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Clay v. Doe

Court of Appeals of Michigan

July 14, 2015

WILLIE CLAY, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
JOHN DOE, Defendant, and SUBURBAN MOBILITY AUTHORITY FOR REGIONAL TRANSPORTATION, Defendant-Appellee

Page 249

Editorial Note:

This opinion is subject to revision before final publication in the Michigan Court of Appeals reports.

Macomb Circuit Court. LC No. 2013-001082-NI.

For WILLIE CLAY, Plaintiff-Appellant: CARL L. COLLINS III, SOUTHFIELD, MI.

For JOHN DOE, SUBURBAN MOBILITY AUTHORITY FOR REGIONAL TRANSPORTATION, Defendants-Appellees: BARBARA D. URLAUB, TROY, MI.

Before: SAAD, P.J., and M. J. KELLY and SHAPIRO, JJ.

OPINION

Page 250

[311 Mich.App. 360] Per Curiam.

Plaintiff appeals the trial court's order that granted summary disposition pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(7). For the reasons stated below, we affirm.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

While boarding a Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) bus on April 18, 2011, plaintiff slipped and fell on the wet floor of the bus aisle. Thereafter, he filed a claim for no-fault benefits from SMART's insurance administrator, which received the claim on July 5, 2011, 78 days after plaintiff was injured. Almost two years later, on March 20, 2013, plaintiff filed a complaint against defendant SMART in the Macomb Circuit Court, [311 Mich.App. 361] which alleged that SMART and the unidentified bus driver committed the common-law tort of negligence. Specifically, plaintiff claimed that the bus driver accelerated too quickly as he drove the bus away from the stop, which caused plaintiff to slip, fall, and incur injuries.

SMART moved for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(7), (C)(8), and (C)(10), and argued, among other things, that plaintiff's claim was barred by: (1) MCL 124.419, which requires tort claimants against a transportation authority to provide the authority with " written notice of any claim based upon injury . . . no later than 60 days from the occurrence through which such injury is sustained" and (2) Atkins v SMART, 492 Mich. 707; 716, 822 N.W.2d 522 (2012), which held that a claimant, such as plaintiff, who files an application for no-fault benefits from a transit authority's insurance administrator, does not comply with the 60-day notice requirement of MCL 124.419. After a hearing, the trial court issued a written opinion and order that granted SMART's motion for summary disposition pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(7). The court held that plaintiff failed to comply with MCL 124.419, because he did not " serve[]" SMART's insurance administrator with " written notice" of his claim " no later than 60 days from the occurrence" of his injury.

On appeal, plaintiff claims that the trial court erred when it granted summary disposition because: (1) he complied with MCL 124.419 when he mailed a claim for no-fault benefits to SMART's insurance administrator and (2) Atkins postdated the events that led to this suit. SMART reiterates its arguments made below and asks us to uphold the ruling of the trial court.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

[311 Mich.App. 362] A trial court's decision on a motion for summary disposition is reviewed de novo. Diamond v Witherspoon, 265 Mich.App. 673, 680; 696 N.W.2d 770 (2005). MCR 2.116(C)(7) permits summary disposition " because of release, payment, prior judgment, [or] immunity granted by law." MCR 2.116(C)(7). " When it grants a motion under MCR 2.116(C)(7), a trial court should examine all documentary evidence submitted by the parties, accept all well-pleaded allegations as true, and construe all evidence and pleadings in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." McLain v Lansing Fire Dept, 309 Mich.App. 335; 340, 869 N.W.2d 645, 2015 WL 918757

We review matters of statutory interpretation de novo, and interpret a statute " to give effect to the intent of the Legislature by focusing on the statute's plain language." Speicher v Columbia Twp Bd of Trustees, 497 Mich. 125, 133-134; 860 N.W.2d 51 (2014).

III. ANALYSIS

A. RETROACTIVE APPLICATION OF ATKINS

" Generally, judicial decisions are given full retroactive effect, i.e., they are

Page 251

applied to all pending cases in which the same challenge has been raised and preserved." Paul v Wayne Co Dept of Pub Servs, 271 Mich.App. 617, 620; 722 N.W.2d 922 (2006). " A court may limit the retroactive effect of a judicial decision . . . if 'injustice might result from full retroactivity.'" People v Quinn, 305 Mich.App. 484, 489; 853 N.W.2d 383 (2014), quoting Pohutski v Allen Park, 465 Mich. 675, 696; 641 N.W.2d 219 (2002). In making a decision whether to apply caselaw retroactively, a court looks to: " (1) the purpose to be served by the new rule, (2) the [311 Mich.App. 363] extent of reliance on the old rule, and (3) the effect of retroactivity on the administration of justice." Quinn, 305 Mich.App. at 489. In a civil suit, the court also looks to " whether the decision [to be applied retroactively] clearly established a new principle of law." Pohutski, 465 Mich. at 696.

