Justia Michigan Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Personal Injury
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Two former employees of Michael Morse and his firm, Michael J. Morse, PC, sued Morse for workplace sexual harassment, including sexual assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress; negligence, gross negligence, and wanton and willful misconduct; and civil conspiracy. In both cases, the firm moved to dismiss and compel arbitration on the basis that both women signed the firm’s Mandatory Dispute Resolution Procedure agreement (MDRPA) prior to accepting employment with the firm. The trial court granted defendants' motion in each case, concluding that the arbitration agreement was valid and enforceable and that the claims were related to the employees' employment and therefore subject to arbitration. A majority of the Court of Appeals concluded that plaintiffs’ claims of sexual assault were not subject to arbitration because sexual assault was not “related to” plaintiffs’ employment. Further, the Court of Appeals stated that the fact that the alleged assaults would not have occurred but for plaintiffs’ employment with the firm did not provide a sufficient nexus between the terms of the arbitration agreement and the alleged sexual assaults. "Defendants noted certain facts that supported connections between plaintiffs’ claims and their employment, including that the alleged assaults occurred at work or work-related functions. But those facts did not necessarily make plaintiffs’ claims relative to employment; rather, the facts had to be evaluated under a standard that distinguished claims relative to employment from claims not relative to employment. This analysis prevents the absurdity of an arbitration clause that bars the parties from litigating any matter, regardless of how unrelated to the substance of the agreement, and it ensures that the mere existence of a contract does not mean that every dispute between the parties is arbitrable. Neither the circuit courts nor the Court of Appeals considered this standard when evaluating defendants’ motions to compel arbitration." Rather than apply this newly adopted approach in the first instance, the Michigan Supreme Court vacated the judgments of the Court of Appeals and remanded the cases to the circuit courts so that those courts could analyze defendants’ motions to compel arbitration by determining which of plaintiffs’ claims could be maintained without reference to the contract or employment relationship. View "Lichon v. Morse" on Justia Law

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The defendant-employer, Steel Technologies, Inc., asked the Michigan Supreme Court to consider whether a medical professional’s conclusory declaration of a claimant’s total disability, without more, could provide competent, material, and substantial evidence of “disability,” as defined by the Worker’s Disability Compensation Act (WDCA), MCL 418.101 et seq. The Supreme Court declined to do so because under the facts of this case, it was unnecessary to reach that issue. The Court instead vacated Part IV of the Court of Appeals’ opinion discussing the issue, but affirmed its result: the magistrate relied on competent, material, and substantial evidence to find that the plaintiff-claimant, Ahmed Omer, had established a disability and was entitled to wage-loss benefits. View "Omer v. Steel Technologies Inc." on Justia Law

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Donna Livings slipped on ice in her employer’s parking lot as she headed in to begin her shift. Generally, when an injury occurs because of an open and obvious condition, landowners in Michigan were not liable because they have no duty to protect against those hazards. An exception existed, however, when the hazard was effectively unavoidable. The question presented here was whether a hazard one must confront to enter his or her place of employment should be considered effectively unavoidable. The Michigan Supreme Court held that an open and obvious condition could be deemed effectively unavoidable when a plaintiff must confront it to enter his or her place of employment for work purposes. However, in assessing the question, it was still necessary to consider whether any alternatives were available that a reasonable individual in the plaintiff’s circumstances would have used to avoid the condition. Here, the Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals that a genuine issue of material fact existed regarding whether the snow and ice were effectively unavoidable. View "Livings v. Sage's Investment Group, LLC" 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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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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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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Dwayne Wigfall brought an action against the city of Detroit for injuries he sustained in a motorcycle accident allegedly caused when he hit a pothole on a city street. On advice from the city’s Law Department, Wigfall sent a notice via certified mail addressed to the Law Department that included a description of the pothole, its location, and a description of plaintiff’s injuries. An adjuster from the Law Department acknowledged receipt of Wigfall’s claim. After Wigfall filed his complaint, the city moved for summary judgment, arguing that Wigfall’s claim was barred by governmental immunity because Wigfall failed to serve notice of his claim on the mayor, the city clerk, or the city attorney as required by MCL 691.1404(2) and MCR 2.105(G)(2). The court denied the city’s motion, and the city appealed. Faytreon West brought an action against the city of Detroit, for injuries she allegedly suffered when she tripped on a pothole and fell while walking on a city street. West’s counsel sent notice of the injury and highway defect to the city’s Law Department via certified mail, instructing the city to immediately contact West’s counsel if it believed that the notice did not comply with any applicable notice requirements. The Law Department received the letter, and an adjuster from the Law Department acknowledged receipt of West’s claim. After West filed her complaint, the city moved for summary judgment, also arguing West had failed to comply with the notice requirement in MCL 691.1404(2) because she had not served an individual who may lawfully be served with civil process. The trial court granted the motion in favor of the city and denied West’s motion for reconsideration. In both cases, the Michigan Supreme Court reversed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the city: Plaintiffs complied with the requirements of MCL 691.1404(2) by serving their notices on the city’s Law Department. The Supreme Court found the Law Department was an agent of defendant’s city attorney (also known as the Corporation Counsel) and was charged with receiving notice under the city’s charter and ordinances. View "Wigfall v. City of Detroit" on Justia Law

