and criminal cases, including jury and bench trials. She managed every aspect of the cases assigned to her from filing to post judgment in a AAA-bond-rated county of over 1.2 million people. Judge Langford Morris retired as the first African American chief judge pro tempore to serve on the court.

Judge Langford Morris is a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, Civil Division, where she managed cases involving condemnation, premises liability, auto negligence, employment defense, wrongful discharge, fraud and Bivens actions. In addition, she has extensive trial practice as a private practitioner in the areas of insurance defense, municipal defense, products liability, construction accident defense, and premises liability. She also has extensive felony criminal trial experience as an assistant Oakland County prosecutor in all types of cases.

Judge Langford Morris is known at home and abroad for her dedication to the rule of law and for her ability to work with parties from all walks of life. She is adept at carving out mutually agreeable solutions to intractable problems and believes that mediated settlements offer parties the best chance at solving disputes. She is known for her patience, perseverance and integrity in seeking resolution while parties are still in control.

Representative Matters

Matters handled as a judge

  • Contract dispute involving multiple insurance carriers and allegations of breach of contract, no duty to advise and a lack of special relationship exceptions following a major fire at a commercial building
  • Contract dispute regarding patent and technology for a novel way of making plastic polymers called powder impression molding (PIM); licensing agreements granted exclusive rights to market PIM for product development to eastern hemisphere countries in exchange for royalties on products developed; assisted in resolution of the dispute following a finding that the license agreement had no requirement for transfer of know-how
  • Construction contract dispute alleging structural defects in building of research facility experiencing concrete shrinkage, cracking and other concerns; architectural design experts, structural engineer and professional engineer engaged in protracted litigation where some issues were resolved by partial arbitration
  • Multiple commission actions involving violation of the Sales Representative Commission Act, where a sales representative for a parts supplier maintained contracts with the Big Three automobile manufacturers in an attempt to acquire bid opportunities
  • Business disputes between companies due to failure to pay loans in full and allegations of breach of contract and unjust enrichment involving a series of transactions alleging an “implied in fact” contract and mutual assent
  • Business dispute involving the Construction Lien Act due to alleged failure to file in a timely manner
  • Declaratory judgement action brought against Bloomfield Township Library demanding borrowing rights for non-residents in accordance with a state constitutional provision requiring that all libraries be “available” to Michiganders (479 Mich. 554, 2007); affirmed on appeal
  • Products liability jury trial regarding malfunctioning toaster oven causing extensive fire damage to residence and contents
  • A religious group formed to promote the Sikh religion and foster relationships among its followers devolved into a dispute about property and group elections; the case was resolved by a finding that the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine precluded civil court intervention
  • A discrimination suit filed against Lotus Bancorp Inc., holding company for Novi-based Lotus Bank, and three of its senior officers for discrimination against Indian customers
  • Complex challenge to petitions initiating and scheduling a September 11, 2001, election to decide whether intervening defendant City of Pontiac could annex property located in Bloomfield Township
  • Breach of employment contract of a senior marketing executive at a major consumer goods retail chain
  • Jury trial alleging inadequate “just compensation” for land and interruption of long-range plan to acquire a big box store; road commission plans for expansion and roundabouts resulted in insufficient property for developer to move forward
  • Township tax assessor, an 18-year employee, alleged violations of state law by the township clerk in processing personal property statements, resulting in the assessor reporting the violation to the State Tax Commission; the tax assessor alleged retaliatory actions by the clerk and violation of the Whistle-Blowers Protection Act (WPA) when she was discharged at a township board meeting; a jury trial resulted in a verdict for the tax assessor and with costs and attorney’s fees recoverable pursuant to the WPA
  • A law enforcement employee alleged harassment constituting a hostile work environment, unwelcome conduct and communication, which interfered with his work environment; the record reflects that the comments were made during training in which superiors were attempting to prepare officers for real-life encounters with role-playing and confrontational scenarios that could include offensive language; employee also contended that he was fired in retaliation for opposing discrimination under the Michigan Civil Rights Act
  • Civil suits alleging assault and battery, negligence, and wanton and willful misconduct involved against professional basketball players by fans in attendance following a brawl at The Palace arena

Appellate Opinions

  • Goldstein v. Progressive Casualty Insurance Co., 218 Mich. App. 105 (1996)
  • Dohanyos v. Detrex Corp., 217 Mich. App. 171 (1996) (Holding that arbitrators involved in statutory arbitration derive their powers from the contract providing for arbitration and are bound to act within its terms)

