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Bergman v. Cotanche

Court of Appeals of Michigan

February 23, 2017

DONALD BERGMAN and SHERRY BERGMAN, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
v.
BRYCE R. COTANCHE and BOYNE USA, INC., Defendants-Appellants.

         Charlevoix Circuit Court LC No. 14-088024-NH

          Before: Hoekstra, P.J., and Saad and Riordan, JJ.

          Saad, J.

         In this negligence action premised on owner liability under the no-fault act, MCL 500.3101 et seq., defendants appeal[1] the trial court's order that denied their motion for summary disposition. The trial court, in denying the motion, found that the front-end loader vehicle at issue in this case was not exempt from registration and therefore, was required to be insured under the no-fault act. But because the front-end loader meets the statutory requirements of "special mobile equipment, " it was not required to be registered, and the trial court erred when it held otherwise. Accordingly, we reverse and remand.

         I. BASIC FACTS

         On December 12, 2012, defendant Bryce R. Cotanche was operating a front-end loader to plow snow in the course of his employment with defendant Boyne USA, Inc. ("Boyne USA"). The front-end loader was not registered with the State of Michigan nor insured under a no-fault insurance policy. To reach his next plow site, Cotanche made a left turn from a private drive onto Deer Lake Road, a public highway. He intended to drive on Deer Lake Road for approximately a quarter of a mile to reach his next site. Plaintiff Donald Bergman[2] was driving northbound on Deer Lake Road, and the two vehicles collided.[3]

         Plaintiff filed suit against defendants and sought compensation for his injuries. Plaintiff alleged that defendant Boyne USA was liable for defendant Cotanche's negligence because it owned the front-end loader and that Cotanche drove it in the course of his employment. Plaintiff contended that the front-end loader was required to be registered and insured and that the failure to do so entitled plaintiff to a recovery equal to all personal protection benefits paid or payable to permit reimbursement of his insurer under MCL 500.3116 in addition to damages otherwise allowed by law.

         Defendants moved for partial summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(8) (failure to state a claim) and (C)(10) (no genuine issue of fact) and asserted that the front-end loader was exempt from registration and the resulting requirement to maintain no-fault insurance because the vehicle qualified under the "special mobile equipment" exception of MCL 257.216(c). Plaintiff countered that the front-end loader was a motor vehicle required to be registered and insured. Plaintiff argued that the front-end loader was not exempt under the "special mobile equipment" exception because, although not designed for use on the highway, it was not "incidentally operated or moved on the highway" as required by the exception.

         The trial court ultimately concluded that the front-end loader met the first aspect of the test to qualify as "special mobile equipment" because it was not designed or used primarily for the transportation of persons or property. However, the court determined that the second prong was not satisfied because the travel on the public highway to reach plow sites was more than incidental. The court therefore concluded that the "special mobile equipment" exception did not apply and that the law required the front-end loader to be registered and insured. The court also concluded that MCL 257.216(d) provided that special mobile equipment driven on the highway needed special registration and that the front-end loader should have been registered and insured regardless.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         This Court reviews de novo a trial court's decision on a summary disposition motion to determine if the moving party was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Maiden v Rozwood, 461 Mich. 109, 118; 597 N.W.2d 817. While the trial court did not state which court rule it was relying on when it denied defendant's motion for partial summary disposition, we will review the motion under MCR 2.116(C)(10) because it relied on documentation outside the pleadings. See Innovation Ventures v Liquid Mfg, 499 Mich. 491, 506-507; 885 N.W.2d 861 (2016). A "motion under MCR 2.116(C)(10) tests the factual support for a claim and should be granted if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." MEEMIC Ins Co v DTE Energy Co, 292 Mich.App. 278, 280; 807 N.W.2d 407. "When reviewing a motion for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(10), we consider "affidavits, pleadings, depositions, admissions, and other documentary evidence submitted by the parties in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion." Greene v A P Prods, Ltd, 475 Mich. 502, 507; 717 N.W.2d 855 (quotation marks and citations omitted). The motion "is properly granted if the proffered evidence fails to establish a genuine issue regarding any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Klein v HP Pelzer Auto Sys, Inc, 306 Mich.App. 67, 75; 854 N.W.2d 521 (2014).

         "The interpretation and application of a statute in particular circumstances is a question of law this Court reviews de novo." Detroit Pub Sch v Conn, 308 Mich.App. 234, 246; 863 N.W.2d 373 (2014).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Under Michigan's no-fault act, "[t]he 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(1) (emphasis added). "Security is only required to be in effect during the period the motor vehicle is driven or moved on a highway." Id. The Michigan Vehicle Code, MCL 257.1 et seq., however, exempts certain motor vehicles from registration with the state. One of those exceptions is for ...


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