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Matthew Dye brought an action against Esurance Property and Casualty Insurance Company and GEICO Indemnity Company, seeking personal protection insurance (PIP) benefits under the no-fault act, MCL 500.3101 et seq., for injuries he sustained in a motor vehicle accident while driving a vehicle he had recently purchased. At plaintiff’s request, plaintiff’s father had registered the vehicle in plaintiff’s name and obtained a no-fault insurance policy from Esurance. The declarations page of the policy identified only plaintiff’s father as the named insured. At the time of the accident, plaintiff was living with his wife, who owned a vehicle that was insured by GEICO. After Esurance and GEICO refused to cover plaintiff’s claim, plaintiff filed a breach-of-contract claim against both insurers along with a declaratory action, alleging that either Esurance or GEICO was obligated to pay his no-fault PIP benefits and requesting that the trial court determine the parties’ respective rights and duties. The issue this case presented for the Michigan Supreme Court’s review centered on whether an owner or registrant of a motor vehicle involved in an accident was excluded from receiving statutory no-fault insurance benefits under the no-fault act when someone other than an owner or registrant purchased no-fault insurance for that vehicle. The Court of Appeals concluded that “[a]t least one owner or registrant must have the insurance required by MCL 500.3101(1), and ‘when none of the owners maintains the requisite coverage, no owner may recover [personal injury protection (PIP)] benefits.’ ” The Supreme Court concluded an owner or registrant of a motor vehicle was not required to personally purchase no-fault insurance for his or her vehicle in order to avoid the statutory bar to PIP benefits. Rather, MCL 500.3101(1) only requires that the owner or registrant “maintain” no-fault insurance. The Court reversed in part the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded this case to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "Dye v. Esurance Property & Casualty Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Paulette Stenzel was injured after her new refrigerator began to spray water out of its water dispenser onto her kitchen floor, causing her to slip and fall. She filed a timely complaint alleging negligence, breach of contract, and breach of warranty against defendant Best Buy Co., Inc., which had sold and installed the refrigerator. Best Buy filed a notice of nonparty fault, identifying defendant-appellant Samsung Electronics America, Inc., as the refrigerator’s manufacturer. Plaintiff added a claim against Samsung in an amended complaint, and Samsung moved for summary judgment, arguing that plaintiff’s claim against it was untimely because plaintiff had not first moved to amend under MCL 600.2957(2) and therefore was not entitled to the relation-back privilege set forth in that statute. The trial court granted Samsung’s motion, but the Court of Appeals reversed. The Michigan Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals: a party may amend a pleading upon receipt of notice of nonparty fault pursuant to MCR 2.112(K) without filing a motion for leave to amend, and the amended pleading relates back to the original action pursuant to MCL 600.2957(2). View "Stenzel v. Best Buy Company, Inc." on Justia Law

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Audrey Trowell filed an action against Providence Hospital and Medical Centers, Inc., after she sustained injuries while she was hospitalized. At issue in this case was whether plaintiff’s claims sounded in medical malpractice or ordinary negligence. If her claims implicated medical malpractice, then they were barred by the two-year statute of limitations applicable to medical malpractice actions and defendant was entitled to summary judgment under MCR 2.116(C)(7). If her claims sounded in ordinary negligence, then they were timely. The Court of Appeals couldn't tell based solely on the basis of the allegations in the complaint, so it remanded for an evidentiary hearing to determine whether plaintiff’s claims were in medical malpractice, ordinary negligence, or both. The Michigan Supreme Court disagreed with this approach, holding that under the facts of this case, in which the only material submitted to the trial court was plaintiff’s complaint, the remand was improper and in determining the nature of plaintiff’s claims, the lower courts’ review was limited to the complaint alone. A proper review of the allegations in plaintiff’s complaint lead the Supreme Court to conclude that although the complaint included some claims of medical malpractice, it also contains one claim of ordinary negligence. The case was remanded to proceed on the ordinary negligence claims. View "Trowell v. Providence Hospital & Medical Centers, Inc." on Justia Law