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Trentadue v. Gorton

July 25, 2007

DAYLE TRENTADUE, AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF MARGARETTE F. EBY, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
JEFFREY GORTON, VICTOR NYBERG, TODD MICHAEL BAKOS, MFO MANAGEMENT COMPANY, AND CARL F. BEKOFSKE, AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF RUTH R. MOTT, DECEASED, DEFENDANTS, AND BUCKLER AUTOMATIC LAWN SPRINKLER COMPANY, SHIRLEY GORTON AND LAURENCE W. GORTON, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.
DAYLE TRENTADUE, AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF MARGARETTE F. EBY, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
BUCKLER AUTOMATIC LAWN SPRINKLER COMPANY, SHIRLEY GORTON, LAURENCE W. GORTON, JEFFREY GORTON, VICTOR NYBERG, TODD MICHAEL BAKOS AND CARL L. BEKOFSKE, AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF RUTH R. MOTT, DECEASED, DEFENDANTS, AND MFO MANAGEMENT COMPANY, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Corrigan, J.

Opinion

Chief Justice: Clifford W. Taylor, Justices: Michael F. Cavanagh, Elizabeth A. Weaver, Marilyn Kelly, Maura D. Corrigan, Robert P. Young, Jr., Stephen J. Markman.

BEFORE THE ENTIRE BENCH

This wrongful death case requires us to consider whether the common-law "discovery rule," which allows tolling of the statutory period of limitations when a plaintiff could not have reasonably discovered the elements of a cause of action within the limitations period, can operate to toll the period of limitations, or whether MCL 600.5827, which has no such provision, alone governs the time of accrual of the plaintiff's claims. We conclude that MCL 600.5827 alone controls. Because the Court of Appeals held to the contrary, we reverse its judgment and remand the case to the Genesee Circuit Court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL POSTURE

This case arises from the tragic rape and murder of Margarette F. Eby in November 1986 at her home in Flint. According to plaintiff's complaint, in 1981 Eby leased a residence in the gatehouse on the grounds of the Mott family estate from Ruth R. Mott (Mott) where Eby began to live. Eby was found raped and murdered on November 9, 1986, after last being seen alive on November 7, 1986. The rape and murder remained unsolved until 2002, when deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) evidence established that Jeffrey Gorton, an employee of his parents' corporation, the Buckler Automatic Lawn Sprinkler Company (Buckler), which serviced the sprinkler system on the grounds, had committed the crime. Gorton pleaded no contest when charged with the murder and was sentenced to life imprisonment for Eby's rape-murder.

On August 2, 2002, plaintiff Dayle Trentadue, Eby's daughter and the personal representative of her estate, filed a complaint against Jeffrey Gorton; his parents Shirley and Lawrence Gorton who, as noted, operated Buckler; Buckler; Carl F. Bekofske, personal representative of the estate of Ruth R. Mott, deceased, who died in 1999; MFO Management Company (MFO), the management company that provided administrative services to the Mott family; and two of Mott's employees, Victor Nyberg and Todd Bakos, asserting several theories of negligence. Regarding the Gortons, the contentions were essentially negligent hiring and monitoring of Jeffrey Gorton. The other defendants were allegedly negligent in allowing access to the area that led to Eby's residence and not providing adequate security or alarms.

Each defendant, except Jeffrey Gorton, moved for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(7), arguing, among other things, that plaintiff's action was barred by the three-year statute of limitations for wrongful death actions.*fn1 In particular, they argued that under MCL 600.5827*fn2 a claim accrues when the plaintiff is harmed,*fn3 and the action for wrongful death must be commenced within three years after the claim first accrued to the plaintiff or to someone through whom the plaintiff claims. MCL 600.5805(1); MCL 600.5805(10). Further, while MCL 600.5852 permits an extension of up to three years based on when a personal representative is appointed, that statute was inapplicable here because almost 16 years had passed. Thus, defendants asserted that the suit should have been dismissed as untimely and barred under the statute of limitations. Plaintiff in response asserted that the common-law discovery rule applied to toll the period of limitations. That is, even though the provisions of the period of limitations were silent on tolling based on discovery, until she knew the identity of the killer, the period of limitations was tolled.*fn4

The Genesee Circuit Court ruled for plaintiff, adopting her theory that the common-law discovery rule remains viable in Michigan and thus applicable here. The court concluded regarding defendants Buckler and Shirley and Lawrence Gorton that "[a] claim for personal injury accrues when all of the elements are present and can be properly pleaded in a complaint," citing, e.g., Connelly v Paul Ruddy's Equip Repair & Service Co, 388 Mich 146; 200 NW2d 70 (1972). Trentadue v Buckler Automatic Lawn Sprinkler Co, opinion of the Genesee Circuit Court, issued October 28, 2003 (Docket No. 02.74145-NZ), p 4. The court also "recognize[d], in some instances, [that the] identity of the killer may be necessary to plead a cause of action." Id. Accordingly, it decided that most of plaintiff's claims were not time-barred because plaintiff could not determine that the duties were breached, or that the breaches caused the injuries, until she became aware of the killer's identity in 2002. Regarding Bekofske and MFO, the court granted their summary disposition motions on the basis that if Mott and MFO had failed to provide adequate security, this claim was known to plaintiff at the time of the killing, and the cause of action could have been brought at that time.*fn5

