GENESEE COUNTY DRAIN COMMISSIONER and JEFFREY WRIGHT Plaintiffs-Appellees,
GENESEE COUNTY, Defendant-Appellant, and CHARTER TOWNSHIP OF FENTON, DENNIS BOW, KARYN MILLER, BONNIE MATHIS, PAULA ZELENKO, MARILYN HOFFMAN, LARRY GREEN, JAKE LAFURGEY, RAY FOUST, DAVID GUIGEAR, ROBERT M. PALMER, RICK CARUSO, WILLIAM W. KOVL, MAXINE ORR, VILLAGE OF GOODRICH, VILLAGE OF GAINES, VILLAGE OF LENNON, CHARTER TOWNSHIP OF MUNDY, TOWNSHIP OF ARGENTINE, CHARTER TOWNSHIP OF FLINT, CHARTER TOWNSHIP OF MT. MORRIS, TOWNSHIP OF GAINES, and CITY OF FLUSHING, Plaintiffs, and GENESEE COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS, Defendant.
Circuit Court LC No. 11-097012-CK
Before: Sawyer, P.J., and Servitto and Riordan, JJ.
asked in this appeal to determine whether a claim based upon
a theory of unjust enrichment is barred by the doctrine of
governmental immunity. We conclude that it is not.
the second time that this case is before us. See Genesee
Co Drain Comm'r v Genesee Co, 309 Mich.App. 317; 869
N.W.2d 635 (2015). That opinion fully sets out the relevant
facts of this case. Briefly, plaintiff Wright is the Genesee
County Drain Commissioner and, along with the other
plaintiffs, participated in a county health plan through Blue
Cross and Blue Shield. Premiums were paid both by the county
and the participants. Those premiums were set annually and
were based upon an estimate of the amount that the claims
would be for the upcoming year along with the administrative
costs of the plan. Unbeknownst to plaintiffs, at the end of
each year, Blue Cross would refund to the county the amount
by which the premiums exceeded the amount necessary to pay
the claims and costs. The instant suit was instituted to
recover the portion of the refunds that represented the
participants' share of the premiums paid.
original appeal, we held that plaintiffs' claims alleging
intentional torts were barred by governmental immunity and
that plaintiffs could not recover under a breach of contract
claim for any damages that accrued before October 24, 2005 (6
years before the filing of this action). Thereafter,
following remand, in addition to the continuation of
plaintiffs' breach of contract claim, the trial court
permitted the complaint to be amended to add an unjust
enrichment claim. Defendant again moved for partial summary
disposition, arguing that governmental immunity barred the
unjust enrichment claim and that plaintiffs failed to state a
claim for unjust enrichment. The trial court concluded that
governmental immunity did not bar the unjust enrichment
claim. The trial court allowed the matter to continue, though
without explicitly ruling on whether plaintiffs properly
stated a claim for unjust enrichment. Defendant now appeals.
review de novo both the grant of summary disposition under
MCR 2.116(C)(7) and questions of statutory interpretation.
In re Bradley Estate, 494 Mich. 367, 376-377; 835
N.W.2d 367 (2013). And we look first to Bradley for
assistance in answering the question whether a claim based
upon unjust enrichment constitutes one for "tort
liability" that comes under the governmental tort
liability act (GTLA), MCL 691.1401 et seq.
Bradley does not directly answer this question as it
involved a claim based upon civil contempt rather than unjust
enrichment. But it does provide guidance in determining
whether a particular claim falls under the GTLA.
claim based upon unjust enrichment is barred only if unjust
enrichment imposes "tort liability." The Court in
In re Bradley Estate, 494 Mich. at 384-385,
summarized the analyses as follows:
the foregoing, it is clear that our common law has defined
"tort" to be a civil wrong, other than a breach of
contract, for which the court will provide a remedy in the
form of compensatory damages. Accordingly, because the word
"tort" has "acquired a peculiar and
appropriate meaning" in our common law, and because the
Legislature is presumed to be aware of the common law when
enacting legislation, we conclude that the term
"tort" as used in MCL 691.1407(1) is a
noncontractual civil wrong for which a remedy may be obtained
in the form of compensatory damages.
Our analysis, however, requires more. MCL 691.1407(1) refers
not merely to a "tort, " nor to a "tort
claim" nor to a "tort action, " but to
"tort liability." The term "tort,
" therefore, describes the type of liability from which
a governmental agency is immune. As commonly understood, the
word "liability, " refers to liableness, i.e.,
"the state or quality of being liable." To be
"liable" means to be "legally
responsible[.]" Construing the term
"liability" along with the term "tort, "
it becomes apparent that the Legislature intended "tort
liability" to encompass legal responsibility arising
from a tort. We therefore hold that "tort
liability" as used in MCL 691.1407(1) means all legal
responsibility arising from a noncontractual civil wrong for
which a remedy may be obtained in the form of compensatory
damages. [Footnotes and citations omitted.]
enrichment is an equitable doctrine. Morris Pumps v
Centerline Piping, Inc, 273 Mich.App. 187, 193; 729
N.W.2d 896 (2006). Under this doctrine, "the law will
imply a contract to prevent unjust enrichment only
if the defendant has been unjustly or inequitably enriched at
the plaintiff's expense." Id. at 195
(emphasis added). But, "a contract will be
implied only if there is no express contract covering
the same subject matter." Barber v SMH (US),
Inc, 202 Mich.App. 366, 375; 509 N.W.2d 791 (1993)
(emphasis added). In other words, "the law imposes a
contract to prevent unjust enrichment, which occurs when
one party receives a benefit from another the retention of
which would be inequitable." Martin v East Lansing
School Dist, 193 Mich.App. 166, 177; 483 N.W.2d 656
(1992) (emphasis added). See also Dumas v Auto Club Ins
Ass'n, 437 Mich. 521, 546; 473 N.W.2d 652 (1991).
Further, our Supreme Court specifically has held that a
breach of implied contract action is not barred by the GTLA.
In re Bradley Estate, 494 Mich. at 386.
conclude that a claim under the equitable doctrine of unjust
enrichment ultimately involves contract liability, not tort
liability. It merely involves a situation in which the
contract is an implied one imposed by the court in the
interests of equity rather than an express contract entered
into by the parties. Accordingly, the claim is not barred by
also argues that plaintiffs have failed to state a claim
under unjust enrichment. It does not appear that the trial
court addressed this issue. Accordingly, we decline to do so
on appeal. Defendant is, however, free on remand to renew its
motion for summary disposition under MCR 2.116A(C)(8) based
upon a failure to state a claim for unjust enrichment so that
the trial court may address it in the first instance.
and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings
consistent with this opinion. We do not retain ...