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Dye v. Esurance Property & Casualty Insurance Co.

Supreme Court of Michigan

July 11, 2019

MATTHEW DYE, by his Guardian, SIPORIN & ASSOCIATES, INC., Plaintiff-Appellee/Cross-Appellant,
v.
ESURANCE PROPERTY & CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant/Cross-Plaintiff/Appellant/Cross-Appellee, and GEICO INDEMNITY COMPANY, Defendant/Cross-Defendant/Appellee/Cross-Appellant, and PRIORITY HEALTH, Defendant/Cross-Plaintiff/Appellee, and BLUE CROSS BLUE SHIELD OF MICHIGAN, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued October 9, 2018 (Calendar No. 1).

          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

         Matthew Dye brought an action in the Washtenaw Circuit Court against Esurance Property and Casualty Insurance Company and GEICO Indemnity Company, seeking personal protection insurance (PIP) benefits under the no-fault act, MCL 500.3101 et seq., for injuries he sustained in a motor vehicle accident while driving a vehicle he had recently purchased. At plaintiff's request, plaintiff's father had registered the vehicle in plaintiff's name at the Secretary of State's office and obtained a no-fault insurance policy from Esurance. The declarations page of the policy identified only plaintiff's father as the named insured. At the time of the accident, plaintiff was living with his wife, who owned a vehicle that was insured by GEICO. After Esurance and GEICO refused to cover plaintiff's claim, plaintiff filed a breach-of-contract claim against both insurers along with a declaratory action, alleging that either Esurance or GEICO was obligated to pay his no-fault PIP benefits and requesting that the trial court determine the parties' respective rights and duties. Eventually, Esurance paid plaintiff more than $388, 000 in PIP benefits, but it continued to maintain that GEICO was the responsible insurer. GEICO acknowledged that it was the primary insurer and began settlement negotiations with plaintiff and Esurance. Then, on November 13, 2014, the Court of Appeals' opinion in Barnes v Farmers Ins Exch, 308 Mich.App. 1 (2014), was published. Barnes held that under MCL 500.3113(b), when none of the owners of a vehicle maintains the requisite coverage, no owner may recover PIP benefits. After Barnes was published, GEICO reevaluated its legal position and ceased settlement discussions. Esurance filed a cross-claim against GEICO, arguing that GEICO had breached a settlement agreement. GEICO moved for summary disposition of plaintiff's claim, arguing that plaintiff was not entitled to PIP benefits in light of Barnes. Plaintiff also moved for summary disposition, arguing that Barnes was wrongly decided and, regardless, that his father was an owner and registrant for purposes of the no-fault act. The trial court, Timothy C. Connors, J., granted Esurance summary disposition on its cross-claim, ruling that GEICO and Esurance had entered into a valid settlement agreement and that GEICO had priority over plaintiff's claim. The court denied GEICO's motion for summary disposition and granted plaintiff's motion for summary disposition, thus determining that GEICO was required to provide no-fault benefits to plaintiff. The court granted plaintiff's motion against GEICO with regard to no-fault coverage and priority, stating that it did not need to address Barnes because plaintiff's father was an owner and registrant of the vehicle and ruling that the only issue remaining between plaintiff and GEICO was the amount of damages. GEICO filed an interlocutory application for leave to appeal, which the Court of Appeals granted. In an unpublished per curiam opinion issued April 4, 2017 (Docket No. 330308), the Court of Appeals, Beckering, P.J., and Borrello, J. (O'Connell, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part), held that the trial court had erred by granting summary disposition to Esurance because the parties had not yet reached a meeting of the minds on all the essential terms of the settlement agreement. The majority agreed with Barnes's interpretation of MCL 500.3101(1), and it held that the trial court had erred as a matter of law by finding that plaintiff's father was a "registrant" of the vehicle for purposes of MCL 500.3101(1). However, the majority held that there remained genuine issues of material fact as to whether plaintiff's father was an "owner" of the vehicle, and it therefore remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings. Esurance applied for leave to appeal in the Supreme Court, and both plaintiff and GEICO filed cross-appeals. The Supreme Court granted plaintiff's cross-application for leave to appeal and denied Esurance's application and GEICO's cross-application. 501 Mich. 944 (2017).[1]

