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Stenzel v. Best Buy Co., Inc.

Supreme Court of Michigan

April 22, 2019

PAULETTE STENZEL, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
BEST BUY CO., INC., Defendant, and SAMSUNG ELECTRONICS AMERICA, INC., Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued March 7, 2019

          Chief Justice: Bridget M. McCormack, Chief Justice Pro Tem: David F. Viviano, Justices: Stephen J. Markman Brian K. Zahra Richard H. Bernstein Elizabeth T. Clement Megan K. Cavanagh.

         Paulette Stenzel brought an action in the Ingham Circuit Court against Best Buy Co., Inc. Best Buy filed a notice identifying Samsung Electronics America, Inc., as a nonparty at fault. Plaintiff added a claim against Samsung in an amended complaint. Samsung moved for summary disposition, arguing that plaintiff's claim against it was untimely because plaintiff had not first moved to amend under MCL 600.2957(2). The court, Rosemarie E. Aquilina, J., granted summary disposition in favor of Best Buy and Samsung. Plaintiff appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed in part, holding that Samsung was not properly added as a party because plaintiff did not file a motion to amend. 318 Mich.App. 411 (2016). The Court of Appeals subsequently vacated Part II(C) of the Stenzel opinion and convened a special conflict panel. 318 Mich.App. 801 (2017). The Court of Appeals special conflict panel reversed and remanded, holding that a conflict exists between MCR 2.112(K)(4) and MCL 600.2957(2) with respect to the procedure to amend a pleading to add an identified nonparty at fault to an action and that Williams v Arbor Home, Inc, 254 Mich.App. 439 (2002), had to be overruled to the extent that it held otherwise. 320 Mich.App. 262 (2017). However, the Court held that the relation-back provision of MCL 600.2957(2) was fully applicable, regardless of the fact that MCR 2.112(K)(4) ultimately controlled the process with respect to amending a pleading to add an identified nonparty at fault, and, therefore, plaintiff was entitled to the protection of the relation-back provision in MCL 600.2957(2). Judge Gleicher, joined by Presiding Judge Servitto and Judge Shapiro, concurred in the result, concluding that no irreconcilable conflict exists between the statute and court rule, that plaintiff was permitted to amend her complaint upon receipt of notice of nonparty fault without first filing a motion for leave to amend, and that the amended pleading related back to the original action. Samsung sought leave to appeal in the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court granted leave to appeal. 501 Mich. 1042 (2018).

         In a unanimous memorandum opinion, the Supreme Court held:

         The Court of Appeals decision was affirmed for the reasons set forth in Judge GLEICHER's concurring opinion. MCL 600.2957(2) and MCR 2.112(K) do not irreconcilably conflict, a party may amend a pleading upon receipt of notice of nonparty fault pursuant to MCR 2.112(K) without filing a motion for leave to amend, and the amended pleading relates back to the original action pursuant to MCL 600.2957(2). The two provisions are entirely consistent with regard to the central and controlling issue: a plaintiff's right to timely amend a complaint to add an identified nonparty at fault as a party. Read together, the two provisions permit a plaintiff to file a motion to amend, or not. Either way, the result is the same: the amendment must be permitted if it is timely. The Supreme Court promulgated MCR 2.112(K)(4) to implement MCL 600.2957, not to supplant it. Moreover, the court rule addresses the conduct of the parties, whereas the statute is directed at the conduct of the court. Accordingly, the two provisions exist in a consistent and complementary fashion. As a result, plaintiff was permitted to amend the complaint without first filing a motion for leave to amend. Because the statute and court rule are complementary, the statute fills in for the court rules' silence on the subject of "relation back." Accordingly, plaintiff's amended complaint adding Samsung as a defendant related back to her original complaint against Best Buy under MCL 600.2957(2) and was timely filed.

         Affirmed and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.

          Justice Cavanagh did not participate due to her prior relationship with Garan Lucow Miller, PC.

         BEFORE THE ENTIRE BENCH

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         Plaintiff was injured after her new refrigerator began to spray water out of its water dispenser onto her kitchen floor, causing her to slip and fall. She filed a timely complaint alleging negligence, breach of contract, and breach of warranty against defendant Best Buy Co., Inc., which had sold and installed the refrigerator. Best Buy filed a notice of nonparty fault, identifying defendant-appellant Samsung Electronics America, Inc., as the refrigerator's manufacturer. Plaintiff added a claim against Samsung in an amended complaint, and Samsung moved for summary disposition, arguing that plaintiff's claim against it was untimely because plaintiff had not first moved to amend under MCL 600.2957(2) and therefore was not entitled to the relation-back privilege set forth in that statute. The trial court granted Samsung's motion, but the Court of Appeals reversed.

         We affirm the Court of Appeals for the reasons set forth in the concurring opinion, Stenzel v Best Buy Co, Inc, 320 Mich.App. 262, 284; 906 N.W.2d 801 (2017) (Gleicher, J., concurring in result), and remand to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. Specifically, we conclude that MCL 600.2957(2)[1] and MCR 2.112(K)[2] do not irreconcilably conflict, a party may amend a pleading upon receipt of notice of nonparty fault pursuant to MCR 2.112(K) without filing a motion for leave to amend, and the amended pleading relates back to the original action pursuant to MCL 600.2957(2).

         In particular, the concurring opinion correctly concluded that the statute and the court rule "are capable of harmonious coexistence" and do not" 'irreconcilabl[y] conflict.'" Stenzel, 320 Mich.App. at 287, 288 (Gleicher, J., concurring in result), quoting People v Watkins, 491 Mich. 450, 467; 818 N.W.2d 296 (2012); MCL 600.2957(2) (specifying that if a party moves to amend a pleading within 91 days after the identification of a nonparty at fault, the court shall grant it and the amended pleading will relate back to the time of the filing of the original pleading); MCR 2.112(K)(4) (affording a party served with notice of identification of a nonparty at fault the right to amend a pleading to add that nonparty to the suit). Rather, "the statute and court rule at issue here are . . . complementary." Stenzel, 320 Mich.App. at 290 (Gleicher, J., concurring in result). The two provisions at issue

are entirely consistent with regard to the central and controlling issue: a plaintiff's right to timely amend a complaint to add an identified nonparty at fault as a party. Read together, the two provisions permit a plaintiff to file a motion to amend, or not. Either way, the result is the same: the amendment must be permitted if it is timely. [Id. at 289.]

         Moreover, "the [Michigan] Supreme Court understood that a timely request to amend had to be granted." Id. Therefore, this Court "promulgated MCR 2.112(K)(4) 'to implement MCL 600.2957, '" not to supplant it. Id. at 288, quoting Holton v A Ins Assoc, Inc, 255 Mich.App. 318, 324; 661 N.W.2d 248 (2003). For, "[t]he court rule addresses the conduct of the parties," whereas "the statute is directed at the conduct of the court." Bint v Doe, 274 Mich.App. 232, 237-238; 732 N.W.2d 156 (2007) (Zahra, P.J., concurring). Accordingly, the two provisions exist in a "consistent" and complementary fashion, and they do not conflict. Id. at 238.

         As a result, "[a] plaintiff may elect to amend the complaint [without filing a motion for leave to amend]. If the plaintiff so elects, the court shall grant the amendment." Id. Alternatively, "[i]f a plaintiff wishes to file a motion to add a nonparty," the plaintiff is permitted to do so under MCL 600.2957(2). Stenzel, 320 Mich.App. at 290 (Gleicher, J., concurring in result). These constitute "alternative methods of accomplishing the same goal . . . ." Id. Therefore, in the present case, "plaintiff was permitted . . . to file her amended complaint with or without first ...


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