United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
ORDER DENYING WITHOUT PREJUDICE PLAINTIFF'S
MOTION FOR DECLARATORY RELIEF (DOCUMENT NO. 58) AND STAYING
STEPHEN J. MURPHY, III United States District Judge
Magda is wheelchair-bound as result of a car accident in
1977. At the time of the accident, Magda was covered by a
no-fault insurance policy issued by Automobile Club Insurance
Association ("Auto Club"). In the years since, Auto
Club has paid certain expenses arising from Magda's
disability. In 2014, Magda filed the present suit and alleged
that Auto Club wrongfully failed to pay expenses required by
law and the policy. Auto Club denies that it has failed to
pay any obligations it has to Magda.
items are currently before the Court. Magda has moved for
declaratory relief regarding his wheelchair, ECF No. 58, and
recently, the discovery master in the case reported that the
parties are in "serious settlement discussions." He
recommended the Court vacate its current scheduling order and
stay the proceedings until December 21, 2016. Report, ECF No.
67. For the reasons stated below, the Court will deny
Magda's motion without prejudice and stay the proceedings
as recommended by the discovery master.
alleges that Auto Club has failed to pay for several items
and services, but in the present motion, he specifically
seeks relief regarding his wheelchair. Magda claims that his
current wheelchair is inadequate for his needs. See
Motion 1, ECF No. 58. He claims that his "doctor and
physical therapist have prescribed and recommended
(respectively) a new wheelchair, of the stair-climbing
variety" and that his physical therapist recommended a
specific model: the Terrain Master X8. Id. at 8, 6;
Physical Therapist Evaluation, ECF No. 58-4.
has been some communication between those who assist Magda
and Auto Club. Magda apparently asked Auto Club to authorize
the purchase of a new chair but Auto Club did not make the
authorization. So Magda's case manager emailed Auto Club
and inquired why. See Email, ECF No. 58-6. Auto Club
replied with a letter and indicated that repairing his
current chair might be more appropriate than purchasing a new
one and asked for clarification regarding the defects of
Magda's current chair. See Letter, ECF No. 58-9.
Other than a short email from Magda's counsel to Auto
Club's counsel, ECF No. 58-11, neither party provides any
further correspondence or documentation regarding Magda's
request for a new chair or Auto Club's request for an
assessment of Magda's current chair.
then brought the instant motion. He argues that he needs a
declaration from the Court "before he incurs . . .
expense, " presumably due to the estimated $15, 000 cost
of the chair. Reply 4, ECF No. 60; Mot. 6, ECF No. 58. He
stresses the urgency of his need for a new chair, that his
need "increases everyday, " and that because Auto
Club has "rebuffed efforts . . . to resolve this issue
amicably" he has been left with no choice but to bring a
motion for declaratory relief. Mot. 7, ECF No. 58. He asks
the Court to declare "that Auto Club is obligated to pay
for the new, stair climbing wheelchair when incurred"
pursuant to the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. §
2201. Mot. 3, ECF No. 58. Auto Club contends that purchasing
the chair Magda seeks is neither reasonable nor necessary,
and in any event, that declaratory judgment is not an
Declaratory Judgement Act allows courts, in their discretion,
to "declare the rights and other legal relations of any
interested party seeking such declaration, whether or not
further relief is or could be sought." 28 U.S.C. §
2201. Declarations under the Act have the force and effect of
a final judgment. Id. The Act "was designed to
be available to test state criminal statutes in circumstances
where an injunction would not be appropriate, "
Steffel v. Thompson, 415 U.S. 452, 467 (1974), and
it permits, but does not require, the Court to declare the
rights of litigants. Wilton v. Seven Falls Co., 515
U.S. 277, 286 (1995) ("Since its inception, the
Declaratory Judgment Act has been understood to confer on
federal courts unique and substantial discretion in deciding
whether to declare the rights of litigants."). "The
propriety of declaratory relief in a particular case will
depend upon a circumspect sense of its fitness informed by
the teachings and experience concerning the functions and
extent of federal judicial power." Id. at 287
(quoting Public Serv. Comm'n of Utah v. Wycoff
Co., 344 U.S. 237, 243 (1952)).
Court has serious reservations about the propriety of a
declaratory judgment on this matter and at this time. There
is no separate action, either in state or federal court, and
Magda seeks a judicial confirmation that he is entitled to a
benefit before incurring a significant expense. Though Magda
cites numerous cases in which Michigan state courts issued a
declaratory judgment for a plaintiff seeking PIP benefits,
neither party provides a case with facts similar to those
here arising under the federal Declaratory Judgment Act.
declaratory judgment is even appropriate, the Court would
nevertheless be ill-equipped to render a decision given the
limited factual record. Magda claims "[t]here is no
question that a new wheelchair, with stair climbing
abilities, is necessary to meet his accident-related needs,
" Mot. 7, ECF No. 58, but that is a matter of dispute.
Auto Club does not deny that Magda requires a wheelchair, or
that it is obligated to pay no-fault benefits to him. But it
does dispute that purchasing a new chair - and the Terrain
Master X8 specifically - instead of repairing his current
chair is a reasonable and necessary expense. Resp. 1-2, ECF
No. 59. There is a very limited record and discovery has only
just closed. The Court simply cannot resolve Magda's
motion by making factual findings on limited evidence.
these reasons, the Court in its discretion will decline to
enter declaratory judgment. The Court takes no position on
whether a wheelchair of any kind is reasonable and/or
necessary or on Auto Club's obligations under the policy.
Court will, however, stay the proceedings as recommended by
the Discovery Master to allow the parties to more swiftly and