         In an opinion by Justice Zahra, joined by Chief Justice McCormack and Justices Markman, Viviano, and Bernstein, the Supreme Court held:

         An owner or registrant of a motor vehicle is not required to personally purchase no-fault insurance for his or her vehicle in order to avoid the statutory bar to PIP benefits. MCL 500.3101(1) does not prescribe any particular manner by which no-fault insurance must be maintained, and it contains no requirement that the insurance be purchased or obtained by a vehicle's owner or registrant. Barnes and other cases suggesting to the contrary were overruled to the extent that they were inconsistent with this holding. The Court of Appeals judgment was reversed in part. The part of the Court of Appeals judgment regarding the purported settlement agreement between Esurance and GEICO was left undisturbed.

         1. Under the no-fault act, an insurer is liable to pay PIP benefits to any Michigan resident for accidental bodily injury arising out of the ownership, operation, maintenance, or use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle. These statutory benefits arise regardless of whether an injured person has obtained a no-fault insurance policy. Therefore, determining whether no-fault benefits are available to an injured person does not depend on who purchased, obtained, or otherwise procured no-fault insurance. The only relevant inquiry is whether the injured person can establish an accidental bodily injury arising out of the ownership, operation, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle. This relatively low threshold for statutory no-fault coverage was enacted to provide victims of motor vehicle accidents assured, adequate, and prompt reparation for certain economic losses. Given that these benefits would be available to all Michigan residents, the Legislature sought to achieve this purpose by enacting the system of compulsory insurance set forth in MCL 500.3101(1). To ensure compliance with MCL 500.3101(1), the Legislature excluded persons from receiving PIP benefits under various circumstances listed in MCL 500.3113, including if the person was the owner or registrant of a motor vehicle or motorcycle involved in the accident with respect to which the security required by MCL 500.3101 was not in effect.

         2. MCL 500.3101(1) provides that "[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) requires only that the owner or registrant "maintain" no-fault insurance, which means to keep in an existing state. MCL 500.3101(1) does not prescribe any particular manner by which a registrant or owner must keep no-fault insurance in an existing state, and MCL 500.3101(4) expressly contemplates that the security required by MCL 500.3101(1) may be provided by any other method approved by the Secretary of State as affording security equivalent to that afforded by a policy of insurance. If MCL 500.3101(1) were to be interpreted so that only a registrant or owner could obtain insurance on a vehicle, it would limit the Secretary of State's power under MCL 500.3101(4) to allow security by any other method, and it would effectively read a requirement into MCL 500.3101(1) that the Legislature did not manifest through the words of MCL 500.3101(1) itself. When read together, MCL 500.3101(1) and MCL 500.3113(b) did not preclude plaintiff from receiving PIP benefits. Iqbal v Bristol West Ins Group, 278 Mich.App. 31 (2008), did not hold that at least one owner must obtain no-fault insurance; instead, it held that MCL 500.3113(b) refers to the required security or insurance under MCL 500.3101 only as it relates to the vehicle and therefore a plaintiff may be entitled to PIP benefits if the vehicle was insured, regardless of whether that plaintiff was the owner of the vehicle. Thus, the factual distinctions between Barnes and Iqbal did not place Barnes outside the ambit of Iqbal's holding.

         3. MCL 500.3113(b) provides that a person is not entitled to PIP benefits if at the time of the accident "[t]he person was the owner or registrant of a motor vehicle or motorcycle involved in the accident with respect to which the security required by section 3101 or 3103 was not in effect." The term "which" in this context represents one of two possible antecedents: the first is a person, and the last is a vehicle. The last-antecedent rule provides that a modifying or restrictive word or clause contained in a statute is confined solely to the immediately preceding clause or last antecedent unless something in the statute requires a different interpretation, and nothing in MCL 500.3113(b) requires a different result. Moreover, the usage notes for the definition of "which" state that the term regularly refers to inanimate objects and never to individual persons. Accordingly, the phrase "with respect to which the security required by section 3101 or 3103 was not in effect" refers to the vehicle, not the person. Because the conclusion in Barnes that "when none of the owners maintains the requisite coverage, no owner may recover PIP benefits" was contrary to the plain language of the no-fault act, Barnes was overruled.

         Reversed in part and remanded to the Washtenaw Circuit Court for further proceedings.