On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded, concluding that the common-law discovery rule tolled the limitations period for all plaintiff's claims, including the improper security claims against Bekofske and MFO. 266 Mich App 297; 701 NW2d 756 (2005). The Court of Appeals concluded that the common-law discovery rule tolled the period of limitations because plaintiff was unaware of a cause of action against Buckler, the Gortons, Nyberg, or Bakos until their relationship with the killer became known. Regarding Bekofske and MFO, the Court of Appeals reversed the part of the trial court's judgment that granted summary disposition in their favor. It concluded that the discovery rule applied because until the identity of the killer became known, no causal connection could be discovered between a breach of duty and Eby's death. The Court of Appeals failed to address the absence of the common-law discovery provision in MCL 600.5827. It evidently presumed that the discovery provision could co-exist with the statute and was not abrogated by the statute's enactment.

Buckler, the Gortons, and MFO sought leave to appeal in this Court. We granted leave to appeal to consider whether a common-law discovery rule continues to exist in Michigan or whether MCL 600.5827, which has no common-law discovery provision, is the exclusive means of establishing tolling.*fn6

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This Court reviews motions for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(7) de novo. Grimes v Dep't of Transportation, 475 Mich 72, 76; 715 NW2d 275 (2006). In the absence of disputed facts, we also review de novo whether a cause of action is barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Joliet v Pitoniak, 475 Mich 30, 35; 715 NW2d 60 (2006). Finally, we address questions of statutory interpretation de novo. Grimes, supra at 76.

III. ANALYSIS

A. THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS AND ITS EFFECT ON THE COMMON-LAW DISCOVERY RULE

The applicable statute of limitations in a wrongful death case is MCL 600.5805(10),*fn7 which states: "The period of limitations is 3 years after the time of the death or injury for all other actions to recover damages for the death of a person, or for injury to a person or property." Thus, the period of limitations runs three years from "the death or injury."

Moreover, MCL 600.5827 defines the time of accrual for actions subject to the limitations period in MCL 600.5805(10).*fn8 It provides:

Except as otherwise expressly provided, the period of limitations runs from the time the claim accrues. The claim accrues at the time provided in sections 5829 to 5838, and in cases not covered by these sections the claim accrues at the time the wrong upon which the claim is based was done regardless of the time when damage results.

This is consistent with MCL 600.5805(10) because it indicates that the claim accrues "at the time the wrong upon which the claim is based was done . . . ." We have, not surprisingly given its clarity, so held in Boyle v Gen Motors Corp, 468 Mich 226, 231-232; 661 NW2d 557 (2003), and Garg v Macomb Co Community Mental Health Services, 472 Mich 263, 282; 696 NW2d 646 (2005). We have also clearly established that "[t]he wrong is done when the plaintiff is harmed rather than when the defendant acted." Boyle, supra at 231 n 5.

The Revised Judicature Act, at MCL 600.5838(2), 600.5838a(2), 600.5839(1), and 600.5855, provides for tolling of the period of limitations in certain specified situations. These are actions alleging professional malpractice, MCL 600.5838(2); actions alleging medical malpractice, MCL 600.5838a(2); actions brought against certain defendants alleging injuries from unsafe property, MCL 600.5839(1); and actions alleging that a person who may be liable for the claim fraudulently concealed the existence of the claim or the identity of any person who is liable for the claim, MCL 600.5855. Significantly, none of these tolling provisions covers this situation-tolling until the identity of the tortfeasor is discovered.

Plaintiff contends, however, that, notwithstanding these statutes, when the claimant was unaware of any basis for an action, the harsh result of barring any lawsuit because the period of limitations has expired can be avoided by the operation of a court-created discovery rule, sometimes described as a common-law rule, articulated in Johnson v. Caldwell, 371 Mich 368, 379; 123 NW2d 785 (1963), superseded by statute as stated in Hawkins v Regional Medical Laboratories, PC, 415 Mich 420, 428 n 2; 329 NW2d 729 (1982). Under a discovery-based analysis, a claim does not accrue until a plaintiff knows, or objectively should know, that he has a cause of action and can allege it in a proper complaint. Moll v Abbott Laboratories, 444 Mich 1, 16-17; 506 NW2d 816 (1993).*fn9 Accordingly, here, plaintiff argues that her claims did not accrue until she discovered that Gorton was the killer because, before that time, she could not have known of and alleged each element of the claims.*fn10 We reject this contention because the statutory scheme is exclusive and thus precludes this common law practice of tolling accrual based on discovery in cases where none of the statutory tolling provisions apply.

