Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Michigan Supreme Court
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In 2021, Brian McLain filed a negligence lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lansing, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, and Father Richard Lobert, alleging sexual abuse by Lobert in 1999 when McLain was a minor. McLain claimed he only discovered the causal link between the abuse and his psychological injuries in 2020 during therapy. The defendants moved for summary disposition, arguing the claims were time-barred by the three-year statute of limitations. McLain countered that MCL 600.5851b(1)(b) allowed the claim because it was filed within three years of discovering the causal link.The Livingston Circuit Court denied the defendants' motions, agreeing with McLain that MCL 600.5851b(1)(b) changed the accrual date for claims by minor victims of criminal sexual conduct. The Diocese and the Archdiocese appealed, and the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed, holding that MCL 600.5851b(1)(b) did not change the accrual date and did not apply retroactively to revive McLain's claim. McLain then sought leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court.The Michigan Supreme Court held that MCL 600.5851b(1)(b) creates a discovery rule for measuring the accrual date for claims related to criminal sexual conduct occurring after the statute’s effective date. However, it does not apply retroactively to revive expired claims. Therefore, McLain's claim, which accrued in 1999 and was subject to a three-year statute of limitations, was untimely. The Court affirmed the Court of Appeals' decision, remanding the case for entry of summary disposition in favor of the Diocese. View "Mclain v. Roman Catholic Diocese of Lansing" on Justia Law

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Lynda Danhoff and her husband, Daniel Danhoff, filed a medical malpractice lawsuit against Daniel K. Fahim, M.D., and others, alleging that Fahim and Kenneth P. D’Andrea, D.O., had committed malpractice by perforating Lynda’s sigmoid colon during a surgical procedure. Following the procedure, Lynda experienced complications, including pain, fever, and elevated body temperature and blood pressure. A CT scan revealed that there was “free air and free material” outside Lynda’s colon, and Lynda had to have another surgical procedure to correct this issue. Lynda had four more surgeries to correct the perforation, which led to permanent medical conditions.The defendants moved for summary disposition, arguing that the plaintiffs had failed to establish the standard of care or causation. The trial court found that the affidavit of merit submitted by plaintiffs’ expert was not sufficiently reliable to admit his testimony because the expert had failed to cite any published medical literature or other authority to support his opinion that defendants had breached the standard of care. The plaintiffs moved for reconsideration and submitted another affidavit from their expert. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that the opinions of plaintiffs’ expert still were not supported by reliable principles and methods or by the relevant community of experts. The plaintiffs appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's decision.The Michigan Supreme Court, however, reversed the lower courts' decisions. The Supreme Court held that the trial court abused its discretion by inadequately assessing the reliability of a standard-of-care expert witness without appropriately analyzing the proposed testimony under MRE 702 or the reliability factors of MCL 600.2955. The court emphasized that neither MRE 702 nor MCL 600.2955 requires a trial court to exclude the testimony of a plaintiff’s expert on the basis of the plaintiff’s failure to support their expert’s claims with published literature. The court concluded that the lower courts erred by focusing so strictly on plaintiffs’ inability to support their expert’s opinions with published literature such that it was inadmissible under MRE 702. The case was reversed and remanded. View "Danhoff v. Fahim" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a dispute over who should pay for the personal injury protection (PIP) benefits of Justin Childers, who was severely injured in a car accident. Initially, Childers' PIP benefits were covered by American Fellowship Mutual Insurance Company, but the company was declared insolvent in 2013. The Michigan Property and Casualty Guaranty Association (MPCGA) then assumed responsibility for Childers' PIP benefits. The MPCGA, after an investigation, concluded that Progressive Marathon Insurance Company was next in line to provide Childers' PIP benefits. However, Progressive denied Childers' claim.The trial court granted summary disposition to Progressive, ruling that while the actions were not time-barred, Progressive was not within statutory priority for Childers' benefits. The Court of Appeals reversed this decision, concluding that the