         Justice Clement, dissenting, would have held that the no-fault act disqualifies an owner from PIP benefits if the owner is injured in his or her own vehicle and no owner has maintained security. While she agreed with the majority that MCL 500.3113(b) contemplates a relationship between "security" and "vehicle," she disagreed with the majority's conclusion that security "with respect to" a vehicle is the same as insurance "for" or "on" that vehicle, given that nothing in the no-fault act requires a vehicle to be insured. Rather, she concluded that MCL 500.3113(b) requires a certain person-namely, the vehicle's owner or registrant-to maintain security against liability as provided in MCL 500.3101, and the phrase "with respect to" connects the security to the vehicle by way of the person. Justice Clement stated that the critical nexus among owner, security, and vehicle was of a whole with the rest of the no-fault act, including the priority schemes set out in MCL 500.3114 and MCL 500.3115, and that the purpose of the no-fault act would fall apart if an owner named in no policy was nonetheless understood to have maintained security through a nonowner third party's policy. Accordingly, she concluded that plaintiff's statutory duty to maintain security was not met merely by asking his father to get no-fault insurance. Because the record did not reveal whether plaintiff's father was an owner of plaintiff's car, she would have remanded the case to the trial court to determine whether plaintiff was disqualified from PIP benefits.

         Justice Cavanagh did not participate in the disposition of this case because the Court considered it before she assumed office.

         BEFORE THE ENTIRE BENCH (except Cavanagh, J.)

          OPINION

          Zahra, J.

         This case presents the significant question of whether an owner or registrant of a motor vehicle involved in an accident is excluded from receiving statutory no-fault insurance benefits under the no-fault act, MCL 500.3101 et seq., when someone other than an owner or registrant purchased no-fault insurance for that vehicle.[1] Relying on Barnes v Farmers Ins Exch, [2] the Court of Appeals concluded that "[a]t least one owner or registrant must have the insurance required by MCL 500.3101(1), and 'when none of the owners maintains the requisite coverage, no owner may recover [personal injury protection (PIP)] benefits.' "[3] The insured sought leave to appeal in this Court, and we granted the application in part to consider this question.[4]

         We conclude that an owner or registrant of a motor vehicle is not required to personally purchase no-fault insurance for his or her vehicle in order to avoid the statutory bar to PIP benefits. Rather, MCL 500.3101(1) only requires that the owner or registrant "maintain" no-fault insurance, and the term "maintain," as commonly understood, means to keep in an existing state. Because MCL 500.3101(1) does not prescribe any particular manner by which no-fault insurance must be maintained, we will not read into the statute a requirement that the insurance be purchased or obtained by a vehicle's owner or registrant. Further, the grammatical composition of the MCL 500.3113(b) benefits exclusion, including the use of the term "which" within that provision, signifies that the exclusion does not apply if the security required by MCL 500.3101(1) was "in effect" at the time of the accident.[5] Though defendant maintains that the term "which" in this provision refers to the owner or operator of the motor vehicle, the usage of "which" at the time the no-fault act was enacted, as well as currently, reflects that this term is not properly used to refer to individual persons.

         We therefore hold that an owner or registrant of a motor vehicle involved in an accident is not excluded from receiving no-fault benefits when someone other than that owner or registrant purchased no-fault insurance for that vehicle because the owner or registrant of the vehicle may "maintain" the insurance coverage required under the no-fault act even if he or she did not purchase the insurance. The Court of Appeals' decision in Barnes and other caselaw suggesting to the contrary are overruled to the extent that they are inconsistent with our holding.[6] We reverse in part the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand this case to the Washtenaw Circuit Court for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On September 26, 2013, plaintiff Matthew Dye was involved in a motor vehicle accident and suffered serious injuries that included a traumatic brain injury. At that time, plaintiff was 32 years old, fully employed, a member of the National Guard who had spent time in Afghanistan, and recently married. At some point before the accident, plaintiff had granted his father power of attorney "to do bussiness [sic] at the secretary of state on [plaintiff's] behalf." At the time of the accident, plaintiff was driving a 1997 BMW that he had purchased two months earlier. After the purchase, plaintiff asked his father to register the vehicle for him and to obtain no-fault insurance. His father registered the vehicle in plaintiff's name at the secretary of state's office and obtained a no-fault insurance policy from Esurance via the Internet. The declarations page of the policy identified only plaintiff's father as the named insured. At the time of the accident, plaintiff was living with his wife, who owned a Dodge Caravan that was insured by GEICO.