It is axiomatic that the Legislature has the authority to abrogate the common law. Hoerstman Gen Contracting, Inc v Hahn, 474 Mich 66, 74; 711 NW2d 340 (2006). Further, if a statutory provision and the common law conflict, the common law must yield. Pulver v Dundee Cement Co, 445 Mich 68, 75 n 8; 515 NW2d 728 (1994).*fn11 Accordingly, this Court has observed:

In general, where comprehensive legislation prescribes in detail a course of conduct to pursue and the parties and things affected, and designates specific limitations and exceptions, the Legislature will be found to have intended that the statute supersede and replace the common law dealing with the subject matter. [Hoerstman Gen Contracting, supra at 74, quoting Millross v Plum Hollow Golf Club, 429 Mich 178, 183; 413 NW2d 17 (1987), citing 2A Sands, Sutherland Statutory Construction (4th ed), § 50.05, pp 440-441].*fn12

Here, as we have explained, the relevant sections of the Revised Judicature Act comprehensively establish limitations periods, times of accrual, and tolling for civil cases. MCL 600.5827 explicitly states that a limitations period runs from the time a claim accrues "[e]xcept as otherwise expressly provided." Accordingly, the statutes "designate specific limitations and exceptions" for tolling based on discovery, as exemplified by MCL 600.5838, 600.5838a, 600.5839, and 600.5855. The scheme also explicitly supersedes the common law as can be seen in the area of medical malpractice, for instance, where this Court's prestatutory applications of the common-law discovery rule were superseded by MCL 600.5838a, in which the Legislature codified the discovery rule for medical malpractice cases.

Finally, MCL 600.5855 is a good indication that the Legislature intended the scheme to be comprehensive and exclusive. MCL 600.5855 provides for essentially unlimited tolling based on discovery when a claim is fraudulently concealed.*fn13 If we may simply apply an extra-statutory discovery rule in any case not addressed by the statutory scheme, we will render § 5855 effectively meaningless. For, under a general extra-statutory discovery rule, a plaintiff could toll the limitations period simply by claiming that he reasonably had no knowledge of the tort or the identity of the tortfeasor. He would never need to establish that the claim or tortfeasor had been fraudulently concealed.

Since the Legislature has exercised its power to establish tolling based on discovery under particular circumstances, but has not provided for a general discovery rule that tolls or delays the time of accrual if a plaintiff fails to discover the elements of a cause of action during the limitations period, no such tolling is allowed. Therefore, we conclude that courts may not employ an extra-statutory discovery rule to toll accrual in avoidance of the plain language of MCL 600.5827 and we reject this Court's contrary conclusion in Chase v Sabin, 445 Mich 190, 191-192; 516 NW2d 60 (1994).*fn14 Because the statutory scheme here is comprehensive, the Legislature has undertaken the necessary task of balancing plaintiffs' and defendants' interests and has allowed for tolling only where it sees fit. This is a power the Legislature has because such a statute of limitations bears a reasonable relationship to the permissible legislative objective*fn15 of protecting defendants from stale or fraudulent claims. Gladych v New Family Homes, Inc, 468 Mich 594, 600; 664 NW2d 705 (2003). Accordingly, the lower courts erred when they applied an extra-statutory discovery rule to allow plaintiff to bring her claims 16 years after the death of her decedent. When the death occurred, the "wrong upon which the claim is based was done." Given this holding, we overrule Johnson, supra, and its progeny.

Overruling these cases is the most appropriate course of action because they run directly counter to the legislative scheme. Further, overruling them is not problematic, under Robinson v Detroit, 462 Mich 439; 613 NW2d 307 (2000), primarily because, by its nature, the discovery rule does not create expectation or reliance interests. In Robinson,we explained that, in deciding whether to overrule wrongly decided cases, we must consider whether "practical real-world dislocations" would result, whether "reliance interests would work an undue hardship, and whether changes in the law or facts no longer justify the questioned decision." Id. at 464-466. We have already explained that the statutory law, and its changes over time, cause us to question the validity of court-imposed applications of the discovery rule. Most significantly, the nature of the discovery rule contravenes any argument that our decision affects plaintiffs' reliance interests. A plaintiff does not decide to postpone asserting a claim because he relies on the availability of extra-statutory discovery-based tolling. To the contrary, discovery-based tolling is a retroactive mechanism for relief to be used only when a plaintiff could not anticipate his claims. To the extent reliance interests figure into the analysis, it is the expectations of defendants-including those who, as here, may have had as little indication that a claim existed as did the plaintiff-that are harmed when a plaintiff brings claims long after an event occurred. Defendants must, at some point, be able to safely dispose of business records and other seemingly mundane evidence that they would have no reason to expect could exculpate them in litigation.