one-year limitations period did not apply because the MPCGA is not generally subject to the no-fault act, and the MPCGA did not bring the action under the no-fault act. Instead, the Court of Appeals reasoned that the MPCGA’s right to proceed against Progressive came from the guaranty act, which allows the MPCGA to claim reimbursement from another insurer in the chain of designated priority insurers.The Michigan Supreme Court, however, disagreed with the Court of Appeals. It held that the one-year limitations period in MCL 500.3145(1) applies where either an insured or the MPCGA brings an action for PIP benefits against a lower priority no-fault insurer after the higher priority insurer becomes insolvent. The court concluded that both the action brought by Childers' conservator and the MPCGA's action were time-barred. The court reversed part of the Court of Appeals' opinion, vacated the remainder, and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Childers v. Progressive Marathon Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a dispute between Long Lake Township and Todd and Heather Maxon. The township alleged that the Maxons were storing junk cars on their property, violating a zoning ordinance, a nuisance law, and a 2008 settlement agreement. As the property was not visible from the street, the township hired a drone operator to take aerial photographs and video of the property without the Maxons' permission or a warrant. The Maxons moved to suppress the aerial photographs and all other evidence obtained by the township from the drone, asserting that the search was illegal under the Fourth Amendment.The Grand Traverse Circuit Court denied the Maxons’ motion, reasoning that the drone surveillance did not constitute a search. The Court of Appeals, in a split decision, reversed the lower court's ruling, holding that the drone surveillance violated the Fourth Amendment. The township appealed to the Supreme Court, which ordered the parties to file supplemental briefs regarding whether the exclusionary rule applied to the facts of this case. The Supreme Court then vacated its earlier order and remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for consideration of whether the exclusionary rule applied. On remand, the Court of Appeals, in a split decision, held that the exclusionary rule did not apply and that the photographs and video could not be suppressed regardless of whether the township unreasonably searched the Maxons’ property.The Michigan Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion, held that the exclusionary rule may not be applied to civil enforcement proceedings that effectuate local zoning and nuisance ordinances and seek only prospective, injunctive relief. The court found that the costs of excluding the drone evidence outweighed the benefits of suppressing it, and the exclusionary rule therefore did not apply. The decision of the Court of Appeals was affirmed, and the case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Long Lake Township v. Maxon" on Justia Law

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The Michigan Supreme Court, in a per curiam opinion, addressed the applicability of the Recreational Land Use Act (RUA) and the owner-liability provision of the Michigan Vehicle Code to a case involving a fatal off-road vehicle (ORV) accident. The accident occurred on private land owned by the defendants, also the grandparents and vehicle owners, and involved their 12-year-old granddaughter. The plaintiff, mother of the deceased, sought to hold the defendants liable.The court held that the RUA, which limits a landowner's liability for injuries occurring during recreational activity on their property to instances of gross negligence or willful and wanton misconduct, applies in this case. It found that the RUA applies to the plaintiff's proposed owner-liability claim, which is premised on the defendants' ownership of the vehicle involved in the accident. The court reasoned that the longstanding nature of owner liability when the RUA was enacted, the RUA's detailed provisions and lack of an exception for owner liability, and the optimal effect given to both statutes under this interpretation, indicate that the legislature intended the RUA to limit owner liability under the Michigan Vehicle Code.Since the plaintiff did not challenge the lower court's finding that there was no factual support for gross negligence on the part of the defendants, the court affirmed the trial court's decision granting the defendants' motion for summary disposition and denying the plaintiff's motion to amend her complaint. View "Estate Of Riley Robinson v. Robinson" on Justia Law

