Disqualification for Unlawful Taking and Use of a Vehicle [§3113(a)]
In this non-unanimous unpublished per curiam opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary disposition in favor of Defendant regarding the unlawful taking of Takilia Joseph’s (“Joseph”) car. The Court of Appeals found for Defendant because it believed that there was a standing prohibition against Plaintiff Pamela Johnson (“Johnson”) using the motor vehicle involved in the accident, and Johnson drove the motor vehicle without receiving expressed authorization to do so.
Johnson drove her daughter Joseph’s car and was involved in an accident while driving the car. Johnson brought an action for no-fault benefits. At her deposition, Joseph testified that she told her mother on at least two occasions that her mother was not permitted to use the car because she did not have a driver’s license. Johnson admitted that she had been denied permission to use the vehicle prior to the accident. Johnson was asked several times about this fact, and each time she admitted that she had been denied permission to drive the car on prior occasions. Then Johnson admitted that she did not ask for permission to drive the car on the day of the accident. Johnson explained that she told Joseph that her grandson wanted to leave and Joseph “didn’t say yes or no.”
The Court of Appeals concluded that there was no genuine issue of material fact regarding Johnson’s unlawful use of the vehicle because she failed to ask for permission to use the vehicle on the day of the accident. MCL 500.3113(a) explains that a person who willingly operates a vehicle that was taken unlawfully and knew or should have known that the vehicle was taken unlawfully, is disqualified from no-fault benefits. First, the Court found that Joseph’s prior denials of permission created a “standing order” that Johnson was not to utilize the vehicle unless otherwise directed. Joseph had admitted that she would rarely grant permission to Johnson to use the vehicle because of Johnson’s lack of a driver’s license. Thus, in the Court’s view, Johnson would need to get explicit permission from Joseph to overcome the standing order. Second, the Court found that Johnson did not receive explicit permission from Joseph to operate the vehicle on the day of the accident. Instead, Johnson admitted that Joseph did not say yes or no. Because no explicit permission was granted to Johnson, Johnson’s taking of the vehicle was unauthorized and fell within § 3113(a).
“Thus, the undisputed evidence establishes (1) the existence of a standing order that plaintiff not utilize the vehicle, and (2) that no permission to be exempt from that standing order was given on the day of the accident. We conclude that the foregoing testimony is clear, unequivocal, and undisputed. Plaintiff admitted that she was not allowed to use the vehicle in general, and was not allowed to use the vehicle on the day at issue. She simply assumed that her daughter would allow her to use the vehicle, but admittedly was never granted permission to do so.”
Therefore, the Court upheld the trial court’s grant of summary disposition for Defendant because Plaintiff did not get explicit permission to use the vehicle.
Judge Ronayne Krause dissented from the majority’s holding. First, the judge rejected Defendant’s contention that any taking of a vehicle without the expressed authority of the titleholder would establish that the taking was illegal. Defendant argued that the only time a non-titleholder could legally use a vehicle without expressed permission would be when the non-titleholder is a constructive owner. Judge Ronayne Krause found this to be an exaggeration and unpersuasive. Thus, Judge Ronayne Krause would have first found that there are situations where a non-titleholder non-constructive owner can legally take a vehicle without expressed permission to do so from the title holder. While permissive use is a factor to be considered, Judge Ronayane Krause would not hold it to be dispositive.
Judge Ronayne Krause then articulated that Plaintiff’s state of mind was key to establishing a violation. The Judge argued that it was possible to find that Johnson believed on this occasion she had permission to use the vehicle. While it might be unlikely, that does not dispose of a genuine issue of material fact. Further, Judge Ronayane Krause rejected the majority’s contention that there was a standing order from Joseph prohibiting Johnson from using the vehicle. The Judge believed that Joseph’s prior denials of permission were specific and did not create a general policy. The questions asked at deposition did not elicit a clear response from Joseph if she had such a policy and the majority’s construction of such a policy was wrongheaded.
“In short, I think the majority establishes a rule that has no basis in the law or in how people generally treat their relationships within families or otherwise. I would conclude that plaintiff’s admitted lack of express permission certainly weakens her case, but does not necessarily preclude a reasonable possibility that a trier of fact could find that she lacked the mens rea to commit a joyriding offense. Under the circumstances, I would find genuine questions of fact whether the vehicle actually was taken unlawfully, whether plaintiff actually knew it was taken unlawfully, or whether plaintiff should have known it was taken unlawfully.”
Thus, Judge Ronayane Krause would have overturned the trial court’s grant of summary disposition and remanded the case back to the trial court.