Finally, our dissenting colleagues' explanations for why we should not overrule cases that employ a common-law discovery rule ignore the central reasoning and result of our decision. Justice Kelly states, for instance, that "[t]he common-law discovery rule has become so embedded in the fabric of Michigan limitations law that the state's jurisprudence will be seriously damaged by destroying it." Post at 15. But rather than destroy the discovery rule, we recognize that the Legislature has comprehensively established the circumstances under which the rule should be applied and has, in the process, rendered use of the rule more uniform and predictable for plaintiffs, defendants and courts alike.*fn16

B. ADDITIONAL RESPONSE TO DISSENTS

First, we reject Justice Kelly's contention in dissent that the statutory scheme evinces the Legislature's intent simply to "ratif[y] prior decisions of this Court applying the common-law discovery rule," post at 12, and, therefore, to "implicitly acknowledge[] the applicability of the rule in other types of cases."

Post at 13. She concludes that the Legislature has abrogated our decisions only to "limit[] the discovery rule where it saw fit." Post at 13. But we see no logical reason to equate the Legislature's "approval of the rule" -by its codification of some of this Court's uses of the rule-with the Legislature's approval of every application of the rule. Justice Weaver similarly suggests that, because the Legislature paid particular attention only to these circumstances, "it is apparent that the Legislature recognized the continuing existence and viability of the common-law discovery rule and saw fit to limit it in certain instances (§§ 5838 and 5838a), but not in all instances." Post at 22. Thus, our dissenting colleagues conclude that the Legislature intended merely to limit the rule in some circumstances rather than to establish limited circumstances in which the rule applies.

But the scheme does not, as Justice Kelly asserts, merely "expressly provid[e] that the discovery rule does not apply in professional negligence cases," thus "impl[ying] that it was to apply in all other contexts" under the maxim of expressio unius est exclusio alterius. Post at 13 n 7. In drawing this conclusion, Justice Kelly focuses on the first sections of MCL 600.5838 and 600.5838a, which establish general limitations on the use of a discovery rule in professional and medical malpractice cases. MCL 600.5838(1) provides, for example, that a professional malpractice claim accrues at the time [the professional] discontinues serving the plaintiff in a professional or pseudoprofessional capacity as to the matters out of which the claim for malpractice arose, regardless of the time the plaintiff discovers or otherwise has knowledge of the claim. [Emphasis added.]

The second section of this statute, however, explicitly authorizes discovery-based tolling. MCL 600.5838(2) provides that an action involving a claim based on malpractice may be commenced at any time within the applicable period prescribed in sections 5805 or 5851 to 5856, or within 6 months after the plaintiff discovers or should have discovered the existence of the claim, whichever is later. [Emphasis added.]

In other words, the statute simultaneously authorizes and limits the circumstances under which tolling is appropriate. The same is true of the other statutes that our dissenting colleagues claim merely limit how the rule applies in certain cases; each statute comprehensively authorizes and limits the use of discovery-based tolling in particular circumstances.*fn17 Because the statutes authorize use of discovery-based tolling, we cannot agree that "[t]he only possible reason the Legislature would have included this language is to take professional negligence claims outside the scope of the common-law discovery rule." Post at 13 n 7. Moreover, the general prohibition on use of the discovery rule in malpractice cases is not "reduced to a redundancy" because it "remove[s] professional negligence claims from the scope of a rule that the Legislature never recognized as existing." Post at 13-14 n 7. Rather, in light of this Court's ongoing use of the discovery rule, particularly in the medical malpractice arena, the Legislature pointedly clarified that a malpractice claim accrues regardless of when it is discovered, consistent with the mandate in MCL 600.5827, while also prescribing a tolling period for commencement of a suit based on discovery.

Most significantly, both dissenting justices' interpretations of the scheme directly contravene the broad mandate in § 5827 that, "[e]xcept as otherwise expressly provided, the period of limitations runs from the time the claim accrues." In accord with this mandate, MCL 600.5838, 600.5838a, 600.5839, and 600.5855 provide that certain actions may be commenced after a claim is discovered, although the claim accrued in the past and the limitations period has run. Thus, these statutes are clearly expressed exceptions to the general rule in § 5827 that the limitations period begins running when the harm is done. Indeed, expressio unius est exclusio alterius.

MCL 600.5855 also belies the contention that the statutory exceptions merely limit, rather than exclusively authorize, discovery-based tolling under certain circumstances. As we have discussed, MCL 600.5855 provides for essentially unlimited tolling based on discovery when a claim is fraudulently concealed. If we may apply an extra-statutory discovery rule in any case not covered by the expressed exceptions, we will render § 5855 effectively meaningless because a plaintiff may toll the limitations period simply by claiming he reasonably had no knowledge of the tort or the identity of the tortfeasor. He would never need to allege fraudulent concealment.

Justice Weaver's argument regarding this issue only serves to strengthen our point. She explains that "the fraudulent concealment provision would not be helpful to this plaintiff, nor to other plaintiffs who, in the absence of fraudulent concealment, are unable to pursue a claim because they did not have the information necessary to establish a claim until after the period of limitation had expired." Post at 20. Therefore, she concludes: "Given the distinct need for the common-law discovery rule to assist these innocent plaintiffs, it cannot be said that the continued existence of the discovery rule makes § 5855 superfluous. The two provisions can peacefully co-exist because they serve different purposes." Post at 21.

