Former Employee’s Alleged Criminal Activities Relevant to Determine “Wage Earning Capacity” for Purposes of Assessing Entitlement to Workers Compensation Benefits

In a case I brought to the Michigan Supreme Court, which remanded in Omian v Chrysler, 495 Mich. 859 (2013), to the Court of Appeals for consideration of my appeal, the Michigan Court of Appeals has now reversed the decision I originally appealed.  In Omian v. Chrysler.COA.Published, the Court of Appeals agreed that evidence of a former employee’s ability to engage in a financially lucrative criminal enterprise generally allows consideration of that employee’s ability to “continue to earn wages” despite his or her claim that a work-related injury entitles him to wage-loss benefits.  I argued that an ability to earn wages, any wages, even those gained through nefarious criminal activities, should be admissible to demonstrate that the claimant is not entitled to be paid wage-loss benefits based on a claimed disabling injury – an injury he or she claims is preventing him from earning wages in other legal and gainful employment.

Although the Court did not agree with all of my arguments, it reversed the case on the main principal espoused and directs the administrative tribunal to consider the evidence.

 

Court of Appeals Issues Ruling On Independent Contractor Case

The Michigan Court of Appeals issued its opinion in a case I briefed (92675_Moore_Appellant’s_Brief_313440.12.26.2013.1838)  and argued in the Court of Appeals last summer, ruling consistent with the Supreme Court’s recent disposition of workers compensation insurance coverage for subcontractors holding themselves out to be employers, while claiming to be employees.

The facts involved a workers compensation claimant who was hired to do a four-hour roofing job by the putative “employer”.  The claimant ran an independent roofing business, had other workers doing roofing work at another location, purchased workers compensation insurance, and otherwise held himself out to be a roofer doing roofing work.  He injured his foot while performing the four-hour job and sought workers compensation benefits from the company that had hired him to do that job.  Several iterations of a decision were rendered by the workers compensation board and the appellate commission.  The Court of Appeals granted my application for leave to appeal, and then, plaintiff’s cross-application on a wage-loss calculation issue (a very interesting issue in its own right but which is likely rendered moot by this finding that the claimant was not in fact an employee).

The coverage case involved several underlying insurance companies potentially covering the claim depending on the employment status of the claimant.  What is remarkable, among other interesting procedural twists and turns, is that two Judges on the panel I argued the case before were on opposite sides of the underlying issue in a Court of Appeals conflict panel opinion issued after the Court of Appeals convened a special conflict panel to address whether the language of MCL 418.161(1)(n) (pre-2011 amendments) was conjunctive or disjunctive, requiring satisfaction of all or only one of the “elements” listed to remove or, divest, a claimant of “employee” status under the Workers Disability Compensation Act.

That conflict panel decision by the Court of Appeals actually ruled against the arguments I forwarded in my brief, but as I predicted in the brief, and at oral argument, the Supreme Court was considering the conflict panel’s decision and was likely to overrule it, which they did, as I explained in this post:  Supreme Court Overrules Court of Appeals Decision Defining Employees for Purposes of Workers Compensation Entitlement

Thus, at oral argument, I made a full frontal assault on the conflict panel’s decision reading the statutory language as conjunctive (much to the satisfaction of Judge Borrello, who the Supreme Court ultimately sided with), and, as well, in my arguments section of the brief.

The Court also used my argument to counter the Appellate Commission’s unique (if not strained) reading of the meaning of the introductory phrase of the statute “in relation to this service” (my emphasis).  In its decision, the appellate commission reasoned that the phrase contained in MCL 418.161(1)(n) referred not to roofing in general, but roofing on behalf of the putative employer.  The Commission had stated that plaintiff did not maintain a separate business of roofing for this employer, nor was he hired by this employer in his capacity as a roofing contractor with a crew of workers. Rather, the Commission had stated plaintiff was hired by the putative employer as an individual worker.

As I argued in my brief, this reasoning was flawed because the statutory phrase “in relation to this service” refers to roofing in general. And, the Court of Appeals cites to the case I referred to, Reed v. Yackell, 473 Mich 520, 537 (2005), in which the Supreme Court had used the precise example factually relevant in this case, to wit, a roofer doing roofing work!  In other words, the Court of Appeals went on to reason, the phrase “in relation to this service” refers to the type of services performed, not the identity of the party receiving the services.

It was one of the more active panels that I have been before and they were extremely engaged in the issue and the outcome.  Read the decision here:  Moore Opinion

If you have any questions about this case and its impact on general liability and workers’ compensation insurance coverage determinations please call Carson J. Tucker, (734) 218-3605.

Employee Driving Company Truck to Job Site Not “In the Course and Scope of Employment” Under Workers Disability Compensation Act

The Court of Appeals (in a 2-1 majority opinion) issued a significant case yesterday, albeit unpublished, holding that an employee driving a company vehicle to a job site location in another part of the state was not “in the course and scope of his employment” when injured in a traffic accident while en route to the job site.

The Court of Appeals opinion is here:  Little, et al. v. Kappen Tree Service, et al. COA (1).

The Court of Appeals cites the general rule that ordinarily injuries received while employees are traveling to and from work are not compensable by the employer’s workers’ compensation insurance coverage because such injuries do not “arise out of and in the course of” employment within the meaning of the Michigan Workers Disability Compensation Act (WDCA), MCL 418.101, et seq.  MCL 418.301 requires for an injury to be compensable it must both “arise out of” and occur “in the course of employment”.

The Court of Appeals reasons that the employee faced no special risks other than those faced by the ordinary commuter to and from work.