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Agnes Cramer petitioned for workers’ compensation benefits for the alleged physical and mental injuries she sustained after suffering an electrical shock and falling from a ladder while working for Transitional Health Services of Wayne, which was insured by American Zurich Insurance Company. Plaintiff claimed that as a result of the shock and fall, she injured her right shoulder and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and non-epileptic seizures. The magistrate denied benefits for plaintiff’s PTSD/non-epileptic seizure claim, finding that there was insufficient evidence that the disability was work-related. Applying the four-factor test set forth in Martin v. Pontiac Sch Dist, 2001 ACO 118, the magistrate concluded that plaintiff failed to meet her burden of proof that her employment contributed to or accelerated her mental injuries. The magistrate also denied wage-loss benefits on the basis that, although plaintiff was physically disabled from the injury to her shoulder, there was no evidence that plaintiff had made a good-faith effort to secure other employment. The Michigan Compensation Appellate Commission affirmed in part magistrate’s denial of benefits, reversing the denial of wage-loss benefits for plaintiff’s shoulder injury. Both parties appealed; the Court of Appeals denied defendants’ application for lack of merit in the grounds presented. The appeals court remanded the matter to the Board of Magistrates for a determination of whether plaintiff was entitled to a discretionary award of attorney fees on unpaid medical benefits. Plaintiff appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, which granted review, limited to two issues: (1) whether the four-factor test in Martin was at odds with the principle that a preexisting condition is not a bar to eligibility for workers’ compensation benefits and conflicts with the plain meaning of MCL 418.301(2); and (2) assuming that Martin provides the appropriate test, whether the Court of Appeals erred by affirming the commission’s conclusion that the magistrate properly applied Martin. Ultimately the Court determined the magistrate erred in its application of Martin to their decision. The magistrate’s findings were vacated. The Court of Appeals judgment was reversed, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Cramer v. Transitional Health Services" on Justia Law

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Two cases consolidated for the Michigan Supreme Court's review involved premises liability, specifically slip-and-fall instances where plaintiffs both argued while the hazards were open and obvious, they were unavoidable. In Case No. 162907, Ahlam Kandil-Elsayed filed a negligence action based on premises liability after she slipped and fell at a gas station defendant F & E Oil, Inc. operated. Plaintiff argued snow and ice on the premises constituted a dangerous condition. In Case No. 163430, Renee Pinsky tripped over a cable that had been strung from a checkout counter to a display basket at a local Kroger supermarket. In both cases, defendants moved for summary judgment arguing that because the hazards were open and obvious and no special aspects were present, they owed no duty of care to plaintiffs. The trial court granted defendant's motion in the former case, but denied defendant's motion in the latter case. The respective losing parties appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reversed summary judgment in both cases: although defendants in both cases owed a duty to the respective injured plaintiffs, there remained genuine issues of fact that were relevant to whether the defendants breached that duty and if so, whether plaintiffs were comparatively at fault and should have their damages reduced. The judgments of the Court of Appeals were reversed, and both cases were remanded for further proceedings. View "Kandil-Elsayed v. F & E Oil, Inc." on Justia Law

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Two freelance journalists, Spencer Woodman and George Joseph, brought separate actions at the Michigan Court of Claims against the Michigan Department of Corrections (the MDOC), arguing that the MDOC wrongfully denied their requests under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Plaintiffs sought video and audio recordings of a prisoner altercation that resulted in the death of inmate Dustin Szot. The MDOC denied their FOIA requests, claiming the records were exempt from disclosure. Plaintiffs and the MDOC both moved for summary judgment. The Court of Claims ordered the MDOC to disclose the audio recording to plaintiffs and to produce the videos for an in camera review. The trial court permitted the MDOC to submit the videos in a format that obscured the faces of the employees and prisoners in the videos to protect those individuals. However, the MDOC provided the unredacted videos for in camera review. The Court of Claims ultimately ordered the MDOC to disclose the unredacted videos to plaintiffs. The MDOC moved for reconsideration, arguing that it did not need to disclose the videos or, alternatively, that it should have been allowed to redact the videos by blurring the faces of the individuals in the videos. The Court of Claims denied the motion but nevertheless permitted the MDOC to make the requested redactions and permitted plaintiffs’ counsel to view both the redacted and