To the contrary, the common-law discovery rule fully encompasses the statutory rule allowing tolling based on fraudulent concealment. As described by Justice Weaver, for instance, the common-law rule applied if the "plaintiff did not have enough information to allege" elements of the claim, through no fault of his own. Post at 9. The discovery of previously unknown information would therefore permit a claim to be saved by the discovery rule regardless of whether the information was intentionally obscured from the plaintiff. Thus, Justice Weaver's interpretation renders the fraudulent concealment statute unnecessary-because the statute's purpose is subsumed by the broader common-law rule-and ignores the Legislature's decision to apply the discovery rule to one class of undiscovered claims but not to all undiscovered claims. Although she attempts to protect innocent plaintiffs, she fails to acknowledge that the Legislature has balanced its desire to protect such plaintiffs against its desire to protect defendants from having to defend stale claims; the outcome of the balancing differs on the basis of the defendant's culpability, or lack thereof, for obscuring the claim.

Finally, we also disagree with Justice Kelly's contention that the lower courts could nonetheless employ a discovery rule here because courts commonly did so in 1986 at the time of Eby's death. She cites MCL 600.5869, which states: "[a]ll actions and rights shall be governed and determined according to the law under which the right accrued, in respect to the limitations of such actions or right of entry." Post at 21. MCL 600.5827 and the three-year limitations period for wrongful death actions under MCL 600.5805 have existed in their current forms since 1961 and 1978, respectively.*fn18 Moreover, the related statutes defining and limiting the use of discovery rules under particular circumstances have also existed since 1986.*fn19 Thus, the relevant statutory law has not changed since 1986. Regardless of whether we agree with Justice Kelly that § 5869 encompasses both statutory and common law, she presents no authority or explanation for how a unique, equitable, inherently backward-looking doctrine such as the discretionary common-law discovery rule can be meaningfully applied as "the law under which the right accrued." First, a court could not have invoked the discovery rule in 1986 when the "right accrued" because it was unnecessary; the limitations period had not run. Second, § 5869 does not require use of the rule, as Justice Kelly presumes. Post at 22 n 13. Rather, the rule is judge-made law that has been applied on a case-by-case basis. In essence, Justice Kelly's theory would render our opinion paradoxically meaningless because our holding would not apply to events occurring any time before the day we decide this case; although a claim that accrues tomorrow will be subject to the relevant statutory period and exceptions, a claim that accrued in 1986 may be brought at any time in the future, indefinitely.

Most significantly, Justice Kelly's focus on MCL 600.5869 obscures the crux and effect of her position; she is asking us to refrain from applying our holding in this case to this case. This position violates the general rule that decisions are retroactive unless "exigent circumstances" justify the "extreme measure" of prospective-only application. Devillers v Auto Club Ins Ass'n, 473 Mich 562, 586; 702 NW2d 539 (2005) (internal quotations omitted). Even when a decision meets the threshold criterion for prospective application because it clearly establishes a new principle of law, we must consider: "(1) the purpose to be served by the new rule, (2) the extent of reliance on the old rule, and (3) the effect of retroactivity on the administration of justice." Pohutski v City of Allen Park, 465 Mich 675, 696; 641 NW2d 219 (2002). Here, prospective-only application is inappropriate. First, the very purpose of our holding is to respect limits the Legislature has placed on plaintiffs' abilities to revive suits relying on events occurring in the distant past; prospective application is therefore directly opposed to our resolve to honor the Legislature's policy choice. Moreover, as we already explained, the very nature of the discovery rule defies any reliance on its operation. Finally, the administration of justice is not significantly affected because the rights and interests of plaintiffs and defendants are opposed in these matters; although plaintiffs may be denied relief for stale claims, defendants and the judiciary are relieved from having to defend and decide cases based on deteriorated evidence.

For similar reasons, our decision does not "throw[] Michigan into topsy-turvy land, where a person's legal claim dies before it is born." Post at 23. A discovery rule is only necessary when a plaintiff's claim has accrued and he cannot bring suit within the limitations period. Nothing in our decision cuts off a plaintiff's right to bring suit before the wrong is done; for, until the wrong is done, a claim does not accrue under MCL 600.5827.

C. DUE PROCESS

Plaintiff also asserts that, in construing MCL 600.5827 as we do, we deprive her of due process*fn20 because she cannot seek damages for her injury. While she does not dispute that in normal circumstances three years, along with the statutorily allowed extension for personal representatives, is reasonable, she asserts that it is unreasonable if she had no way of knowing the identity of the perpetrator of the wrong. That is, she argues that it is unconstitutional for the Legislature to deprive a plaintiff who has an injury-but who, through no fault of his own, has no knowledge of who injured him-of a cause of action.

