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Liang v. Liang

Court of Appeals of Michigan

May 16, 2019

MCCARTY JI LIANG, by Next Friend MEI SHAW, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
GUANG HUI LIANG and G. LIANG, INC., doing business as CHAN'S CHINESE RESTAURANT, INC., Defendants-Appellants.

          Wayne Circuit Court LC No. 17-008903-NO

          Before: Murray, C.J., and Sawyer and Redford, JJ.

          Murray, C.J.

         We granted defendants', Guang Hui Liang (Liang) and G. Liang, Inc., doing business as Chan's Chinese Restaurant, Inc. (Chan's), application for leave to appeal[1] to consider whether Liang is entitled to parental immunity from the claims brought against him by his son, plaintiff McCarty Ji Liang, for an injury plaintiff suffered at Liang's business. For the reasons that follow, we hold that parental immunity bars the negligence-based claims against Liang, but that the immunity doctrine has no bearing on the premises liability claim against the corporate entity. Accordingly, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises from the injuries suffered by plaintiff at Chan's, his father Liang's restaurant.[2] Plaintiff, who was five years old at the time, arrived at Chan's between 9:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. with his mother, Guo Ying Cao, to surprise Liang for Father's Day. Although Chan's operated as a takeout restaurant only, it had a full dining room in the front where plaintiff and Cao waited while Liang prepared for closing by cleaning and prepping food for the next day. When Cao walked away to inform a customer at the takeout window that Chan's had closed for the night, plaintiff wandered out of the dining area and into a room that housed the restaurant's industrial meat grinder. The room, separated from the kitchen, was near the bathroom, and the meat grinder was plugged in on the floor. Plaintiff attempted to operate the meat grinder, but caught and injured his hand in the machine, ultimately requiring amputation of his hand.

         In his suit against defendants, plaintiff alleged common-law negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED), and premises liability. In lieu of an answer, defendants moved for summary disposition of the complaint pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(7) and (8), asserting entitlement to parental immunity from plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff responded by arguing that parental immunity could not shield Chan's, a corporate entity, from liability, and that his complaint did not allege negligent supervision as Liang was acting in a business capacity at the time of the injuries. Further, plaintiff asserted that parental immunity did not apply to his premises liability claim because property owners owe a heightened duty of care to licensees. Ultimately, the trial court denied defendants' motion, holding that parental immunity could not shield defendants from liability because Liang was acting as a business owner when plaintiff's injuries occurred, and had a duty to plaintiff as an invitee on the property.

         II. ANALYSIS

         We first address defendants' argument that the trial court erred when it concluded that parental immunity did not bar plaintiff's claims against Liang. We agree and hold that, notwithstanding the fact that plaintiff's injuries occurred at Chan's, Liang's business, Liang was entitled to parental immunity.

         "This Court reviews de novo a trial court's decision to deny a motion for summary disposition." Rowland v Washtenaw Co Rd Comm, 477 Mich. 197, 202; 731 N.W.2d 41 (2007). "Under MCR 2.116(C)(7), summary disposition is proper when a claim is barred by immunity granted by law." Fane v Detroit Library Comm, 465 Mich. 68, 74; 631 N.W.2d 678 (2001). When deciding the motion, "a court must consider the pleadings, affidavits, depositions, admissions, and other documentary evidence submitted in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Fields v Suburban Mobility Auth for Regional Transp, 311 Mich.App. 231, 234; 874 N.W.2d 715 (2015). "If there is no factual dispute, whether a plaintiff's claim is barred under a principle set forth in MCR 2.116(C)(7) is a question of law for the court to decide." Id. (quotation marks and citations omitted).

         A. PARENTAL IMMUNITY

         Michigan courts had for many decades recognized the doctrine of parental immunity, which prohibited a minor from suing her parent in tort. See Elias v Collins, 237 Mich. 175, 177; 211 N.W. 88 (1926), overruled by Plumley v Klein, 388 Mich. 1, 8; 199 N.W.2d 169 (1972). The Elias Court stated that the doctrine was created at common law to serve "the interest of the peace of the family and of society, and is supported by sound public policy." Elias, 237 Mich. at 177. In 1972, however, the doctrine was redefined and limited, and was expressed as permitting "[a] child [to] maintain a lawsuit against his parent for injuries suffered as a result of the alleged ordinary negligence of the parent," except "(1) where the alleged negligent act involves an exercise of reasonable parental authority over the child; and (2) where the alleged negligent act involves an exercise of reasonable parental discretion with respect to the provision of food, clothing, housing, medical and dental services, and other care." Plumley, 388 Mich. at 8.

         In Goodwin v Northwest Mich. Fair Ass'n, 325 Mich.App. 129, 143-144; 923 N.W.2d 894 (2018), our Court recently set out the current standards governing the application of the parental-immunity doctrine:

Although parents undoubtedly have a duty to supervise their children, the law generally does not allow children to recover damages from their parents for a breach of this duty. In particular, "[a]t common law, a minor could not sue his or her parents in tort." The Michigan Supreme Court generally abolished intra-family tort immunity in Plumley, holding that a child could maintain a lawsuit against his or her parents for an injury resulting from a parent's negligence. ...

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