         After Esurance and GEICO refused to cover plaintiff's claim, plaintiff filed a breach of contract claim against both insurers along with a declaratory action, alleging that either Esurance or GEICO was obligated to pay his no-fault PIP benefits and requesting that the trial court determine the parties' respective rights and duties. A priority dispute between Esurance and GEICO ensued.[7] Eventually, Esurance paid plaintiff more than $388, 000 in PIP benefits, but Esurance continued to maintain that GEICO was the responsible insurer. GEICO acknowledged that it was the primary insurer and began settlement negotiations with plaintiff and Esurance.

         Then, on November 13, 2014, the Court of Appeals' opinion in Barnes v Farmers Ins Exch was redesignated "for publication."[8] In Barnes, the panel held that "under the plain language of MCL 500.3113(b), when none of the owners maintains the requisite coverage, no owner may recover PIP benefits."[9] After Barnes was published, GEICO reevaluated its legal position and ceased settlement discussions. Essentially, what had been-before Barnes-merely a priority dispute among potential insurers over who had to pay plaintiff's claim turned into a dispute about whether plaintiff was covered under the no-fault act.

         Esurance filed a cross-claim against GEICO arguing that GEICO had breached a settlement agreement. GEICO moved for summary disposition of plaintiff's claim, arguing that plaintiff was not entitled to PIP benefits in light of the now-published decision in Barnes because plaintiff owned the subject vehicle but had not insured it and the person who had insured it (plaintiff's father) was not an "owner" as defined in MCL 500.3101. Plaintiff, in turn, moved for summary disposition, arguing that Barnes was wrongly decided and, regardless, that his father was an owner and registrant for purposes of the no- fault act because he had the right to use the BMW and because he had physically registered the vehicle.

         The trial court granted Esurance summary disposition on its cross-claim, ruling that GEICO and Esurance had entered into a valid settlement agreement and that GEICO had priority over plaintiff's claim. The trial court denied GEICO's motion for summary disposition and granted plaintiff's motion for summary disposition, thus determining that GEICO was required to provide no-fault benefits to plaintiff. The trial court stated that it did not need to address the decision in Barnes because plaintiff's father was an owner and registrant of the BMW. According to the trial court, the only issue remaining between plaintiff and GEICO was the amount of damages. The trial court thus entered an order granting Esurance summary disposition on its cross-claim, denying GEICO's motion for summary disposition with regard to plaintiff, and granting plaintiff's motion against GEICO with regard to no-fault coverage and priority.

         GEICO filed an interlocutory application for leave to appeal, which the Court of Appeals granted.[10] In an unpublished per curiam opinion, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's decision that granted summary disposition to Esurance.[11] The panel held that the trial court erred by enforcing the settlement agreement. The panel explained that "[a]lthough the issuance of Barnes promptly snuffed out what appears to have been a 'nearly done' deal, the parties had not yet reached a meeting of the minds on all of the essential terms, and the trial court erred in granting Esurance's motion for summary disposition on its cross-claim for enforcement of the alleged agreement."[12]

         In regard to the trial court's decision denying GEICO summary disposition against plaintiff on the basis of Barnes, the panel embraced Barnes's interpretation of MCL 500.3101(1) without reservation, stating:

Although a motor vehicle may have more than one owner for purposes of the no fault act, it is not sufficient that a vehicle is insured by just anyone. At least one owner or registrant must have the insurance required by MCL 500.3101(1), and "when none of the owners maintains the requisite coverage, no owner may recover PIP benefits."[13]

         The Court of Appeals then held that the trial court erred as a matter of law by finding that plaintiff's father was a "registrant" for purposes of MCL 500.3101(1).[14] A majority of the panel, however, agreed with the trial court that there remained genuine issues of material fact as to whether plaintiff's father was an "owner" of the BMW plaintiff was driving at the time of the accident.[15] Therefore, the Court of Appeals remanded this case to the trial court for further proceedings.[16]