As noted, the Michigan Supreme Court recently held that an application for no-fault benefits from a transit authority's insurance administrator does not constitute sufficient " written notice of [a tort] claim" under MCL 124.419. Atkins, 492 Mich. at 716.[1] Specifically, the Court explained that

MCL 124.419 plainly requires " written notice" of any " ordinary claims" for personal injury within 60 days of the underlying occurrence, and the ordinary claims that may be brought pursuant to the statute are qualitatively different from a demand for no-fault benefits paid by a common carrier's insurer. [ Id. ]

As both plaintiff and defendants note, if Atkins is applied, retrospectively, to this case, plaintiff's claim must fail. Plaintiff did not submit a " written notice" of his " 'ordinary claims' for personal injury" to SMART " within 60 days" of his injury. Id. Instead, he sent a claim for no-fault benefits 78 days after his injury. Because " notice of a claim for first-party benefits is not the equivalent of notice of a third-party tort claim," plaintiff has failed to comply with MCL 124.419 and his suit must be dismissed. Id. at 718.

Though plaintiff asserts that Atkins should not apply to his suit, because the Michigan Supreme Court issued its decision after the events in issue here, this [311 Mich.App. 364] assertion is not supported by Michigan law. Again, judicial decisions are generally " given full retroactive effect." Paul, 271 Mich.App. at 620. Contrary to plaintiff's arguments, under Michigan caselaw, there is no reason that Atkins should not be applied to his action. As SMART accurately observes, Atkins did not create a " new principle of law" or overrule binding caselaw[2]--it merely interpreted a statute, MCL 124.419. Pohutski, 465 Mich. at 696. Plaintiff could not reasonably rely on an

Page 252

" old rule" that classified a request for no-fault benefits as compliance with MCL 124.419, because no such " old rule" existed. Quinn, 305 Mich.App. at 489. Accordingly, we must follow the general principle that gives " judicial decisions . . . full retroactive effect," and apply Atkins 's holding to this case. Paul, 271 Mich.App. at 620. For this reason, plaintiff's suit must be dismissed pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(7).

B. MCL 124.419

Were we nonetheless to assume that Atkins 's ruling does not apply to plaintiff's suit, his claim should also be dismissed because he failed to comply with the notice provisions of MCL 124.419 under his preferred, but incorrect, interpretation of the statute.

[311 Mich.App. 365] MCL 124.419 reads, in full:

All claims that may arise in connection with the transportation authority shall be presented as ordinary claims against a common carrier of passengers for hire: Provided, That written notice of any claim based upon injury to persons or property shall be served upon the authority no later than 60 days from the occurrence through which such injury is sustained and the disposition thereof shall rest in the discretion of the authority and all claims that may be allowed and final judgment obtained shall be liquidated from funds of the authority: Provided, further, That only the courts situated in the counties in which the authority principally carries on its function are the proper counties in which to commence and try action against the authority. [Emphasis added.]

As the trial court correctly held, MCL 124.419 thus requires " written notice" of an " ordinary claim[] against a common carrier" to be " served upon the authority no later than 60 days from the occurrence through which such injury is sustained . . . ." Id. ; see also Nuculovic v Hill, 287 Mich.App. 58, 66; 783 N.W.2d 124 (2010).

Here, plaintiff failed to provide SMART's insurance administrator with " written notice" of his demand for no-fault benefits within 60 days of his fall--instead, SMART's insurance administrator received plaintiff's demand 78 days after the event. He accordingly did not " serve" " written notice" on defendants " no later than 60 days" after his injury, and therefore did not comply with the mandates of MCL 124.419. Nuculovic, 287 Mich.App. at 66.[3] Accordingly, his claim fails and must be dismissed.

[311 Mich.App. 366] The trial court properly granted summary disposition pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(7).

Affirmed.


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