Plaintiff's reasoning is rooted in the following passage from Price v Hopkin, 13 Mich 318, 324 (1865):

[T]he legislative authority is not so entirely unlimited that, under the name of a statute limiting the time within which a party shall resort to his legal remedy, all remedy whatsoever may be taken away. . . . It is of the essence of a law of limitation that it shall afford a reasonable time within which suit may be brought and a statute that fails to do this cannot possibly be sustained as a law of limitations, but would be a palpable violation of the constitutional provision that no person shall be deprived of property without due process of law. [Citations omitted.]

Justices Kelly and Weaver also rely on Price for their contention that our holding violates due process. They misconstrue the holding in Price, however, which does not apply to this case.

Price does not address the discovery rule. Rather, there, the Court was faced with a new legislative enactment that shortened the limitations period during which a plaintiff could bring a suit for ejectment from land. Id. at 322-323. When the act took effect, it applied to all future cases that had not yet been filed. Id. at 323. Accordingly, the ability to bring suit was extinguished for a limited class of plaintiffs who, before the act was passed, had relied on the former limitations period and expected to be able to bring suit in the future. Id. at 323, 324-328. The Price Court concluded that, under the circumstances, due process was violated because a legislature may not "take away an existing right of action, by a statute of limitations which allows no time in which to bring suit after the statute has come into operation." Id. at 324.

Accordingly, the specific holding in Price has no bearing on this case, in which the limitations period has remained consistent since the time plaintiff's causes of action accrued.*fn21 A plaintiff's right to due process is not violated because a desired remedy is no longer available; every statute of limitations deprives plaintiffs of a remedy at the moment the period of limitations expires. Indeed, in Price, the newly shortened limitations period was not problematic, in and of itself, as a matter of law. Price, supra at 323-324. Rather, it was only unconstitutional as applied to the plaintiff. Id. at 328. The general rule expressed in Price remains:

The general power of the legislature to pass statutes of limitation is not doubted. The time that these statutes shall allow for bringing suits is to be fixed by the legislative judgment, and where the legislature has fairly exercised its discretion, no court is at liberty to review its action, and to annul the law, because in their opinion the legislative power has been unwisely exercised. [Price, supra at 324.]

Given the Legislature's unquestioned power, the only question we must ask-as with any due process analysis of a statute that involves neither a suspect classification such as race, alienage, ethnicity or national origin, nor a deprivation of a fundamental right-is whether it "'bears a reasonable relation to a permissible legislative objective.'" Phillips v Mirac, Inc, 470 Mich 415, 436; 685 NW2d 174 (2004) (citation omitted). Statutes of limitations "serve the permissible legislative objective of relieving defendants of the burden of defending claims brought after the time so established." O'Brien v Hazelet & Erdal, 410 Mich 1, 14; 299 NW2d 336 (1980).*fn22 This Court has also explained that "[i]f the Legislature can entirely abrogate a common-law right, surely it may provide that a particular cause of action can no longer arise unless it accrues within a specified period of time." Id. at 15.

In light of the permissible legislative objectives of statutes of limitations, O'Brien, supra, the statutes applicable to this case unquestionably further a legitimate legislative aim. The Legislature obviously weighed carefully the competing interests of plaintiffs and defendants when it limited a plaintiff's ability to bring suit under MCL 600.5827 and MCL 600.5805, but protected plaintiffs by affording a limited extension for personal representatives, MCL 600.5852, as well as a discovery-based tolling provision when a defendant fraudulently conceals claims, MCL 600.5855. Given the three-year limitations period and its potential extensions, we cannot say that the Legislature failed to "afford a reasonable time within which suit may be brought." Price, supra at 325. Accordingly, our holding does not violate plaintiff's due process rights.

D. EQUITABLE TOLLING UNDER BRYANT v OAKPOINTE VILLA NURSING CENTRE, INC

Finally, we decline plaintiff's request to employ a "pinpoint application of equity" to her claims so as to render them timely, on the unique facts of this case. In making this request, plaintiff relies largely on Bryant v Oakpointe Villa Nursing Centre, Inc, 471 Mich 411; 684 NW2d 864 (2004). In Bryant, we addressed the difference between actions sounding in ordinary negligence and those sounding in medical malpractice. We concluded that some of the plaintiff's claims sounded in malpractice, and would have been barred by the malpractice limitations period.

Id. at 432. Nonetheless, we allowed the particular plaintiff's malpractice claims to proceed with the negligence claims because

[t]he distinction between actions sounding in medical malpractice and those sounding in ordinary negligence is one that has troubled the bench and bar in Michigan . . . [and the p]laintiff's failure to comply with the applicable statute of limitations is the product of an understandable confusion about the legal nature of her claim, rather than a negligent failure to preserve her rights. [Id. at 432.]

As we clarified in Devillers v Auto Club Ins Ass'n, 473 Mich 562, 590 n 65; 702 NW2d 539 (2005), however, our use of equity in Bryant is limited to those circumstances when the courts themselves have created confusion. In Bryant, the use of equity was appropriate because of "the pre-existing jumble of convoluted caselaw through which the plaintiff was forced to navigate." Devillers, supra at 590 n 65. Here, in contrast, plaintiff has not detrimentally relied on confusing, pre-existing case law. By its very nature, the discovery rule does not lend itself to detrimental reliance; plaintiffs seeking to invoke it do not wait to bring suit because they expect to rely on the rule, but because they claim that external factors prevented them from discovering their claims.