         Esurance filed an application in this Court arguing that the Court of Appeals improperly reversed the trial court's decision to enforce the purported settlement agreement by granting Esurance summary disposition on its cross-claim against GEICO. Plaintiff filed a cross-appeal arguing that Barnes was improperly decided and that Esurance could not deny liability simply because plaintiff himself did not obtain no-fault insurance. GEICO filed a cross-appeal arguing that the Court of Appeals erred by ruling that a question of fact precluded summary disposition in favor of GEICO on the issue of whether plaintiff's father was a co-owner of the BMW that plaintiff, in GEICO's view, failed to insure. This Court granted plaintiff's cross-application for leave to appeal and denied Esurance's application and GEICO's cross-application.[17] Accordingly, the sole issue before the Court is "whether an owner or registrant of a motor vehicle involved in an accident may be entitled to personal protection insurance benefits for accidental bodily injury where no owner or registrant of the motor vehicle maintains security for payment of benefits under personal protection insurance."[18]

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW AND APPLICABLE RULES OF STATUTORY INTERPRETATION

         This Court reviews de novo a trial court's decision on a motion for summary disposition.[19] The parties brought their respective summary disposition motions under MCR 2.116(C)(10), which tests the factual sufficiency of a claim.[20] "In reviewing a motion for summary disposition brought under MCR 2.116(C)(10), a trial court considers affidavits, pleadings, depositions, admissions, and documentary evidence filed in the action or submitted by the parties, MCR 2.116(G)(5), in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion."[21] If, "[e]xcept as to the amount of damages, there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, . . . the moving party is entitled to judgment or partial judgment as a matter of law, "[22] and the trial court must grant the motion without delay.[23]

         This Court also reviews de novo questions of statutory interpretation.[24] "The role of this Court in interpreting statutory language is to 'ascertain the legislative intent that may reasonably be inferred from the words in a statute.' "[25] "The focus of our analysis must be the statute's express language, which offers the most reliable evidence of the Legislature's intent."[26]" '[W]here the statutory language is clear and unambiguous, the statute must be applied as written.' "[27]" '[A] court may read nothing into an unambiguous statute that is not within the manifest intent of the Legislature as derived from the words of the statute itself.' "[28] Neither will this Court "rewrite the plain statutory language and substitute our own policy decisions for those already made by the Legislature."[29]

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. LEGAL BACKGROUND

         Under the no-fault act, "an insurer is liable to pay [PIP] benefits [to any Michigan resident] for accidental bodily injury arising out of the ownership, operation, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle . . . ."[30] Although designated as "personal protection insurance" under the no-fault act, PIP benefits are in fact statutory benefits, arising regardless of whether an injured person has obtained a no-fault insurance policy. Indeed, a no-fault insurance carrier can be liable for no-fault benefits even if the motor vehicle it insures was not the actual motor vehicle involved in the accident.[31] PIP benefits are paid to injured persons solely by insurers who are authorized to write no-fault insurance policies in this state or who have voluntarily filed a certificate complying with MCL 500.3163.[32]

         For these reasons, determining whether no-fault benefits are available to an injured person does not depend on "who" purchased, obtained, or otherwise procured no-fault insurance. The only relevant inquiry is whether the injured person can establish an "accidental bodily injury arising out of the ownership, operation, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle . . . ."[33] By establishing this relatively low threshold for statutory no-fault coverage, the no-fault act seeks to "provide victims of motor vehicle accidents assured, adequate, and prompt reparation for certain economic losses."[34]

         And given that these statutory benefits would be available to all Michigan residents, "[t]he Legislature believed this . . . could be most effectively achieved through a system of compulsory insurance, whereby every Michigan motorist would be required to purchase no-fault insurance or be unable to operate a motor vehicle legally in this state."[35]Accordingly, the Legislature enacted MCL 500.3101(1), which provides, in part, that "[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 . . . ." And to ensure compliance with MCL 500.3101(1), the Legislature excluded persons from receiving PIP benefits under various circumstances listed in MCL 500.3113. In this case, GEICO maintains that MCL 500.3113(b) precludes plaintiff from obtaining PIP benefits because, in its view, plaintiff "was the owner or registrant of a motor vehicle or motorcycle involved in the accident with respect to which the security required by section 3101 or 3103 was not in effect." In GEICO's view, "the security required by section 3101 . . . was not in effect" because, as emphasized by GEICO, MCL 500.3101(1) mandates that an "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 . . . ." (Emphasis added.)

