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Copeland v. Hicks

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

October 3, 2019

LEE HICKS, AMERICAN RED CROSS, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff, David Copeland, claims to have suffered serious injury when he was crossing the street on foot and was allegedly hit by a vehicle driven by Defendant Lee Hicks. Hicks was driving a car owned by his employer, Defendant American Red Cross (“Red Cross”). In addition to suing the driver and the Red Cross, Plaintiff has sued three insurance companies for Michigan personal protection insurance (“PPI”) benefits. Two of those insurance companies, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (“State Farm”), and Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Company (“Nationwide”), seek summary judgment on the grounds that Defendant Old Republic Insurance Company or Old Republic General Insurance Corporation (“Old Republic”) stands in higher priority than them. Old Republic, Red Cross, and Hicks do not object to the dismissal of State Farm or Nationwide, but allege that the accident alleged never took place, thus any order declaring Old Republic to be the highest priority insurer or suggesting they have any liability would be improper. For the reasons set forth below, State Farm's and Nationwide's motions for summary judgment shall be GRANTED and they shall be DISMISSED from this lawsuit.

         I. Factual Background

         On January 19, 2018, Copeland was a pedestrian in the City of Detroit crossing the North Lodge Service Drive near the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Copeland alleges that Hicks was driving a 2008 Chevrolet, owned by his employer, the American Red Cross, and struck him while he was crossing the street. Copeland brought state law tort claims against Hicks and the Red Cross, and claims for PPI benefits against three insurers in Wayne County Circuit Court. Defendants removed on the basis of Red Cross's federal charter which confers original jurisdiction over all cases in which Red Cross is a party pursuant to 36 U.S.C. § 300105. Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint on January 15, 2019. Counts I through III allege negligence claims against Hicks and the Red Cross. Count IV, V, and VI seeks PPI benefits against State Farm, Nationwide, and Old Republic.

         In its answers to interrogatories, Old Republic admits that it insured the 2008 Chevrolet owned by the Red Cross and driven by Hicks on January 19, 2018. (ECF No. 26-2, PageID.437). But Old Republic denies that the accident took place, relying on Hick's interrogatory responses that he did not collide with anyone, but an individual walked in front of his vehicle, claimed he hurt his arm, took pictures of Hick's license plate, and ran off. (ECF No. 30-2, PageID.470). Plaintiff on the other hand has submitted a State of Michigan Traffic Crash Report from January 19, 2018 which states that Plaintiff reported that he was struck by the Red Cross van while he was crossing over the Lodge service drive, that he was transported to Detroit Receiving Hospital by ambulance, and lists the accident as a hit and run. (ECF No. 41, PageID 779-780).

         Copeland submitted a claim to the Michigan Automobile Insurance Placement Facility (“MAIPF”), including an affidavit stating that he did not have automotive insurance, and his claim was assigned to Nationwide.

         Now before the court are State Farm and Nationwide's motions for summary judgment on the ground that as the insurer of the vehicle allegedly involved in the accident, Old Republic, has higher priority than either of them. Plaintiff stipulated to the dismissal of State Farm as long as Old Republic stipulated that it was the insurer of highest priority. (ECF No. 29, PageID.450). Old Republic would not so stipulate because it claims the incident never took place; thus, it faces no liability. Similarly, Plaintiff requests that this court deem Old Republic the highest priority insurer if the court grants Nationwide's motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 41, PageID.767).

         II. Standard of Law

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) empowers the court to render summary judgment "forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." See Redding v. St. Eward, 241 F.3d 530, 532 (6th Cir. 2001). The Supreme Court has affirmed the court's use of summary judgment as an integral part of the fair and efficient administration of justice. The procedure is not a disfavored procedural shortcut. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986); see also Cox v. Kentucky Dep't of Transp., 53 F.3d 146, 149 (6th Cir. 1995).

         The standard for determining whether summary judgment is appropriate is "'whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.'" Amway Distributors Benefits Ass'n v. Northfield Ins. Co., 323 F.3d 386, 390 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986)). The evidence and all reasonable inferences must be construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Tolan v. Cotton, 572 U.S. 650, 660 (2014); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original); see also National Satellite Sports, Inc. v. Eliadis, Inc., 253 F.3d 900, 907 (6th Cir. 2001).

         If the movant establishes by use of the material specified in Rule 56(c) that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the opposing party must come forward with "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." First Nat'l Bank v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 270 (1968); see also McLean v. 988011 Ontario, Ltd., 224 F.3d 797, 800 (6th Cir. 2000). Mere allegations or denials in the non-movant's pleadings will not meet this burden, nor will a mere scintilla of evidence supporting the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 252. Rather, there must be evidence on which a jury could reasonably find for the non-movant. McLean, 224 F.3d at 800 (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252).

         III. Analysis

         A. State Farm

         A person whose injuries arise out of the ownership or operation of a motor vehicle are entitled to PPI benefits. MCL § 500.3105(1). Michigan's no-fault laws establish priority for determining which insurer is responsible for the payment of benefits where multiple insurers are involved. First, the injured person must seek no-fault benefits from his or her own no-fault insurer or the insurer of his or her spouse or resident relative pursuant to MCL § 500.3114(1). Here, no such no-fault benefits are available as Copeland does not have insurance coverage from a policy of his own, a spouse, or a resident relative. Thus, the court turns to MCL § 500.3115, as it existed at ...

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