Perhaps most significantly, in Bryant, no controlling statute negated the application of equity; rather, this Court's caselaw determined whether a claim sounded in medical malpractice or ordinary negligence. Devillers, supra at 590 n 65. To the contrary, in the instant case, the statutory scheme controls limitations periods, accrual, and tolling, just as the no-fault act, specifically MCL 500.3145(1), controlled the outcome in Devillers. Id. As we opined in Devillers, supra at 591,if courts are free to cast aside a plain statute in the name of equity, even in such a tragic case as this, then immeasurable damage will be caused to the separation of powers mandated by our Constitution.*fn23 Statutes lose their meaning if "an aggrieved party need only convince a willing judge to rewrite the statute under the name of equity." Id. Significantly, such unrestrained use of equity also undermines consistency and predictability for plaintiffs and defendants alike.

IV. CONCLUSION

We hold that the plain language of MCL 600.5827 precludes the use of a broad common-law discovery rule to toll the accrual date of claims to which this statute applies. Here, the wrong was done when Eby was raped and murdered in 1986. MCL 600.5827 was in effect at that time. Accordingly, plaintiff's claims accrued at the time of Eby's death. The Legislature has evinced its intent that, despite this tragedy, the defendant-appellants may not face the threat of litigation 16 years later, merely because plaintiff alleges she could not reasonably discover the facts underlying their potential negligence until 2002.

We reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals as well as the circuit court's order denying the defendant-appellants' motions for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(7). We remand to the circuit court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Maura D. Corrigan, Clifford W. Taylor, Robert P. Young, Jr., Stephen J. Markman.

WEAVER, J. (dissenting)

I dissent from the majority's conclusion that MCL 600.5827 exclusively governs the time of accrual of plaintiff's claims. I would affirm the Court of Appeals decision applying the common-law "discovery rule,"*fn24 which operates to toll the statutory period of limitations when a plaintiff could not have reasonably discovered the elements of a cause of action within the limitations period.

Further, I concur with Justice Kelly that under the test set forth in Robinson v Detroit,*fn25 the discovery rule "has become so embedded, so accepted, so fundamental, to everyone's expectations that to change it would produce not just readjustments, but practical real-world dislocations."*fn26

FACTS

In 1981, Dr. Margaret Eby moved to Flint, Michigan, and began leasing a two-story gatehouse located near the entrance to the Ruth R. Mott estate (Mott Estate). Evidently Mrs. Mott lived a hermitic lifestyle on the Mott Estate grounds known as "Applewood." Virtually all her personal dealings were handled by the Mott Family Office (MFO).*fn27

The gatehouse was remotely located some distance from Mrs. Mott's home and the gatehouse basement contained the valves and piping that supported the sprinkler system for the entire Mott Estate grounds. In January 1985, Dr. Eby complained to Mrs. Mott about break-ins she experienced at the gatehouse, including an incident on January 23, 1985, during which Dr. Eby's compact disc player and purse were stolen. Paul Yager, then the chief executive officer of MFO, responded to Dr. Eby's complaint on behalf of Mrs. Mott. In response to Dr. Eby's complaint and her request for installation of a security alarm system, Mrs. Mott had new deadbolt locks installed. No alarm system was installed.

Nearly two years later, late in the evening on November 7, 1986, Dr. Eby returned to the gatehouse after a dinner party. Two friends accompanied her to the gatehouse door and waited until she was safely inside before departing. Two days later, Dr. Eby was found dead in her gatehouse. She had been attacked, raped, and knifed to death. The police investigation of Dr. Eby's death focused primarily on persons who might have been known to Dr. Eby because there appeared to be no sign of forced entry. Police interviewed a number of suspicious persons, but there was never any evidence developed that implicated those persons in Dr. Eby's death. The evidence collected included deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) evidence (semen) from Dr. Eby's body, as well as a partial fingerprint from a faucet inside the gatehouse.

In 1991, Nancy Ludwig, an airline attendant, was attacked, raped, and knifed to death in a hotel near the Detroit Metropolitan Airport. The circumstances surrounding her death were strikingly similar to Dr. Eby's, and at the request of Dr. Eby's son, the police reopened the investigation into Dr. Eby's death. After additional DNA testing on evidence collected from both victims, and after comparing fingerprints left at both crime scenes, investigators were able to determine that Jeffrey Gorton committed both murders.*fn28

Before Dr. Eby's death in 1986, Jeffrey Gorton was an employee of Buckler Automatic Lawn Sprinkler Company (Buckler), which serviced the Moss Estate's sprinkler system. Buckler was owned by Jeffrey Gorton's parents, Laurence and Shirley Gorton. Jeffrey Gorton was provided access to the sprinkler system controls housed in the gatehouse basement through Mott Estate staff members Victor Nyberg and Todd Bakos, both allegedly employed by MFO.