Judge Hoekstra dissents.  He reasons that the employee was performing a “dual purpose” and therefore an exception to the “going to and coming from” exclusion applied.   The “dual purpose” was the employee bringing another employee to the job site so that employee could drive another vehicle home the day of the accident.  Judge Hoekstra would have found that the employee was “in the course and scope of his employment” and therefore covered by workers compensation, rather than no-fault automobile liability insurance.

This is an important case given the many disputes between no-fault automobile liability insurers and employers and their workers’ compensation insurers when an accident occurs in a vehicle while the employee is traveling to or from work, or driving his or her vehicle during the work day.

If anyone has questions regarding this decision, please contact Carson J. Tucker, JD, MSEL at (734) 218-3605.

 

 

 

Equitable Tolling of Medical Malpractice Claim Waiting Period on Supreme Court’s Mini-Oral Argument Calendar

The Michigan Supreme Court has ordered mini-oral argument to be held in two cases addressing a very significant issue dealing with whether trial courts can disregard the notice waiting period required before filing a complaint in a medical malpractice action, either by disregard of the defect or allowing amendment of the complaint under MCL 600.2301.

Here is the Court’s order, Furr v. McLeod Order, which the Court consolidated with another case addressing the same basic issue, Tyra v. Organ Procurement Agency of Michigan, et al., MOAA Order.

I previously wrote about these cases as they were making their way up through the Court of Appeals.  Those prior posts are below:

Equitable Amendment of Complaint Allowed in Med Mal Action

Court of Appeals Impanels Conflict Panel to Consider Whether Trial Courts Can Allow Defective Medical Malpractice Claims to Go Forward

Michigan Supreme Court Reverses Court of Appeals Decision Forcing Workers Compensation Agencies to Remain Open at Certain Locations

The Michigan Supreme Court has reversed the Court of Appeals decision that held the Director of the Michigan Administrative Hearing System and the Director of the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs were required to maintain local offices for litigation of Workers’ Compensation Agency hearings.  Read the opinion here:

Younkin v. Zimmer

In September 2012, the Director of the MAHRS had announced new efforts to reorganize, including closing the Flint office that previously handled workers’ compensation claims and transferring those claims to an office in Dimondale, approximately 70 miles away.

The Plaintiff in the underlying case injured his back while at his job in Flint.  He filed a workers’ compensation claim.  Because of the reorganization, he was required to litigate his claim in Dimondale, rather than in the now-closed Flint office.

He filed a writ of mandamus in Circuit Court to compel the Directors to maintain the Genesee County (Flint) hearing site.  The circuit court issued the writ and the Directors appealed.  The Court of Appeals (M. J. KELLY, P.J., and FORT HOOD, J. (CAVANAGH, J., dissenting)), affirmed, holding that the trial court had not abused its discretion. 304 Mich App 719 (2014).

In a unanimous opinion released November 18, 2014, the Supreme Court reversed, holding the trial court abused its discretion by issuing a writ of mandamus compelling the Directors to hold workers compensation hearings in Flint.

MCL 418.851 provides that a workers’ compensation hearing must be held at the locality where the injury occurred. The Supreme Court reasoned Defendants, in their official capacities as administrators of the workers’ compensation hearing system, interpreted the term “locality” as meaning a district or a definite region. This interpretation was entitled to respectful consideration. Because it did not conflict with the Legislature’s intent, there were no cogent reasons to overrule it.

The Court continued, reasoning that in accordance with the Directors’ interpretation of the statute, they divided the state into 11 reasonably located hearing districts, and workers’ compensation claims were assigned from definite regions of the state to one of those hearing district offices depending on where the injury occurred.

Nothing in the Worker’s Disability Compensation Act, MCL 418.101 et seq., requires that there be a hearing site in every county. While the hearing should be held at a place convenient for parties and their witnesses, it was not unreasonable to conclude that the locality where the injury occurred in this case was Dimondale given the injury occurred in Genesee County and that county falls within the Dimondale district.

The Court concluded although having the hearing in the latter rather than in the former venue would doubtlessly be less convenient for plaintiff, this would not constitute an unreasonable inconvenience. Accordingly, plaintiff did not have a clear legal right to a hearing in Genesee county, and the Directors did not have a clear legal obligation to hold the hearing there.

I previously wrote about this case in an earlier blog here:

Court of Appeals Rules Workers Compensation Hearings Must Be Held in “Locality” Where Injury Occurred Forcing Directors of Administrative Hearing Systems to Reopen Closed Offices Throughout the State

Missing Pane of Glass from Public Bus Shelter Not a Defective or Dangerous Condition Sufficient to State Cause of Action Against Public Bus Authority Under “Public Building” Exception to Governmental Immunity

The Summary Disposition Standard Debate

This case highlights a current conflict among the Court of Appeals.  There is a current “debate” among Court of Appeals panels in recent opinions about the sufficiency of pleading a cause of action against the government when assessing the government’s motion for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(7), which provides for “[e]ntry of judgment, dismissal of the action, or other relief because of…immunity granted by law”.  There is also debate about the extent to which sufficiently pled allegations, without more, can survive a summary disposition motion brought under this court rule pursuant to the Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA), and the respective exceptions to governmental immunity being pled by the plaintiff in a given case.

Is it sufficient for a plaintiff to merely plead allegations that, if true, but not proved, would be sufficient to survive a motion for summary disposition filed by the government under MCR 2.116(C)(7)?  Should the trial court decide the factual question before allowing the case to go forward against the government?  Or, should the question be left to a jury (which of course means the case goes to trial)?

Hubbert v. SMART

This is a rather unremarkable case in terms of the outcome, but the majority and dissenting opinions are worth noting for several points.  The plaintiff was injured when he fell through a missing pane of glass on a public bus stop.  Plaintiff filed suit against the public bus authority seeking damages and claiming negligence.