         Against this backdrop, the legal issue before the Court, as aptly stated by amicus Property Casualty Insurers Association of America,

hinges on whether the phrase "the owner or registrant of a motor vehicle required to be registered in this state shall maintain security," means that the owner (or at least an owner) must be the one to acquire the insurance policy, or whether it suffices for any person to provide the required security such that all that matters is that the vehicle is insured.[36]

         GEICO maintains that the former interpretation is correct, and accordingly argues that plaintiff is excluded from receiving PIP benefits because he owned the BMW and was not the one to obtain the no-fault insurance policy. Plaintiff maintains that the latter interpretation is correct, and he argues that he is not excluded from coverage because he owned the BMW and the BMW was insured. While this Court has not yet addressed this issue, the Court of Appeals has considered very similar arguments in two published opinions, which we now review.

         B. COURT OF APPEALS CASELAW

         In Iqbal v Bristol West Ins Group, [37] the Court of Appeals first addressed in a published decision whether every owner of a vehicle is "required to maintain insurance on the vehicle under the no-fault act . . . ." In that case, the plaintiff did not have title to any vehicle, but he frequently used his brother's BMW.[38] The plaintiff was injured while driving the BMW and requested no-fault benefits. In his answers to interrogatories, the plaintiff indicated that the BMW" 'belonged to my brother but I had primary possession.' "[39] The insurer claimed that the plaintiff should also be considered an owner of the car and that as an owner, the plaintiff must have obtained the insurance policy to obtain PIP benefits. The panel rejected this argument, stating:

Viewing the statutory language in the context of the given facts, the statute would preclude plaintiff from being entitled to PIP benefits if plaintiff "was the owner . . . of [the BMW] . . . involved in the accident with respect to which the security required by section 3101 . . . was not in effect." As part of the process of construing MCL 500.3113(b), we shall make the assumption that plaintiff was an "owner" of the BMW, as that term is defined in MCL 500.3101(2)(g)(i). Next, the phrase "with respect to which the security required by section 3101 . . . was not in effect," § 3113(b), when read in proper grammatical context, defines or modifies the preceding reference to the motor vehicle involved in the accident, here the BMW, and not the person standing in the shoes of an owner or registrant. The statutory language links the required security or insurance solely to the vehicle. Thus, the question becomes whether the BMW, and not plaintiff, had the coverage or security required by MCL 500.3101. As indicated above, the coverage mandated by MCL 500.3101(1) consists of "personal protection insurance, property protection insurance, and residual liability insurance." While plaintiff did not obtain this coverage, there is no dispute that the BMW had the coverage, and that is the only requirement under MCL 500.3113(b), making it irrelevant whether it was plaintiff's brother who procured the vehicle's coverage or plaintiff. Stated differently, the security required by MCL 500.3101(1) was in effect for purposes of MCL 500.3113(b) as it related to the BMW.[40]

         In sum, Iqbal held that the only requirement under MCL 500.3113(b) was that there be no-fault insurance on the vehicle-who purchased the policy was irrelevant. Plaintiff's position is in accordance with Iqbal.

         In Barnes v Farmers Ins Exch, [41] the Court of Appeals was presented with a very similar question. In that case, the plaintiff and her mother were the titled owners of a vehicle.[42] The plaintiff's mother gave a friend from church, Richard Huling, money to obtain insurance for the vehicle.[43] Huling purchased a policy.[44] The plaintiff was later injured in an accident, and requested PIP benefits under Huling's policy.[45] The insurer denied the request, and the plaintiff brought suit.[46] The insurer moved for summary disposition, contending that the "plaintiff could not recover PIP benefits from it under the policy because the policy only covered the named insured, Huling, and was never intended to benefit plaintiff."[47]

         In Barnes, after hearing arguments, "the trial court ruled that the no-fault act required at least one of the 'owners' to have insurance. It reasoned that because neither plaintiff nor [her mother] had insurance, plaintiff was barred from seeking benefits under the no-fault act."[48] The trial court granted summary disposition to the insurer.[49]

         The plaintiff in Barnes appealed, arguing that Iqbal required the opposite result. The Court of Appeals stated:

