Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Michigan Supreme Court
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Wesley Zoo Yang brought an action against Everest National Insurance Company (Everest) and Motorist Mutual Insurance Company (Motorist), seeking to recover personal protection insurance (PIP) benefits under a no-fault insurance policy issued by Everest to Yang and his wife. Everest issued Yang a six-month no-fault insurance policy, the term of which ran from September 26, 2017, through March 26, 2018. On October 9, 2017, Everest mailed Yang a bill for the second monthly payment, stating that if Yang failed to pay the amount due by October 26, 2017, the policy would be canceled, effective October 27, 2017; the policy provided that the cancellation notice did not apply if Yang paid the premium on time. Yang did not pay the premium on time, and Everest sent Yang an offer to reinstate, explaining that the policy was canceled but that Yang could reinstate the policy with a lapse in coverage. On November 15, 2017, plaintiffs were struck by a car when they were walking across a street; Motorist insured the driver of the vehicle that struck plaintiffs. Two days later, on November 17, 2017, Yang sent the monthly premium payment to Everest; the policy was reinstated effective that day, and the notice informed Yang that there had been a lapse in coverage from October 27, 2017, through November 17, 2017. Plaintiffs sued when Everest refused plaintiffs’ request for PIP benefits under the policy. Everest moved for summary judgment, maintaining the policy had been canceled and was not in effect at the time of the accident, and that the policy’s cancellation provision was not inconsistent with MCL 500.3020(1)(b); Motorist disagreed with Everest’s motion and argued that it was entitled to summary disposition under MCR 2.116(I)(2) because it was not the insurer responsible for the payment of PIP benefits. The trial court denied Everest’s motion and granted summary judgment in favor of Motorist, reasoning that Everest’s notice of cancellation was not valid because it was sent before the nonpayment occurred and that Everest was therefore responsible for the payment of PIP benefits; the court thus dismissed Motorist from the action. Everest appealed. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s order, concluding that the cancellation notice was not valid under MCL 500.3020(1)(b) because Everest sent the notice before the premium was due and that the notice did not satisfy the terms of plaintiffs’ no-fault policy itself. Finding no reversible error, the Michigan Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeal. View "Yang v. Everest National Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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In 2016, plaintiff Jennifer Buhl and her husband went to a party store in Oak Park, Michigan. As she was walking, plaintiff saw a raised crack in the sidewalk outside the store and tried to step over it. Because plaintiff did not notice that the sidewalk was uneven on the other side of the crack, she fell and fractured her left ankle. The specific question this case raised for the Michigan Supreme Court’s review was whether an amendment to the governmental tort liability act (GTLA) that went into effect after plaintiff’s claim accrued but before plaintiff filed her complaint could be retroactively applied. The Supreme Court held that the amended provision did not apply retroactively. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals’ judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Buhl v. City of Oak Park" on Justia Law

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The Law Offices of Jeffrey Sherbow, PC, brought an action against Fieger & Fieger, PC (the Fieger firm), asserting that the Fieger firm breached its referral- fee contract with plaintiff when the Fieger firm refused to pay plaintiff 20% of a contingent fee that the Fieger firm had received after it successfully represented several clients in a personal- injury and no-fault action related to an automobile accident in Ohio. The primary question in this case was whether, in order to enforce a fee- splitting agreement, MRPC 1.5(e) required the referring attorney to have an attorney-client relationship with the individual he or she refers. The Michigan Supreme Court held that it does but that the relationship could be limited to the act of advising the individual to seek the services of the other attorney if the referring attorney and client expressly or impliedly demonstrate their intent to enter into a professional relationship for this purpose. Consequently, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals’ judgment to the extent that it held to the contrary. The Supreme Court agreed with the appellate court, however, that the defendant bore the burden of proving noncompliance with MRPC 1.5(e) when the defendant raised the violation of the rule as a defense against enforcement of the referral agreement. The result in this case was that the trial court properly instructed the jury that an attorney-client relationship was required but erroneously instructed the jury about the burden of proof. This error required a new trial as to only one of the potential clients at issue. View "Law Offices of Jeffrey Sherbow v. Fieger & Fieger, PC" on Justia Law