Honors, Memberships, and Professional Activities

Memberships and Affiliations

  • Member, Women Lawyers Association of Michigan (WLAM), 1995–present
    • Board Member, 2009–2019
  • Member, National Bar Association (NBA), 1989–present
    • Chair, NBA Judicial Council, 2013–2014
  • Member, Dean’s Advisory Board, University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, 2005–present
  • Dean of the Board, Secretary and Chair of Oral History and Portraits Committee, Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society, 1995–present
  • Member, Board of Directors, Salvation Army William Booth Legal Aid Clinic, 2007–present
  • President, American Judicial Council Foundation, 2021–2022
  • Board Member, Association of Black Judges of Michigan, 1999–present
    • President, 2005–2006
  • American Bar Association
    • Delegate, ABA House of Delegates (representing the National Bar Association), 2018–2022
    • Member, State Bar of Michigan Delegation to the ABA, 2018–2022
    • Criminal Justice Section
      • Co-Executive Director, Equal Justice Division, 2016–2022
      • Member, International Committee, 2016–2022
      • Member, Women’s Task Force, 2018–2022
      • Co-Chair, Judicial Function Committee, 2017–2019
    • Member, Commission on the American Jury, 2020–2022
      • Chair, 2020-2021
    • Member (representing the National Bar Association), Legal Opportunities Scholarship Fund Commission, 2018–2022
    • Member, Africa Council, Rule of Law Initiative, 2018–present
      • Chair, 2021-2022
    • Member, Judicial Division, National Conference of State Trial Judges, 2016–2022
      • Secretary, 2021-2022
      • Director and Co-Chair, 2018–2020
      • Co-Chair, Membership Committee, 2016–2022
      • Member, Judicial Division Technology Committee, 2018–2022
    • Member, Alternative Dispute Resolution Section
    • Member, Business Section
    • Member, Criminal Justice Section
    • Member, Litigation Section
    • Member, Tort, Trial and Insurance Practice
  • Member, National Association of Women Judges
  • Member, American Bar Foundation
    • State Director, Women Lawyers Association of Michigan, 2011–2021
    • Member, Black Women Lawyers Bar Association
    • Founding Member, D. Augustus Straker Bar Association
    • Member, Wolverine Bar Association
    • Co-Chair and Chair, Ethics Committee, Association of Black Judges of Michigan, 2015–2022
    • Member, Pi Tau Omega Chapter, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
    • Member and Past Parliamentarian, The Links, Incorporated
    • Lifetime Member, Oakland County Branch, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
    • Past Member, Mediation Rules Committee, Michigan Supreme Court
    • Board Member, St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, 1999–2004
    • Member, Board of Trustees, University of Detroit Mercy, 2011–2019
      • Chair, Academic Affairs Committee, 2017–2019
    • Member, Governing Board, Oakland Livingston Human Service Agency (includes Head Start), 1995–2005
    • Former Officer and Board Member, Child Abuse and Neglect Council, 1988–1994
    • Past Director, Haven Domestic Violence Shelter (Oakland County)

Selected Awards

  • Thurgood Marshall Award, National Bar Association, 2021
  • Living Legend Award, Region VI, National Bar Association, 2021
  • NBA Presidents’ Vincent Monroe Townsend, Jr. Legends Award, National Bar Association, 2021
  • Wiley A. Branton Award, National Bar Association, 2020
  • Judicial Excellence Award, Michigan Defense Trial Counsel, 2019
  • Spirit of Humanity/Guardian of Justice Award, American Human Rights Council, 2019 (with Congressional endorsements by Senator Gary C. Peters and Congresswoman Debbie Dingell)
  • Spirit of Detroit Award, Detroit City Council, 2019
  • Certificate of Appreciation, Wayne County Commission Chair Alisha Bell, 2019
  • Justice Mary S. Coleman Award, Women Lawyers Association of Michigan (WLAM), 2018
  • Justice Award, State Bar of Michigan Champion, 2007
  • Professionalism Award, Oakland County Bar Association, 1997

Background and Education

  • Judge; Oakland County Circuit Court; Pontiac, Michigan; 1992–2022
    • Chief Judge Pro Tempore, 2022
    • Domestic Relations, 1992–2000
    • General Civil Cases, 1992–2022
    • Business Cases, 1992–2013
    • General Criminal Cases, 1992–2022
  • Visiting Judge, Michigan Court of Appeals, 1996
  • Certificate, National Computer Forensic Institute, Cyber-Investigative Techniques, Judicial Training, 2011
  • Assistant United States Attorney, Civil Division, Eastern District of Michigan, 1989–1992
  • Associate; Zamplas, Paskin, Nagi, Baxter, Johnson & Walker, P.C.; 1987–1989
    • Insurance defense, municipal defense, products liability, construction accident, condemnation, zoning, subrogation, auto negligence, pharmaceutical malpractice
  • Assistant Prosecutor, Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office, 1984–1987
  • J.D., University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, 1982
  • Investigative-Protective Social Worker, Michigan Department of Social Services, Child and Adult Protective Services, 1976–1984
  • M.A., cum laude, Guidance and Counseling, School of Education, Wayne State University, 1978
  • Medical Assistant, Medical Billing, Detroit Surgical Associates, P.C., 1976
  • Audit/Unit Buying Departments, Data Processing and Invoice Research, Sears Roebuck and Co., 1973–1976
  • B.A., School of Liberal Arts, Wayne State University, 1975
  • A.A., Phi Theta Kappa, Highland Park Community College, 1973


This page is for general information purposes.  JAMS makes no representations or warranties regarding its accuracy or completeness.  Interested persons should conduct their own research regarding information on this website before deciding to use JAMS, including investigation and research of JAMS neutrals. See More

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