In the present case, plaintiff cites Iqbal and argues that the fact that neither she nor [her mother] insured the Cavalier does not matter because Huling did. Plaintiff contends that this is so regardless of whether Huling was an owner of the Cavalier. Iqbal should not be read so broadly as to apply to even nonowners. The Court made it clear that it was addressing the problem of whether the statute required "each and every owner" to maintain insurance on a vehicle. The Court opined that to so hold would preclude an owner who obtained insurance from receiving PIP benefits as long as any other co-owner did not maintain coverage as well.[50]

         Thus, Barnes distinguished Iqbal, stating that "while Iqbal held that each and every owner need not obtain insurance, it did not allow for owners to avoid the consequences of MCL 500.3113(b) if no owner obtained the required insurance."[51] In sum, Barnes held that only a registrant or owner may procure no-fault insurance for a vehicle. Barnes is consistent with GEICO's position, and plaintiff argues that Barnes improperly distinguished Iqbal.

         C. APPLICATION

         While the Court of Appeals in Iqbal and Barnes focused primarily on the language of MCL 500.3113(b), our analysis primarily concerns the language of MCL 500.3101(1). After examining this provision, we conclude that the Legislature carefully chose its words when it prescribed that "[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."[52] The first and most relevant definition of "maintain" is: "to keep in an existing state (as of repair, efficiency, or validity): preserve from failure or decline[.]"[53] MCL 500.3101(1) only requires that the owner or registrant "maintain" no-fault insurance, which, as commonly understood, simply means to keep in an existing state. Further, MCL 500.3101(1) does not prescribe any particular manner by which a registrant or owner must keep no-fault insurance in an existing state. Indeed, MCL 500.3101(4) expressly contemplates that the "[s]ecurity required by subsection (1) may be provided by any other method approved by the secretary of state as affording security equivalent to that afforded by a policy of insurance, if proof of the security is filed and continuously maintained with the secretary of state throughout the period the motor vehicle is driven or moved on a highway." If we were to accept GEICO's interpretation that only a registrant or owner may obtain insurance on a vehicle, we would limit the secretary of state's power to allow security "by any other method" and we would also have effectively read a requirement into MCL 500.3101(1) that the Legislature did not manifest through the words of MCL 500.3101(1) itself.[54]

         GEICO argues that "the common thread in all of these definitions [of maintenance] is that some affirmative act is necessary by the person required to 'maintain' the insurance." We conclude that this argument lacks merit. Even if the word "maintain" were to imply an affirmative act, plaintiff here undeniably undertook an affirmative act when he instructed his father to obtain no-fault insurance, the same way any person instructs a mechanic to "maintain" his vehicle or a father instructs his son to "maintain" the lawn. Thus, we conclude that the language of MCL 500.3101(1) does not require an owner or a registrant of a motor vehicle to personally obtain no-fault insurance.

         We further conclude, contrary to Barnes, that when read together, MCL 500.3101(1) and MCL 500.3113(b) do not preclude plaintiff from receiving PIP benefits. Again, MCL 500.3113 provides:

A person is not entitled to be paid personal protection insurance benefits for accidental bodily injury if at the time of the accident any of the following circumstances existed:
(b) The person was the owner or registrant of a motor vehicle or motorcycle involved in the accident with respect to which the security required by section 3101 or 3103 was not in effect.

         As previously discussed, the Court of Appeals in Iqbal opined that "the phrase 'with respect to which the security required by section 3101 . . . was not in effect,' § 3113(b), when read in proper grammatical context, defines or modifies the preceding reference to the motor vehicle involved in the accident, here the BMW, and not the person standing in the shoes of an owner or registrant. The statutory language links the required security or insurance solely to the vehicle."[55] Despite acknowledging that Iqbal also stated that" 'there is no dispute that the BMW had the coverage, and that is the only requirement under MCL 500.3113(b),' "[56] the Barnes panel nonetheless concluded that "Iqbal does not protect owners of vehicles if no owner provides the insurance . . . ."[57] In our view, a fair reading of Iqbal does not indicate that at least one owner must obtain no-fault insurance. Indeed, Iqbal concludes that

[b]ecause the language in MCL 500.3113(b) precluding recovery of PIP benefits links the security or insurance requirement to the vehicle only and not the person, the trial court correctly ruled that plaintiff was entitled to PIP benefits because the vehicle was in fact insured, regardless of whether plaintiff was the "owner" of the vehicle.[58]

         Thus, while Barnes may be distinguishable from Iqbal on its facts, we conclude that those factual distinctions did not place Barnes ...


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