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This case stemmed from a dispute over the unemployment-insurance tax rate applicable to Great Oaks Country Club, Inc (Great Oaks). The Department of Talent and Economic Development/Unemployment Insurance Agency (the Agency) determined that Great Oaks was not entitled to the new-employer tax rate under the Michigan Employment Security Act (the MESA), specifically MCL 421.13m(2)(a)(i)(A) and (B). An ALJ determined that because Great Oaks had eight quarters of no employment or payroll before January 1, 2014, it was entitled to the new-employer tax rate. The ALJ further ruled that the phrase “beginning January 1, 2014” in MCL 421.13m(2)(a)(i)(A) and (B) was the date by when a client employer must have accrued eight quarters of not reporting employees or payroll. The Agency appealed the ALJ’s decision to the Michigan Compensation Appellate Commission (the MCAC), and the MCAC affirmed the ALJ’s decision. The Court of Appeals adopted the interpretation of Section 13m offered by the Agency, which maintained that a client employer must have switched to client-level reporting before January 1, 2014, to be assessed the new-employer tax rate (the conversion-date interpretation). The Michigan Supreme Court disagreed, holding that in this context, Section 13m was best understood according to the interpretation offered by Great Oaks: that a client employer must have accrued the relevant number of calendar quarters in which it reported “no employees or no payroll” by January 1, 2014, to be assessed the new-employer tax rate (the accrual-date interpretation). And because Great Oaks reported no employees or payroll for eight consecutive calendar quarters before January 1, 2014, the Supreme Court held that Great Oaks was entitled to be assessed the new-employer tax rate under Section 13m of the MESA. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals’ decision was reversed and the matter remanded to the Agency for further proceedings. View "Dept. of Talent & Econ. Dev. v. Great Oaks Country Club" on Justia Law

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In consolidated cases, the issue presented for the Michigan Supreme Court’s consideration was whether the Court of Appeals correctly decided Streng v Bd of Mackinac Co Rd Comm’rs, 890 NW2d 680 (2016), and, if so, whether it should apply retroactively to all cases pending on appeal. the estate of Brendon Pearce filed a negligence action in the Eaton Circuit Court against the Eaton County Road Commission and others, arguing, in part, that the commission breached its duty under MCL 691.1402 of the governmental tort liability act (GTLA), MCL 691.1401 et seq., to maintain the road on which the accident occurred. In one of the cases, Lynn Pearce, acting as the personal representative of Brendon’s estate, served notice on the commission fewer than 60 days after Brendon was killed in the accident. The commission moved for summary judgment, arguing the notice was deficient under MCL 224.21(3) of the County Road Law, MCL 224.1 et seq., because the estate did not serve the notice on the county clerk. The trial court denied the motion. The commission appealed, and the estate moved to affirm the trial court’s written opinion, arguing that the notice was sufficient. The Court of Appeals granted the estate’s motion to affirm in an unpublished order. The Supreme Court denied leave to appeal. In the interim, the Court of Appeals issued Streng. The commission returned to the trial court and moved for summary judgment, arguing that the estate’s notice was insufficient under MCL 224.21(3). The parties disputed whether Streng applied retroactively and whether MCL 224.21(3), as applied in Streng, or MCL 691.1404(1) governed the estate’s notice. The Michigan Supreme Court found the Streng panel erred by failing to follow Brown. It therefore overruled Streng, vacated the decisions of the Court of Appeals, and remanded these cases to the respective circuit courts for further proceedings. View "Estate of Pearce v. Eaton Cty. Road Comm'n." on Justia Law

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Keith Bronner sued the City of Detroit seeking no-fault benefits. Bronner was a passenger on a city-operated bus when the bus was involved in an accident with a garbage truck operated by GFL Environmental USA Inc. The city self-insured its buses under the no-fault act, MCL 500.3101 et seq. Under the city’s contract with GFL, GFL agreed to indemnify the city against any liabilities or other expenses incurred by or asserted against the city because of a negligent or tortious act or omission attributable to GFL. The city paid Bronner about $58,000 in benefits before the relationship broke down and Bronner sued the city. Shortly after Bronner sued the city, the city filed a third-party complaint against GFL pursuant to the indemnification agreement in their contract. GFL moved for summary judgment, arguing that the city was attempting to improperly shift its burden under the no-fault act to GFL contrary to public policy. The circuit court denied GFL’s motion and granted summary judgment for the city. GFL appealed as of right, arguing that the indemnification agreement was void because it circumvented the no- fault act. The Court of Appeals agreed with GFL and reversed in an unpublished opinion, citing the comprehensive nature of the no-fault act and concluding that the act outlined the only mechanisms by which a no-fault insurer could recover the cost of benefits paid to beneficiaries. The Michigan Supreme Court reversed, finding that regardless of the differing opportunities for an insurer to reach an indemnification agreement with a vendor, such agreements were enforceable. View "Bronner v. City of Detroit" on Justia Law