The plaintiff never pled allegations in avoidance of immunity, i.e., never pled that the facts established his case fit with one of the five statutory exceptions to governmental immunity.  In fact, the plaintiff never acknowledged that governmental immunity applied.

The governmental defendant (the public bus authority), included “immunity” in its affirmative defense, and simply conceded the “public building” exception to governmental immunity was the exception under which the plaintiff had to bring her cause of action.  Public bus stops are considered “public buildings” within the meaning of MCL 691.1406 of the Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA) (the “public building” exception).  Ali v. City of Detroit, 218 Mich. App. 581, 585 (1996).

The bus authority filed a motion for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(7), (C)(8) and (C)(10), contending that the public building exception did not apply because the missing pane of glass did not constitute a “dangerous or defective condition” within the meaning of the public building exception.

Plaintiff argued there was a genuine issue of material fact concerning whether the missing pane of glass was a “dangerous or defective condition”, and that this was a sufficient question to allow the action to proceed to a jury for consideration.  The trial court agreed and denied the bus authority’s motion.  Pursuant to Michigan Court Rules (MCR) 7.203(A)(1) and MCR 7.202(6)(a)(v), denial of a governmental entity’s motion for summary disposition on immunity grounds under MCR 2.116(C)(7) is appealable by right.

The Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 opinion reversed ordering judgment for the bus authority.  The Court reasoned that, as a matter of law, the missing pane of glass was not a “dangerous or defective” condition within the meaning of the public building exception.

Applying the MCR 2.116(C)(7) Standard –  “Immunity Granted by Law”

Even though the bus authority sought summary disposition under the standards applicable to such motions under all three court rules MCR 2.116(C)(7) (“immunity granted by law”); (C)(8) (“failure to plead or state a claim”); and (C)(10) (“no genuine issue of material fact”), the Court of Appeals majority properly oriented the motion as one falling under (C)(7).

Thus, the Court reasoned, that summary disposition is appropriate under MCR 2.116(C)(7) when a claim is barred by “immunity granted by law”.  Slip Op. at 2-3.  (emphasis added), citing Seldon v. SMART, 297 Mich. App. 427, 432 (2012).  The Court pointed out that the trial court is to resolve the governmental immunity issue at the summary disposition stage as “an issue of law”, “[i]f there are no material facts in dispute or if reasonable minds could not differ regarding the legal effect of the facts.”  Id., citing Norris v. Lincoln Park Police Officers, 292 Mich. App. 574, 578 (2011).

This is not an insignificant detail.  The jurisdictional view of governmental immunity adhered to in Michigan requires that for a circuit court to even have subject-matter jurisdiction over a cause of action filed against the government, the case itself (the underlying facts of the case) must establish that the claim against the government can go forward under one of the legislative exceptions to immunity in the GTLA.  Greenfield Construction Co. v. State Highway Dep’t., 402 Mich. 172, 194 (1978) (stating that “it is well settled that the circuit court is without jurisdiction to entertain an action against the State of Michigan unless that jurisdiction shall have been acquired  by legislative consent).  See also Ross v. Consumers Power Co., 420 Mich. 567 (1984) and Manion v. State Highway Comm’r., 303 Mich. 1 (1942).  As the Supreme Court has recognized: “the state created the courts and so is not subject to them” or their jurisdiction absent explicit legislative consent.  County Road Ass’n of Michigan v. Governor, 287 Mich. App. 95, 118 (2010), citing Pohutski v. City of Allen Park, 465 Mich. 675, 681 (2002).

Such consent comes only in the form of the narrowly applied exceptions to that immunity in the GTLA.  In re Bradley’s Estate, 494 Mich. 367, 389 (2013) (to state a claim for “tort liability” against the government, the only avenue to impose such liability and access any available remedy is through and under the provisions of the GTLA).  Only when the claimant pleads that the facts fall within an exception and proves the facts exist is there evidence of a waiver of the inherent and preexisting immunity granted by law.  Mack v. City of Detroit, 467 Mich. 186, 200-202 (2002) (a plaintiff pleads in avoidance of immunity by stating a claim that fits within a statutory exception).  And, later, the Court in a case I successfully briefed and argued, made clear that, at least with respect to actions against governmental entities, the burden of proof to both plead and prove the case falls within an exception is on the claimant at the outset.  Odom v. Wayne County, 482 Mich. 459 (2008).

In this case, the Court of Appeals properly notes that the governmental immunity issue must be addressed at the summary disposition stage and as a “question of law”.  This properly orients the the preexisting and inherent characteristic of the government’s immunity.  As the Supreme Court has noted on more than one occasion, the government is immune from suit, not just liability, and if it has to expend its resources defending lawsuits all the way to the stage of the case reaching a jury, or a trial judge’s verdict, then immunity will be meaningless.  The government cannot be burdened with the expense of full-scale litigation in every case where a plaintiff merely recites allegations that, if true, would constitute a claim within an exception to immunity.

Conflict in Treatment of Governmental Immunity Motions Under MCR 2.116(C)(7)

Yet, the Court of Appeals is not consistent on this point.  In Kincaid v. Cardwell, 300 Mich. App. 513, 522 (2013), the Court of Appeals noted that where a fact question existed involving application of a bar to suit under MCR 2.116(C)(7), the question had to be submitted to a jury.

More recently, in Yono.v.MDOT.After.Remand.opn (Yono v. Michigan Dep’t of Transportation, Court of Appeals No. 308968 (released September 23, 2014)), the Court of Appeals, while recognizing the conflict of opinions in this area, conflated the (C)(7) standard with the “genuine issue of material fact” standard of (C)(10), as if there was no difference in application of these two court rules when assessing a motion for summary disposition.  This led to the result that a pled (but not necessarily proved) genuine issue of material fact (or a fact dispute) was sufficient to survive the summary disposition stage, even in a case against the government, which then leads to the case being submitted to the finder of fact.

