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Diallo v. Larochelle

Court of Appeals of Michigan

May 5, 2015

MAHMOUD DIALLO, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
KELLY LAROCHELLE, Personal Representative of the Estate of KENNETH WROZEK, Defendant-Appellee, and STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

Allegan Circuit Court LC No. 12-051007-ND

Before: Meter, P.J., and Sawyer and Boonstra, JJ.

Per Curiam.

In this no-fault insurance action, plaintiff (a Georgia resident) appeals the trial court's December 4, 2013 order, granting State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company's motion for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(8). We affirm.

On April 16, 2011, at approximately 2:45 a.m., Joseph Carrington was driving a truck southbound in the southbound lane of U.S. 131 in Dorr Township, Allegan County, Michigan. Plaintiff was the owner of the truck that Carrington was driving. Wrozek was driving his vehicle northbound in the southbound lane of U.S. 131. Wrozek's vehicle struck plaintiff's truck head on. Plaintiff alleged that at the time of the collision, Wrozek's blood alcohol level was .20 and he had morphine in his blood. Plaintiff alleged that Wrozek was a Michigan resident and that State Farm was Wrozek's insurer.

Plaintiff notified State Farm by letter that plaintiff had made a claim to State Farm for damages resulting from losses arising from the collision. In this letter, plaintiff acknowledged that State Farm had denied this claim and that State Farm had cited MCL 500.3135(3)(e) to support its position that the maximum amount payable to plaintiff under the no-fault act was $500. However, plaintiff argued in this letter that State Farm was obligated to pay plaintiff's claim for economic loss pursuant to MCL 500.3135(3)(d). State Farm responded to plaintiff, stating that MCL 500.3135(3)(d) did not apply to plaintiff's claim. In response, plaintiff sent State Farm another letter, again stating that plaintiff's claim was valid pursuant to MCL 500.3135(3)(d).

Ultimately, plaintiff filed a complaint in the trial court against State Farm and the Estate of Wrozek.[1] In his complaint, plaintiff alleged that Wrozek's driving at the time of the collision breached his duty of care to plaintiff, that this breach caused harm to plaintiff, and that State Farm-as Wrozek's insurer-was obligated to pay the damages resulting from this harm. Plaintiff alleged that his damages included the complete loss of his vehicle and loss of income resulting from plaintiff's inability to lease the vehicle. Plaintiff argued that he was entitled to these damages under MCL 500.3135(3)(d). State Farm admitted that it insured Wrozek, but argued that plaintiff was not entitled to benefits under MCL 500.3135(3)(d) because that statute did not pertain to collision damage to a motor vehicle or to lost income resulting from such damage. State Farm asserted that plaintiff's claim was barred pursuant to MCL 500.3135(3)(e), which limited plaintiff's claim to $500; and, because State Farm already paid plaintiff $500 in damages, State Farm alleged that plaintiff had no claim for further damages. Plaintiff subsequently filed a motion for summary disposition pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(9) and MCR 2.116(C)(10). State Farm responded with its own motion for summary disposition pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(8) and MCR 2.116(C)(10), [2] which was granted by the trial court pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(8). This appeal followed.

Plaintiff argues that, because he is not seeking personal protection benefits and instead is suing for economic damages, MCL 500.3165(3)(d), which provides an exception to the no-fault act's abolition of tort liability, applies in this case. We disagree. This Court reviews de novo a trial court's decision regarding a motion for summary disposition. Latham v Barton Malow Co, 480 Mich. 105, 111; 746 N.W.2d 868 (2008), reh den 481 Mich. 882 (2008). "A motion for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(8) tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint." Gillie v Genesee Co Treasurer, 277 Mich.App. 333, 344; 745 N.W.2d 137 (2007). "The motion should be granted if no factual development could possibly justify recovery." Beaudrie v Henderson, 465 Mich. 124, 130; 631 N.W.2d 308 (2001). In addition, questions of statutory interpretation and application are questions of law that this Court reviews de novo. Farmers Ins Exch v AAA of Mich, 256 Mich.App. 691, 694; 671 N.W.2d 89 (2003).

"A party injured through the ownership, operation, maintenance, or use of a motor vehicle must seek recovery within the strictures of the no-fault act." Gunsell v Ryan, 236 Mich.App. 204, 208; 599 N.W.2d 767 (1999), overruled on other grounds Frazier v Allstate Ins Co, 490 Mich. 381, 384; 808 N.W.2d 450 (2011). "The owner or registrant of a motor vehicle required to be registered in this state shall maintain security for payment of benefits under personal protection insurance, property protection insurance, and residual liability insurance." MCL 500.3101. With few exceptions, under the no-fault act, MCL 500.3101 et seq., "tort liability arising from the ownership, maintenance, or use within this state of a motor vehicle with respect to which the security required by [MCL 500.3101] was in effect is abolished . . . ." MCL 500.3135(3); see also American Alternative Ins Co, Inc v York, 470 Mich. 28, 30; 679 N.W.2d 306 (2004) ("As part of the automobile no-fault insurance system enacted in 1972, our Legislature at MCL 500.3135 abolished tort liability for harm caused while owning, maintaining, or using a motor vehicle in Michigan.") (citation omitted).

In this case, it is not disputed that plaintiff's alleged injuries (loss of his truck) arose through Wrozek's "ownership, operation, maintenance, or use of a motor vehicle . . . ." Gunsell, 236 Mich. at 208. Therefore, plaintiff "must seek recovery within the strictures of the no-fault act." Id. It is also not disputed that the security required by MCL 500.3101 was in effect when plaintiff sustained his alleged injuries. Therefore, according to the strictures of the no-fault act, defendants are immune from tort liability unless an exception applies. American Alternative Ins Co, 470 Mich. at 30. The only issue in this case is whether an exception applies allowing plaintiff to sue defendant in tort for his economic damages. The exception at issue in this case is set forth in MCL 500.3135(3)(d), which states as follows:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, tort liability arising from the ownership, maintenance, or use within this state of a motor vehicle with respect to which the security required by [MCL 500.3101] was in effect is abolished except as to:
* * *
(d) Damages for economic loss by a nonresident in excess of the personal protection insurance benefits provided under [MCL 500.3163(4)]. Damages under this subdivision are not recoverable to the extent that benefits covering the same loss are available from other sources, regardless of the nature or number of benefit sources ...

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