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Lakeshore Camping, Gary Medler, and Shorewood Association petitioned for contested case hearings before an administrative-law judge (ALJ), to challenge permits and a special exception granted by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (now the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE)) to Dune Ridge SA LP. In February 2014, Dune Ridge, a real estate developer, had purchased a 130-acre plot of land along the shore of Lake Michigan located in a critical dune area and therefore was subject to certain regulations under the sand dunes protection and management act (SDPMA). EGLE issued the requisite permits and special exceptions needed for development of the property to Dune Ridge, and in October 2014, Lakeshore Camping, Medler, and Shorewood filed their petitions under MCL 324.35305(1). Around September 2015, other individuals moved to intervene in the case as aggrieved adjacent property owners. The ALJ also allowed Lakeshore Group, an unincorporated nonprofit association, to intervene after determining that it had “representational standing” through Charles Zolper, one of its members. The ALJ denied intervention to some of these parties and ultimately dismissed the matter, concluding that the remaining petitioners and intervenors lacked standing. Lakeshore Camping and other petitioners were eventually dismissed from the case, leaving Jane Underwood, Zolper, and Lakeshore Group as the sole remaining petitioners. Dune Ridge then moved for partial summary disposition, seeking to dismiss Underwood because she no longer owned property immediately adjacent to Dune Ridge’s property. In July 2016, the ALJ granted the motion. In September 2016, Dune Ridge sold 15 acres of its property, including the land immediately adjacent to Zolper’s property, to Vine Street Cottages, LLC. Dune Ridge then moved for summary disposition as to Zolper, and the ALJ dismissed Zolper and Lakeshore Group, finding that they no longer had standing because Zolper was no longer an immediately adjacent property owner. Underwood, Zolper, Lakeshore Group, and others appealed the ALJ’s decision to the circuit court. The issue this case presented for the Michigan Supreme Court’s review centered on whether the dismissed petitioners lost their eligibility for a contested hearing based on the facts presented. To this, the Supreme Court answered “no:” because the statute provides no means to deprive an eligible petitioner of a contested hearing, petitioners were entitled to a contested case hearing. Judgment was reversed and remanded to the administrative tribunal for a formal contested case hearing. View "Lakeshore Group v. Dept. of Enviro. Quality" on Justia Law

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Meemic Insurance Company filed suit against Louise and Richard Fortson, individually and as conservator of their son, Justin Fortson, alleging that Richard and Louise had fraudulently obtained payment for attendant-care services they did not provide to Justin. In 2009, Justin was injured when he fell from the hood of a motor vehicle, necessitating constant supervision and long-term care. Richard and Louise opted to provide attendant care to Justin in their home on a full-time basis. Justin received benefits under his parents’ no-fault policy with Meemic, and from 2009 until 2014, Louise submitted payment requests to Meemic for the attendant-care services she and her husband provided, asserting that they provided full-time supervision; Meemic routinely paid the benefits. In 2013, Meemic investigated Richard and Louise’s supervision of Justin, and discovered Justin had been periodically jailed for traffic and drug offenses and had spent time at an inpatient substance-abuse rehabilitation facility at times when Richard and Louise stated they were providing full-time supervision. The underlying policy contained an antifraud provision stating that the policy was void if any insured person intentionally concealed or misrepresented any material fact or circumstance relating to the insurance, the application for it, or any claim made under it. Louise and Richard counterclaimed, arguing that Meemic breached the insurance contract by terminating Justin’s benefits and refusing to pay for attendant-care services. Meemic moved for summary judgment, and the trial court initially denied the motion, reasoning that under the innocent-third-party rule, Meemic could not rescind the policy on the basis of fraud to avoid liability for benefits owed to Justin, an innocent third party. Meemic moved for reconsideration of that decision after the Court of Appeals later concluded in Bazzi v. Sentinel Ins. Co., 315 Mich App 763 (2016), the innocent-third-party rule was no longer good law. On reconsideration, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Meemic. Louise and Richard appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed, first reasoning that Bazzi did not apply because the fraud in this case did not occur in the procurement of the policy and did not affect the validity of the contract. The court concluded, however, that the policy’s antifraud provision was invalid because it would enable Meemic to avoid the payment of personal protection insurance (PIP) benefits mandated by MCL 500.3105. The Michigan Supreme Court affirmed, holding that contractual provisions like the one asserted by Meemic, in the context of the mandate of the no-fault act, are valid when based on a defense to mandatory coverage provided in the no-fault act itself or on a common-law defense that has not been abrogated by the act. Because Meemic’s fraud defense was grounded on neither the no-fault act nor the common law, it was invalid and unenforceable. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals was affirmed on different grounds, and the case remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Meemic Ins. Co. v. Fortson" on Justia Law