This is error.  If this is the standard, then any well-pled allegation in a complaint setting for the parameters of an exception to immunity, and the factual allegations sufficient to fall within the exception will survive a motion for summary disposition on grounds of “immunity granted by law” under MCR 2.116(C)(7).

The Court of Appeals in this case got it right.  The trial court should decide the question “as a matter of law”.  In such cases, either party has an appeal by right to challenge the merits of the decision in the Court of Appeals, and the Court of Appeals has de novo reviewing authority over the case to check the trial court’s decision.

Otherwise, trial courts have the discretion to allow a case to proceed against the government, which is inconsistent with the jurisdictional view of governmental immunity and contrary to established case law, which preserves the government’s preexisting and inherent immunity from suit and liability in all but a small subset of narrowly applied circumstances.

Here is the Court of Appeals opinion:  hubbert v smart maj.OPN

And, the dissent:  hubbert v. smart .krause.dissent.OPN

Insurers and Businesses Should Always Consider What Options are Available for Insurance Coverage and Recovery of Insurance Assets When Facing a Dispute, Claim or Lawsuit

One of the most important ways insurance companies and businesses can manage their assets and control their liability is to think creatively about insurance and insuring agreements in managing their day-to-day business operations.  Disputes, claims, and yes, lawsuits often arise in the ordinary course of thriving and vibrant businesses.  This is a natural consequence of a successful business managing risk in the process of seeking to maximize profits.

As insurance coverage counsel, I regularly advise businesses and insurance companies as to their defense and indemnity obligations under commercial general liability, errors and omissions, and workers compensation insurance policies, among others.

I have assisted insurance companies and businesses by guiding them through various aspects of coverage, including initial assessment of coverage positions, preparation and drafting of coverage opinions, including preparing related correspondence to the insurers or insureds, and other parties involved, e.g., coverage denials, reservation of rights, etc., and pursuing, where appropriate, declaratory judgment and/or indemnity and subrogation actions with respect to coverage issues.

In this capacity, I have had several significant successes in both state and federal courts in securing judgments for businesses and insurance companies or in forcing agreeable settlements with insureds and other insurance companies.  Some of the cases and issues I have worked on include the following:

 

  • Providing coverage analysis and primary litigation support in filing a declaratory judgment action filed in federal court for a major national retail store as to potential coverage and indemnification from an insurer under an “additional insured” provision in a vendor / supplier contract between the store and the manufacturer. I served as primary insurance coverage counsel for the store relating to the underlying case, which was a personal injury / product liability lawsuit against the store involving paralysis of a 15-year old.  The plaintiff jumped into shallow water from a water trampoline manufactured by a company that sold a variety of recreation products in the retailer’s stores throughout the country.  The manufacturer and the retailer had a vendor-supplier agreement in which the manufacturer agreed to add the retailer as an additional insured to its general liability insurance policies, and provide indemnity to it for liability arising out of use of its products.  The insurer had agreed to defend the retailer in the lawsuit in Michigan.    Lawsuits were pending against the manufacturer across the country for injuries suffered due to use of another one of its products.  The manufacturer filed for bankruptcy protection in the 8th Circuit in Nebraska, after which the insurer pulled out of the defense of the retailer in Michigan.  I prepared a coverage opinion, concluding the insurer was obligated to continue defending the retailer, and I filed a declaratory judgment action in federal court in Michigan despite the bankruptcy stay.  I fended off attempts by the insurer to enforce the bankruptcy stay against the retailer in Michigan, won motions filed for contempt of the stay, and ultimately succeeded in forcing a settlement of the claim on behalf of the retailer for the total amount of the policy limits to which the retailer would have been entitled for coverage of the underlying claims.  This resulted in a $0 payout by the retailer in settlement of the underlying lawsuit in Michigan.

 

  • Filing suit against an insurance company in federal court for denial of coverage of an underlying lawsuit involving a shooting at a gas station. The case is Employers Mutual Casualty Company v. Al-Mashadi et al., 2009 WL 2711963.  While the underlying lawsuit was pending in circuit court, I filed the declaratory judgment action in federal court, drafted the summary judgment motion and brief, and argued there was no coverage for the underlying lawsuit and claim arising out of a shooting by an employee of one of his friends when the two were engaged in horseplay with a gun belonging to the gas station’s owner.  After arguing the motion, the district court granted the insurer summary judgment, ruling no coverage was owed by the insurance company in the underlying lawsuit.

 

  • Providing emergency litigation and appeal response to a zoning dispute in which an international energy company sought to construct (and did construct) a meteorological testing antenna (MET) a “wind testing tower”, without a proper zoning variance from the insured township. The township’s Zoning Board of Appeals rejected the power company’s appeal for a variance and the power company sued the township.  I stepped in and filed several injunctive motions, including an emergency circuit court appeal to thwart the power company’s efforts to permit the tower to remain as constructed on the property.  The circuit court issued injunctive relief (including an order to tear down the fully constructed tower) and forced the power company to pick up the insurer’s legal fees.

 

  • Preparing a coverage opinion and denial of coverage letter in a defective construction / defective product dispute under an occurrence based general liability policy (including products / completed operations hazards coverage). The insured, a cement company, filed suit against contractors and subcontractors, and a city, for failure to pay for delivery of cement.  The defendants filed a counter-suit under various theories and alleged the cement was defective, causing defects in and need for repair to the newly installed sidewalks.  In its ruling in the underlying suit, the trial court concluded the cement met specifications required by the contract and was therefore not defective.  A combination of factors led to the defective sidewalks, but not the delivery by the cement company of a defective product. The weight of authority provides that no “occurrence” arises from the provision of a non-defective product when the manufacturer of that product seeks coverage for damages alleged as the result of incorporation of its product into other work.  Since the insured provided a product that met the specifications required for the municipal sidewalk project there was no “occurrence” and therefore no coverage for the claims in the underlying lawsuit.