On August 2, 2002, six months after discovering the identity of Dr. Eby's murderer through the arrest of Gorton, plaintiff Dayle Trentadue, daughter of Dr. Eby and personal representative for the estate of Margarette F. Eby (estate of Eby), filed a wrongful death complaint against multiple defendants. The defendants included Buckler, its owners Laurence and Shirley Gorton, Jeffrey Gorton, Ruth Mott, MFO, and MFO employees Nyberg and Bakos. The complaint alleged, among other things, negligent hiring and negligent supervision of Dr. Eby's killer, Jeffrey Gorton.*fn29

With regard to her claims against the Mott Estate, MFO, and Nyberg and Bakos for negligent hiring and negligent supervision, plaintiff alleges that on November 5, 1986, MFO employees Nyberg and Bakos provided Gorton with unsupervised access to the gatehouse basement to winterize the sprinklers, and that it was by this means that Gorton was subsequently able to come back on November 7 to attack and kill Dr. Eby.*fn30 Moreover, despite Dr. Eby's earlier and repeated requests to defendants Ruth Mott and MFO to improve the security of the gatehouse, plaintiff alleges that defendants were negligent in failing to provide adequate security, thereby permitting Jeffrey Gorton's access to the gatehouse.

All defendants filed motions for summary disposition, but the circuit court granted summary disposition only to defendants Mott and MFO, and only on one count (count VIII, which alleged that the premises were unsafe). The parties appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed summary disposition for MFO on count VIII, affirmed in all other respects, and remanded the matter to the circuit court for further proceedings.*fn31 In so ruling, the Court of Appeals concluded that the discovery rule tolled the period of limitations because plaintiff had no basis to assert claims against any defendant until the murderer's culpability was discovered.

Defendants appealed, and we granted leave, directing the parties to include among the issues to be briefed:

[W]hether the Court of Appeals application of a common-law discovery rule to determine when plaintiff's claims accrued is inconsistent with or contravenes MCL 600.5827, and whether previous decisions of this Court, which have recognized and applied such a rule when MCL 600.5827 would otherwise control, should be overruled. [Trentadue v Buckler Automatic Lawn Sprinkler Co, 475 Mich 906 (2006).]

ANALYSIS

MCL 600.5805(10) provides that in wrongful death actions, "[t]he period of limitations is 3 years after the time of the death or injury . . . to recover damages for the death of a person . . . ." Further, MCL 600.5827 states:

Except as otherwise expressly provided, the period of limitations runs from the time the claim accrues. The claim accrues at the time provided in sections 5829 to 5838, and in cases not covered by these sections the claim accrues at the time the wrong upon which the claim is based was done regardless of the time when damage results.

Both of the above provisions appear in the Revised Judicature Act, MCL 600.5801 et seq., in the chapter entitled "Limitation of Actions." The policy considerations behind the enactment of statutes of limitations were noted by this Court in Lothian v Detroit:*fn32

They encourage the prompt recovery of damages, Buzzn v Muncey Cartage Co, 248 Mich 64, 67; 226 NW 836 (1929); they penalize plaintiffs who have not been industrious in pursuing their claims, First National Bank of Ovid v Steel, 146 Mich 308; 109 NW 423 (1906); they "afford security against stale demands when the circumstances would be unfavorable to a just examination and decision", Jenny v Perkins, 17 Mich 28, 33 (1868); they relieve defendants of the prolonged fear of litigation, Bigelow [v Walraven], supra, [392 Mich at] 576 [;221 NW2d 328 (1974)]; they prevent fraudulent claims from being asserted, Bailey v Glover, 88 US (21 Wall) 342; 22 L Ed 636 (1875); and they "'remedy . . . the general inconvenience resulting from delay in the assertion of a legal right which it is practicable to assert'". Lenawee County v Nutten, 234 Mich 391, 396; 208 NW 613 (1926).

In Lemmerman v Fealk,*fn33 we further noted that "'the primary purposes behind statutes of limitations are: 1) to encourage plaintiffs to pursue claims diligently, and 2) to protect defendants from having to defend against stale and fraudulent claims.'" And certainly, had plaintiff herein failed to diligently pursue her claim, or attempted to file a fraudulent claim, this Court would not hesitate to summarily apply these statutes of limitations to bar plaintiff's suit.

However, neither of these policy considerations will be furthered by application of these provisions given that plaintiff was deprived of the evidence necessary to even establish that a claim existed until long after the period of limitations had expired. It is precisely in situations such as the one plaintiff here faces that this Court has applied the discovery rule to prevent a statute of limitations from foreclosing on a plaintiff's right to bring suit. And, in fact, the law in this state in 1986, the year of Dr. Eby's murder, was that a cause of action did not accrue until the elements forming the basis of the complaint could be pleaded:

In the case of an action for damages arising out of tortious injury to a person, the cause of action accrues when all of the elements of the cause of action have ...


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