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Wagner v. Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company of Michigan

Supreme Court of Michigan

June 8, 2018

MICHELLE WAGNER and JAMES WAGNER, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
v.
FARM BUREAU MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY OF MICHIGAN, Defendant-Appellant, and CONOR LEWIS and GREG LEWIS, Defendants.

          Kalamazoo CC: 2014-000452-CK

          Stephen J. Markman, Chief Justice Brian K. Zahra Bridget M. McCormack David F. Viviano Richard H. Bernstein Kurtis T. Wilder Elizabeth T. Clement, Justices

          ORDER

         On order of the Court, the application for leave to appeal the September 12, 2017 judgment of the Court of Appeals is considered, and it is DENIED, because we are not persuaded that the question presented should be reviewed by this Court.

          Markman, C.J. (dissenting).

         I respectfully dissent. I would grant leave to appeal to consider whether the Court of Appeals correctly determined that the insurance contract at issue "irreconcilably conflicted" regarding the amount of time plaintiff had to file suit for uninsured motorist (UM) benefits.

         On May 17, 2010, plaintiff was injured in an automobile accident when her car was struck from behind by a vehicle driven by Conor Lewis. On May 2, 2013, plaintiff filed suit against Lewis for negligence. While that suit was pending, Lewis's insurer- defendant-filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a ruling that it had no duty to reimburse Lewis in the negligence action because of a policy exclusion, and on June 23, 2014, summary disposition was granted in defendant's favor. On August 20, 2014, plaintiff filed the instant suit against Farm Bureau (also her insurer) seeking UM benefits under her policy. Farm Bureau moved for summary disposition, arguing that plaintiff's suit was untimely because it was filed more than three years after the date of the accident. The trial court denied this motion, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Wagner v Farm Bureau Mut Ins Co of Mich, 321 Mich.App. 251 (2017).

         The issue here is whether plaintiff's suit for UM benefits is barred by the contractual period of limitations. As this Court has explained:

Uninsured motorist insurance permits an injured motorist to obtain coverage from his or her own insurance company to the extent that a third-party claim would be permitted against the uninsured at-fault driver. Uninsured motorist coverage is optional; it is not compulsory coverage mandated by the no-fault act. Accordingly, the rights and limitations of such coverage are purely contractual and are construed without reference to the no-fault act. [Rory v Continental Ins Co, 473 Mich. 457, 465-466 (2005) (citations omitted).]

         An unambiguous contractual provision must be enforced "as written unless the provision would violate law or public policy." Id. at 470. A contractual term is only "ambiguous" if the contract is "equally susceptible to more than a single meaning, " Barton-Spencer v Farm Bureau Life Ins Co of Mich, 500 Mich. 32, 40 (2017) (emphasis added), or if two provisions of the contract "irreconcilably conflict with each other, " Klapp v United Ins Group Agency, Inc, 468 Mich. 459, 467 (2003) (emphasis added). "[A] finding of ambiguity is to be reached only after 'all other conventional means of [ ] interpretation' have been applied and found wanting." Mayor of the City of Lansing v Pub Serv Comm, 470 Mich. 154, 165 (2004), quoting Klapp, 468 Mich. at 474.

         The contract at issue specifically addresses the amount of time plaintiff has to bring suit against Farm Bureau seeking UM benefits:

3. Time Limitation for Action Against Us
Any person seeking Uninsured Motorist Coverage must:
a. present the claim for compensatory damages in compliance with all the Duties After an Accident or Loss listed on page 4 of this policy and all other terms and conditions of this coverage and policy; and
b. present to us a written notice of the claim for Uninsured Motorist Coverage within three years after ...

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