 

  • Providing a “second look” coverage opinion where in-house coverage counsel concluded there was no coverage for business interruption losses as a result of a large stage collapse and resulting debris field on the floor of the Pontiac Silverdome during summer months when the Silverdome was rented out for various events. The insured supplied the staging, decking and truss grids for the event.  Contractors and subcontractors were employed to erect it.  I analyzed the applicable policy language and concluded coverage was owed on the precise risk involved.  The policy covered “property damage” which included the loss of use of property caused by an occurrence, even if that property had not itself been damaged.  Michigan courts have awarded consequential damages such as “delay damages”, “lost profits”, and “diminution in value and use”, in cases under commercial general liability policies with similar or identical language to the policies covering “occurrences” “because of” “property damage”.  As none of the “business risk” exclusions in the policy applied, and it appeared the stage collapse was not due to the fault of the subcontractors or contractors employed to erect the stage, coverage was arguably owed and the insurer had a duty to defend and potentially indemnify the owner of the Silverdome.

Feel free to call or contact me if your business would like to explore options regarding insurance coverage and recovery.

 

Special Appellate Counsel for Emergency Appeals in State and Federal Court of Appeals and Supreme Court

It is the eve of trial.  The trial court judge, bent on forcing you into an unsavory settlement with opposing counsel, has granted opposing counsel’s motion in limine to exclude your proposed evidence from the jury’s consideration.  This is a key part of your client’s case and without it your client may be facing 100 percent of the responsibility for the damages alleged as a result of the significant allegations in the underlying lawsuit.  Sound familiar?

Is there a way to even the playing field, or, even better, to have the trial court’s errant legal rulings on the motion corrected?  Or, do you simply capitulate?

There is still hope.  And it can be done, even during the trial.

Carson J. Tucker specializes in prosecuting high-stakes, last-minute emergency appeals seeking interlocutory review of suspect legal rulings.  After all, if the trial court is wrong, or even if the Court of Appeals agrees to take a closer look, this can significantly alter the posture of the parties to the lawsuit.

I am experienced and adept at navigating through the Michigan Court of Appeals and Supreme Court to shepherd the appeal in the most expeditious fashion possible so that it can be reviewed and ruled upon as soon as possible.

In most cases, these actions have stopped the trial from immediately proceeding.  In many of the cases handled by Mr. Tucker, these actions have even resulted in the creation of precedent from the Michigan Court of Appeals and Michigan Supreme Court that changes the entire make-up of the pending lawsuit.  In the least, this type of action can properly re-orient the parties positions and attitudes with respect to settlement demands.

With adept and efficient appellate counsel ready to assist at a moment’s notice, your case can be quickly analyzed by objective review of the facts of the case, the strengths and weaknesses of the legal issues being addressed, and the potential for success at the appellate level.  It’s never too late to act until your case is submitted!

I have real stories and experiences to share from lawsuits in which our clients and the other law firms we have assisted have been able to save thousands of dollars in litigation costs and, more importantly, in damages awards or forced verdicts because I have been able to step in and make new law, or at least bring the parties together to discuss realistic settlement options.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you are contemplating an appeal, any appeal.

Mention of a Non-Party in Affirmative Defense Insufficient to Toll Statute of Limitations as to that Non-Party

In a published decision, the Michigan Court of Appeals has held that mention of a potentially responsible non-party at fault in a class action suit was insufficient as a notice of non-party at fault within the meaning of Michigan Court Rule (MCR) 2.112(K), and therefore insufficient to “toll” the statute of limitations to allow amendment of the plaintiffs’ complaint to add that party to the lawsuit.

The issue in this case arose when the trial court judge allowed amendment of the complaint in the underlying class action to occur to add a defendant, Consumers Energy (Consumers), even after the statute of limitations as to Consumers had run.

The Court allowed the amendment on the basis that the statute of limitations could be extended because the original defendant named Consumers as a potentially responsible nonparty in an affirmative defense in its answer (which was filed 2 (technically 3) days before the statute of limitations would have expired as to Consumers).  However, the original Defendant never filed a notice of fault of nonparties as required by MCR 2.112(K).

Consumers was added to the lawsuit via an amended complaint, with the trial court ruling that despite the failure to comply with MCR 2.112(K), the affirmative defense was sufficient to allow the filing of the amended complaint and toll the statute of limitations. The original Defendant Michigan Petroleum clearly had notice and knew or should have known that Consumers was likely to be a potential defendant and could have filed a proper “notice of nonparty at fault”.

On August 4, 2009 a fire occurred at a building owned by the defendant Michigan Petroleum Technologies (Michigan Petroleum) and destroyed the building.  The fire was very large and involved noxious fumes and smoke.  An investigator from Consumers performed a site investigation at the location of the fire on August 5, 2009.  A subsequent investigation performed by Consumers and an independent engineer hired by them concluded that Consumers was not to blame for the fire.

Within a few weeks of the fire, Consumers received letters from two separate law firms, implying that Consumers was responsible and would be named as a defendant in a lawsuit by either Michigan Petroleum or the insurance company that insured the building.  Neither the building owner (Michigan Petroleum), nor the insurance company that insured the building filed any claim or lawsuit against Consumers.

On June 20, 2012, a personal injury class action lawsuit was filed in Genessee County Circuit Court naming only Michigan Petroleum as a defendant and seeking damages in tort, among other claims including nuisance (all of the claims in the underlying lawsuit are subject to the three-year statute of limitations in the revised judicature act (RJA), MCL 500.5805(10)).