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Water users and property owners in Flint, Michigan (plaintiffs) brought a class action at the Court of Claims against defendants Governor Rick Snyder, the state of Michigan, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (the MDEQ), and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (collectively, the state defendants) and against defendants Darnell Earley and Jerry Ambrose (the city defendants). Plaintiffs alleged the Governor and these officials had knowledge of a 2011 study commissioned by Flint officials that cautioned against the use of Flint River water as a source of drinking water. In 2014, under the direction of Earley and the MDEQ, Flint switched its water source from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department (DWSD) to the Flint River. Less than a month after the switch, state officials began to receive complaints from Flint water users about the quality of the water coming out of their taps. Plaintiffs alleged state officials failed to take any significant remedial measures to address the growing health threat and instead continued to downplay the health risk, advising Flint water users that it was safe to drink the tap water while simultaneously arranging for state employees in Flint to drink water from water coolers installed in state buildings. The state and city defendants separately moved for summary disposition on all four counts, arguing that plaintiffs had failed to satisfy the statutory notice requirements in MCL 600.6431 of the Court of Claims Act, failed to allege facts to establish a constitutional violation for which a judicially inferred damages remedy was appropriate, and failed to allege facts to establish the elements of any of their claims. The Court of Claims granted defendants’ motions for summary disposition on plaintiffs’ causes of action under the state-created-danger doctrine and the Fair and Just Treatment Clause of the 1963 Michigan Constitution, art 1, section 17, after concluding that neither cause of action was cognizable under Michigan law. However, the Court of Claims denied summary disposition on all of defendants’ remaining grounds, concluding that plaintiffs satisfied the statutory notice requirements and adequately pleaded claims of inverse condemnation and a violation of their right to bodily integrity. The Court of Appeals affirmed the Court of Claims. After hearing oral argument on defendants’ applications, a majority of the Michigan Supreme Court expressly affirmed the Court of Appeals’ conclusion regarding plaintiffs’ inverse-condemnation claim. The Court of Appeals opinion was otherwise affirmed by equal division. View "Mays v. Snyder" on Justia Law

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Progress Michigan filed a complaint against then Attorney General Bill Schuette in his official capacity, alleging that defendant violated the Michigan Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and failed to preserve state records under the Management and Budget Act. Plaintiff sought certain e-mail messages between Attorney General Schuette and his staff that were sent using personal e-mail accounts. Defendant denied the request on October 19, 2016, and on November 26, 2016, defendant denied plaintiff’s subsequent departmental appeal of that decision. Seeking to compel disclosure, plaintiff filed its complaint in the Court of Claims. Defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that dismissal was appropriate because plaintiff failed to comply with the signature and verification requirement of MCL 600.6431 of the Court of Claims Act. Plaintiff amended its complaint which contained allegations identical to those in the original complaint, but was also signed by plaintiff’s executive director and sworn to before the Ingham County Clerk. Defendant again moved for summary judgment, this time arguing that the amended complaint was untimely because it was filed outside FOIA’s 180-day period of limitations. The Court of Claims dismissed plaintiff’s Management and Budget Act claim but denied the summary-judgment motion with respect to defendant’s FOIA claim, holding that plaintiff had complied with the MCL 600.6431 signature and verification requirement and that the complaint was timely filed within that statute’s one-year limitations period. The Court concluded that the amended complaint complied with FOIA’s statute of limitations because the amendment related back to the filing of the original complaint, which had been timely filed. The Court of Appeals reversed, reasoning that the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision in Scarsella v. Pollak, 607 NW2d 711 (2000), rendered plaintiff’s initial complaint a nullity, such that it could not be amended, and that the statutory period of limitations elapsed before the second complaint was filed. The Supreme Court reversed the appellate court, finding Scarsella did not apply in this context, and plaintiff complied with the statutory requirements necessary to sustain its claim under the FOIA. View "Progress Michigan v. Schuette" on Justia Law