Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket # 349577, 350418; Unpublished
Judges Fort Hood, Gadola and Letica; per curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion
In this unanimous unpublished per curiam opinion, the Court of Appealsheld that Progressive was not legally obligated to pay PIP benefits to Plaintiff under MCL 500.3114(4)(a), because Progressive’s insured, JeffreyDraper and his trucking company,wereno longer the “owners” or “registrants” of the truck plaintiff was occupying at the time of the crash that occurred shortly afterplaintiff bought the truck from Draper. The Court further held that plaintiff was disqualified entirely from PIP benefitsunder the pre-2019 amended version of MCL 500.3113(c), because plaintiff was not a resident of Michigan, the truck was no longer registered in Michigan at the time of the accident, and plaintiff was not insured by an out-of-state insurer that was certified to sell insurance in Michigan under the pre-2019 amended version of MCL 500.3163.
This case arose from a motor vehicle accident in which plaintiff was injured in a semi-truck he had purchased that day from a Michigan resident, Jeffrey Draper. Notably, Draper and his trucking company, Michigan Truck, insured the truck through Progressive. On the date of purchase, plaintiff paid Draper in cash. Plaintiff and Draper signed the truck’s certificate of tile. Draper removed his license plate, registration, and certificate of insurance from the truck. Draper informed plaintiff that plaintiff was not covered under his Progressive insurance policy and offered to allow plaintiff to leave the truck at the owner’s shop until plaintiff could obtain a license, registration, and insurance for the truck. However, plaintiff chose to drive the truck away that evening without any of those items in effect. Later that night, plaintiff crashed the truck and sustained injuries for which he eventually sought no-fault PIP benefits.Plaintiff ultimately sued Progressive, the Michigan Automobile Insurance Placement Facility (MAIPF), the Michigan Assigned Claims Plan (MACP), and John Doe Insurance Company. Plaintiff contended that Progressive was the insurer of the truck at the time of the accident and had thus breached its insurance policy by refusing to pay PIP benefits. Plaintiff also contended that if Progressive was not the priority insurer, then the MAIPF, MACP, or the insurance company to which his claim for PIP benefits would be assigned (the John Doe Insurance Company), were obligated to pay his no-fault PIP benefitsfirst in priority. Progressive moved for summary disposition, arguing that Progressive was not in the order of priority under MCL 500.3114(4) because Progressive was not the insurer of either the owner or registrant of the truck at the time of the accident, and that plaintiff was precluded from recovering PIP benefits under the pre-2019 amended version of MCL 500.3113. The trial court denied Progressive’s motion.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals found that the trial court erred in denying Progressive’s motion for summary disposition. The Courtreasoned thatwhether Progressive was obligated to pay no-fault PIP benefits to the injured plaintiff under MCL 500.3114(4) depended upon whether Progressive was the insurer of the “owner” or “registrant” of the truck at the time the plaintiff was injured while occupying the truck.
Regarding the issue of who owned the vehicle at the time of the crash, the Court emphasized that the “insurer of the owner or registrant of the vehicle occupied,” as used in MCL 500.3114(4)(a), refers to “the insurer of the vehicle’s owner, not the vehicle itself.” The Court further clarified that at the time of this case, the no fault act defined owner of a motor vehicle to include a person holding legal title to the vehicle. The Court went on to explain that the validity of a title transfer of a motor vehicle is determined according to the relevant provisions of the motor vehicle code at the time of transfer. Legal title transfer is addressed in MCL 257.233. The Court concluded that the evidence in this case indicated that in selling the truck to plaintiff, Jeffrey Draper complied with MCL 257.233 and properly completed the “the form printed on the certificate of title for the sale of the truck and that both [the original owner] and plaintiff signed the certificate. The certificate of title was then delivered to plaintiff before plaintiff drove the truck away from [the original owner’s] shop.” Thus, the Court held that the plaintiff held legal title of the truck at the time of accident, and, therefore, Progressive’s insured, Draper,was no longer was the owner of the truck at the time of the accident.
Regarding whether Progressive’s insured, Draper, was the registrant of the truck at the time of the accident, the court noted that registrant was not defined within the no-fault act, but clarified that “owner” and “registrant” were not synonymous. In doing so, the Court noted that in Clevenger v Allstate Ins Co, 443 Mich 646; 505 NW2d 553 (1993), the Michigan Supreme Court held that “a seller of a vehicle destroys the presumption that the vehicle is registered by removing the plate, registration certificate, and insurance certificate from the vehicle.” Applying this principle to the current case, the Court found that the original owner of the vehicle “removed the truck’s license plate, registration, and certificate of insurance from the truck. These actions destroyed the status of [the original owner] or Michigan Truck as registrant of the truck . . . .”
Because neither Draper nor Michigan Truck was the registrant of the truck at the time of the accident, the Court concluded that Progressive was not the insurer of the registrant of the truck at the time of the accident under MCL 500.3114(4), and that the trial court had erred by denying Progressive’s motion for summary disposition.
Finally, the Court explained that the trial court had also erred by failing to grant Progressive’s motion for summary disposition regarding whether plaintiff was precluded from seeking PIP benefits under the pre-2019 amended version of MCL 500.3113, which provides, in pertinent part:
"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:
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(c) The person was not a resident of this state, was an occupant of a motor vehicle or motorcycle not registered in this state, and the motor vehicle or motorcycle was not insured by an insurer that has filed a certification in compliance with section 3163. [Former MCL 500.3113, as amended by 2014 PA 489.] "
The Court noted that here, the plaintiff was a resident of Ohio, the truck was no longer registered in Michigan at the time of the accident, and plaintiff was not insured by an out-of-state insurer that had filed a certification in compliance with the pre-2109 version of MCL 500.3163.