Michigan Petroleum did not file a notice of non-party at fault within the 30 days provided by MCL 600.2957(2).

On August 2, 2012 (two days before the expiration of the statute of limitations as against Consumers), Michigan Petroleum filed an answer.

On October 8, 2012, after the three-year statute of limitations had run as to Consumers, the circuit court entered a “stipulated order” allowing, inter alia, the plaintiffs to “add” Consumers as a defendant in the lawsuit.

An “amended” complaint was served on Consumers on October 19, 2012, alleging causes of action in nuisance and negligence, all governed by the three-year statute of limitations as pronounced in the RJA.

The legal issue then briefed and argued in early 2013 was whether the naming of a party by a defendant in an affirmative defense under MCR 2.111(F) has the same legal effect as the filing of a “notice of nonparty fault” under MCR 2.112(K).  The significance is that MCR 2.112(K) then allows for “tolling” of the statute of limitations pursuant to MCL 600.2957(2).

The trial court did not squarely address that issue.  Rather, the trial court found since there were no cases stating that an affirmative defense is insufficient, the naming of the potential nonparty at fault (Consumers) in the affirmative defense was “sufficient” to activate the “tolling” provision of MCL 600.2957(2) and therefore the trial court denied Consumers’ motion to dismiss.

The COA had originally denied leave to appeal.  The Supreme Court remanded as on leave granted.

This is a published opinion which (1) clarifies the specificity with which one must name a “non-party at fault” for purposes of comparative fault allocation as against that party; and, more importantly, (2) rejects the trial court’s reasoning that mere mentioning of a potentially responsible party in the defendant’s affirmative defense is sufficient to put that party on notice and subject it to a lawsuit even after the statute of limitations has expired as to that party.

Read the opinion here:  Taylor.et.al.v.MPT.et.al.OPN

Effective appellate representation demands different skills than those required by litigation attorneys.  Appellate attorneys are adept at analyzing the intricacies of each case from an objective and critical perspective.  From reviewing and preparing the lower court record, identifying errors for appeal, and developing a strategy to raise those issues that will be addressed by appellate courts, appellate attorneys are capable of handling the most complex appeals from the application stage to oral advocacy before the highest courts.  Our research abilities and knowledge of current issues in nearly all major subject-matter areas of the law provide our clients with efficient and immediate assistance with complex and high-exposure cases.

We are also experienced at navigating through all appellate courts to shepherd the appeal in the most expeditious fashion possible so that it can be reviewed and quickly ruled upon.

Below are some of the recent significant cases prosecuted by the Appeals and Legal Research Group.

  • Omian v. Chrysler, LLC, Michigan Court of Appeals Docket No. 310743, remanded by Supreme Court as on leave granted, Supreme Court No. 146908, oral argument presented July 16, 2014 by Carson J. Tucker for Chrsyler, LLC
  • Moore v. Nolff’s Construction and Travelers Ins., Michigan Court of Appeals Docket No. 313478 and 313440 (consolidated), application and cross-application granted and oral argument in Court of Appeals presented July 2014 by Carson J. Tucker for Nolff’s Construction and Travelers Insurance
  • Arbuckle v. GM, Michigan Court of Appeals Docket No. 310611, oral argument in Court of Appeals presented May 2014 by Carson J. Tucker for GM
  • Yono v. MDOT, ___ Mich. App. ___ (201_), amicus curiae brief filed for Michigan Municipal League and Michigan Townships Association on June 16, 2014, after remand by Carson J. Tucker
  • Estate of Truett v. Wayne County, Unpublished Opinion of the Michigan Court of Appeals, dated May 6, 2014 (Docket No. 313638), briefed and argued by Carson J. Tucker for Wayne County
  • Omian v. Chrysler Group, LLC, 495 Mich. 859 (2013), application filed by Carson J. Tucker, Supreme Court remand to Court of Appeals on leave granted, oral argument to be held in July 2014
  • Ghanam v. John Does, 303 Mich. App. 522 (2013), application to appeal filed in Supreme Court by Carson J. Tucker
  • State Farm v. MMRMA, ___ Mich App ___ (2013), amicus curiae for Oakland County in support of MMRMA application, by Carson J. Tucker
  • Hannay v MDOT, ___ Mich ___ 201_), application granted, amicus curiae filed for Michigan Townships Association, Macomb County, Oakland County and Wayne County, et al., by Carson J. Tucker
  • Yono v. MDOT, ___ Mich ___ (201_), oral argument on application granted, amicus curiae for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne County filed by Carson J. Tucker in support of the state’s application
  • Huddleston v. Trinity Health, et al., 495 Mich. 976 (2014), oral argument on application granted, amicus curiae with Lawrence Garcia, Esq., for MDTC
  • Ashley, LLC v Pittsfield Twp., 494 Mich 875 (2013), application granted, for Pittsfield Township by Carson J. Tucker (resolved by settlement)
  • Bailey v. Schaaf, ___ Mich ___ (2013), amicus curiae for MDTC by Carson J. Tucker
  • Atkins v. SMART, 492 Mich 707 (2012), oral argument on application, Court of Appeals case reversed by opinion, Carson J. Tucker
  • Hagerty v Manistee, 493 Mich 933 (2013), amicus curiae for Michigan Municipal League, et al., by Carson J. Tucker
  • McMurtrie v Eaton Corp, 490 Mich 976 (2011)
  • Findley v DaimlerChrysler Corp., 490 Mich 928 (2011)
  • Brewer v. AD.Transport Express, Inc, 486 Mich 50 (2010)
  • Stokes v Chrysler, 481 Mich 266 (2008)
  • Brackett v Focus Hope, Inc, 482 Mich 269 (2008)
  • Rakestraw v Gen Dynamics, 469 Mich 220 (2003)

Supreme Court to Address Interplay (If Any) Between the No-Fault Act and the Governmental Tort Liability Act

Last Friday, September 19, 2014, I participated in a panel discussion at the Negligence Law Section breakout at the state bar conference in Grand Rapids to discuss the Michigan Supreme Court’s upcoming (October 8) hearing of oral arguments in the calendar cases of Hunter v. Sisco, et al, and Hannay v. MDOT, the latter in which I submitted an amicus curiae brief for Michigan Townships Association, and the counties of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne (99705.sc.amicus.curiae.br).