unredacted videos. Plaintiffs challenged the trial court’s reduced amount of attorney fees and the denial of punitive damages. The MDOC cross-appealed, challenging only the trial court’s determination that plaintiffs prevailed in full and thus were entitled to attorney fees under FOIA. The Michigan Supreme Court determined plaintiffs prevailed under MCL 15.240(6) because the action was reasonably necessary to compel the disclosure of the records and because plaintiffs obtained everything they initially sought; accordingly, the court was required to award reasonable attorney fees. Furthermore, pro bono representation was not an appropriate factor to consider in determining the reasonableness of attorney fees; accordingly, the Court of Claims abused its discretion by reducing the attorney-fee award to plaintiffs' law firm on the basis of the firm's pro bono representation of plaintiffs. View "Woodman v. Department Of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Carrie Pueblo brought an action against her former domestic partner, Rachel Haas seeking joint custody and parenting time for a child whom Haas conceived through in vitro fertilization and gave birth to in 2008, during the parties’ relationship. Haas moved for summary judgment, arguing that because the parties had never married and Pueblo had no biological or adoptive relationship to the child, Pueblo lacked standing to sue and also failed to state a claim for which relief could be granted. The trial court granted the motion and dismissed the case without prejudice. After Haas moved for reconsideration, the trial court dismissed the action with prejudice. Pueblo then filed her own motion for reconsideration, arguing that she had standing as a natural parent, despite the lack of genetic connection, following the Court of Appeals decision in LeFever v. Matthews, 336 Mich App 651 (2021), which expanded the definition of “natural parent” to include unmarried women who gave birth as surrogates but shared no genetic connection with the children. Pueblo also argued the trial court order violated her Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection, as well as those of the child. Furthermore, Pueblo argued that any dismissal should have been without prejudice. The trial court denied reconsideration, distinguishing LeFever on the ground that Pueblo had not given birth to the child. Pueblo appealed, reasserting her previous arguments and further asserting that the equitable-parent doctrine should extend to the parties’ relationship, which had been solemnized in a civil commitment ceremony when it was not yet legal in Michigan for same-sex partners to marry. The Court of Appeals rejected these arguments and affirmed the trial court. Because Michigan unconstitutionally prohibited same-sex couples from marrying before Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 US 644 (2015), the Michigan Supreme Court narrowly extended the equitable-parent doctrine as "a step toward righting the wrongs done by that unconstitutional prohibition. A person seeking custody who demonstrates by a preponderance of the evidence that the parties would have married before the child’s conception or birth but for Michigan’s unconstitutional marriage ban is entitled to make their case for equitable parenthood to seek custody." The trial court's judgment was reversed and the case remanded for that court to apply the threshold test for standing announced here. View "Pueblo v. Haas" on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs brought this action after the defendant modified a storm water drainage system, allegedly causing flooding onto their property. The plaintiffs raised two distinct claims that remained at issue on appeal: a claim under the sewage-disposal-system- event (SDSE) exception to governmental immunity under the governmental tort liability act (GTLA), and a common-law trespass-nuisance claim seeking injunctive relief. The trial court dismissed both claims as untimely under the applicable three-year statute of limitations. Like the Court of Appeals, the Michigan Supreme Court disagreed, holding the SDSE claim, which sought relief only in connection with flooding that occurred within the three-year window, was timely. However, unlike the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court concluded that because the defendant was immune with respect to the plaintiffs’ common-law trespass-nuisance claim, that claim was properly dismissed. In light of this holding, the Court vacated as unnecessary the Court of Appeals’ holding that the trespass-nuisance claim was timely. Finally, because the plaintiffs only sought injunctive relief in connection with that claim, their request for an injunction was invalid. Therefore, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendant with respect to the plaintiff’s SDSE claim, affirmed with respect to the common-law trespass-nuisance claim, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Sunrise Resort Association, Inc. v. Cheboygan County Road Commission" on Justia Law