Here is the two-paged handout distributed at the session. (Hunter-Hannay Venn Diagram Final.9.17.2014.1226 and Hunter Hannay page 2).

Based on the outcome of that event, there is still much debate about the result in Hunter (no noneconomic damages can be awarded against the government under the motor vehicle exception to governmental immunity, MCL 691.1405, even though such damages are ordinarily available against “civilian” defendants under Michigan’s Automobile Insurance “No-Fault” Act, MCL 500.3135).

Of course, Hannay came to the opposite conclusion, only with respect to “excess” economic (wage loss) and future earning potential, which is why the cases have been consolidated.

Some issues raised at the discussion concern how to quantify or identify “bodily injury” damages.

I believe this would be medical expenses related to the physical injury, only.  However, such “damages”, and liability therefor, are ordinarily borne by the first-party, no-fault carrier, not the third-party tortfeasor under MCL 500.3135.

Thus, how can any liability be imposed against the government when you mesh the outcome of applying the GTLA and the No-Fault Act to motor vehicle accidents in which the government’s negligent operation of a motor vehicle causes injury.  See the Venn Diagram I created (the overlap, if any, is the real sticking point and where the case law and/or the legislation will have to be reconciled, eventually).

One suggestion I have made is that perhaps the first-party, no-fault carrier can bring a subrogation action against the government if the PIP carrier can prove negligence and injury, just as a PIP carrier might seek subrogation under MCL 500.3109 from another carrier that is otherwise liable according to the law.  In my work on worker’s compensation cases, we see this a lot.  The no-fault carrier will seek to implicate the worker’s compensation carrier claiming the injuries incurred in an auto accident arose out of and in the course of employment, and thus, are the primary responsibility of the worker’s compensation carrier. Under the statute, the no-fault carrier steps into the shoes of the plaintiff seeking recovery of the benefits, and thus, the no-fault carrier would have to prove negligence and liability on the part of the government under the motor vehicle exception.  I think it could be argued MCL 500.3109 would work the same way vis-à-vis the government.  Although, this is just a theory.  Hunter / Hannay are not likely to address this latent issue.

Another issue that arose was the indication that even before the 1965 GTLA accidents caused by government owned/operated motor vehicles allowed for recovery of damages that were similar, if not identical in nature to noneconomic damages, i.e., pain and suffering, mental anguish, etc.

Why is the term “bodily injury” in the GTLA now restricted only to physical injury?  My answer would be the strict construction of statutes waiving the government’s immunity forbid court’s from expanding the meaning of terms.  Although, the counter to that is that the legislature adopted the term in the motor-vehicle exception with the “common law” definition allowing for such expanded damages in the first place.  This would be a good argument if not for the fact that we are discussing governmental immunity from liability and suit.  The assumption is only the legislature can waive the government’s immunity, and therefore, if the liability is to be “expanded” it has to come in express language.  The courts can restrict or limit the meaning of the terms in the GTLA exceptions, but they cannot expand the meaning.  This is well-established in Michigan case law.

Another theory I raised in my amicus brief for MTA / Oakland, Wayne, and Macomb counties was whether the government can ever be liable for first-party PIP benefits under the no-fault act when the motor vehicle exception requires a demonstration of “fault” on the part of the government.

This is also not an issue that will be addressed by Hunter / Hannay, but given the jurisdictional nature of government immunity, and the fact the government is immune from liability unless within the explicit legislative exceptions of the GTLA, it is a question that will have to be answered eventually (even thought the government has presumed it is subject to the No-Fault Act for the more than 40 years of the latter’s existence, and of course, continues to participate in the system as both a No-Fault “PIP” carrier (either self-insured, or through an auto insurance carrier (or both))), and as a presumptive third-party tortfeasor.

The question was also raised why, if Hannay came out as a published opinion before Hunter, which it did, why Hunter did not follow Hannay under the “first out” rule.  Although, that matters little if the Supreme Court has consolidated the cases to address the issues.

Finally, as I noted in my presentation, Hunter actually retained the “threshold injury / serious impairment” analysis even though it rules there are no noneconomic damages available under the No-Fault Act.

What does this mean?  Why would the threshold injury analysis even matter if the government is only responsible for “bodily injury”?  Does this mean that the government is only responsible for serious impairment or threshold “bodily injury” and nothing below, or less than that?

I doubt this is what the COA panel in Hunter meant, but it was a curious statement that they made at the end of the opinion.  Perhaps they were trying to reconcile their opinion with the Hardy v. Oakland County case in which the Supreme Court held that a plaintiff suing under the motor vehicle exception, MCL 691.1405, still had to prove threshold injuries under MCL 500.3135 of the No-Fault Act.

It will be interesting to see oral argument in the case on October 8.

Carson J. Tucker has participated in and argued some of the most significant governmental immunity cases in Michigan during the past decade.

Mr. Tucker presented direct representation to the governmental defendants and prosecuted the entire appeal, including all appellate briefings and oral arguments before the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court in the following cases:

  • Estate of Truett v. Wayne County, Unpublished Opinion of the Michigan Court of Appeals, dated May 6, 2014 (Docket No. 313638), briefed and argued by Carson J. Tucker for Wayne County
  • Atkins v. SMART, 492 Mich. 707 (August 20, 2012), application granted, and briefed and argued by Carson J. Tucker in the Supreme Court
  • Gentry v. Wayne County Deputy Sheriff Daniel Carmona, unpublished opinion of hte Michigan Court of Appeals, dated October 11, 2011 (Docket No. 296580), briefed and argued by Carson J. Tucker in the Court of Appeals
  • Hamed v. Wayne County, 490 Mich. 1 (July 29, 2011), briefed and argued by Carson J. Tucker in the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court
  • Odom v. Wayne County, 482 Mich. 459 (December 30, 2008), application for leave to appeal granted, and briefed and argued by Carson J. Tucker in the Supreme Court

In addition, Mr. Tucker has provided direct support to governmental entities in filing “friend of the court”, i.e., amicus curiae briefs in support of the governmental defendants in the following cases:

  • Yono v. MDOT, ___ Mich. App. ___ (2014), after remand order, amicus curiae brief filed for Michigan Municipal League and Michigan Townships Association on June 16, 2014, after remand by Carson J. Tucker
  • State Farm v. MMRMA, amicus curiae in Supreme Court for Oakland County, Wayne County, Macomb County, and Wayne County in support of MMRMA’s application, by Carson J. Tucker
  • Hannay v MDOT, ___ Mich ___ (2014), application granted and consolidated with Hunter v. Sisco, amicus curiae filed for Michigan Townships Association, Macomb County, Oakland County and Wayne County, et al., by Carson J. Tucker
  • Hagerty v Manistee, 493 Mich 933 (2013), amicus curiae in Michigan Supreme Court for Michigan Municipal League, et al., by Carson J. Tucker

Effective appellate representation demands different skills than those required by litigation attorneys.  Appellate attorneys are adept at analyzing the intricacies of each case from an objective and critical perspective.  From reviewing and preparing the lower court record, identifying errors for appeal, and developing a strategy to raise those issues that will be addressed by appellate courts, appellate attorneys are capable of handling the most complex appeals from the application stage to oral advocacy before the highest courts.  Our research abilities and knowledge of current issues in nearly all major subject-matter areas of the law provide our clients with efficient and immediate assistance with complex and high-exposure cases.

We are also experienced at navigating through all appellate courts to shepherd the appeal in the most expeditious fashion possible so that it can be reviewed and quickly ruled upon.

Below are some of the recent significant cases prosecuted by the Appeals and Legal Research Group.

  • Omian v. Chrysler, LLC, Michigan Court of Appeals Docket No. 310743, remanded by Supreme Court as on leave granted, Supreme Court No. 146908, oral argument presented July 16, 2014 by Carson J. Tucker for Chrsyler, LLC
  • Moore v. Nolff’s Construction and Travelers Ins., Michigan Court of Appeals Docket No. 313478 and 313440 (consolidated), application and cross-application granted and oral argument in Court of Appeals presented July 2014 by Carson J. Tucker for Nolff’s Construction and Travelers Insurance
  • Arbuckle v. GM, Michigan Court of Appeals Docket No. 310611, oral argument in Court of Appeals presented May 2014 by Carson J. Tucker for GM
  • Yono v. MDOT, ___ Mich. App. ___ (201_), amicus curiae brief filed for Michigan Municipal League and Michigan Townships Association on June 16, 2014, after remand by Carson J. Tucker
  • Estate of Truett v. Wayne County, Unpublished Opinion of the Michigan Court of Appeals, dated May 6, 2014 (Docket No. 313638), briefed and argued by Carson J. Tucker for Wayne County
  • Omian v. Chrysler Group, LLC, 495 Mich. 859 (2013), application filed by Carson J. Tucker, Supreme Court remand to Court of Appeals on leave granted, oral argument to be held in July 2014
  • Ghanam v. John Does, 303 Mich. App. 522 (2013), application to appeal filed in Supreme Court by Carson J. Tucker
  • State Farm v. MMRMA, ___ Mich App ___ (2013), amicus curiae for Oakland County in support of MMRMA application, by Carson J. Tucker
  • Hannay v MDOT, ___ Mich ___ 201_), application granted, amicus curiae filed for Michigan Townships Association, Macomb County, Oakland County and Wayne County, et al., by Carson J. Tucker
  • Yono v. MDOT, ___ Mich ___ (201_), oral argument on application granted, amicus curiae for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne County filed by Carson J. Tucker in support of the state’s application
  • Huddleston v. Trinity Health, et al., 495 Mich. 976 (2014), oral argument on application granted, amicus curiae with Lawrence Garcia, Esq., for MDTC
  • Ashley, LLC v Pittsfield Twp., 494 Mich 875 (2013), application granted, for Pittsfield Township by Carson J. Tucker (resolved by settlement)
  • Bailey v. Schaaf, ___ Mich ___ (2013), amicus curiae for MDTC by Carson J. Tucker
  • Atkins v. SMART, 492 Mich 707 (2012), oral argument on application, Court of Appeals case reversed by opinion, Carson J. Tucker
  • Hagerty v Manistee, 493 Mich 933 (2013), amicus curiae for Michigan Municipal League, et al., by Carson J. Tucker
  • McMurtrie v Eaton Corp, 490 Mich 976 (2011)
  • Findley v DaimlerChrysler Corp., 490 Mich 928 (2011)
  • Brewer v. AD.Transport Express, Inc, 486 Mich 50 (2010)
  • Stokes v Chrysler, 481 Mich 266 (2008)
  • Brackett v Focus Hope, Inc, 482 Mich 269 (2008)
  • Rakestraw v Gen Dynamics, 469 Mich 220 (2003)