Turner v Auto-Owners Ins Co (COA – UNP 6/17/2021; RB #4283)


Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #352904 Unpublished
Judges Gleicher, Cavanagh, and Leticia;  Per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable, Link to Opinion

One-Year Back Rule Limitation [§3145(1)]

Not Applicable

In this unanimous unpublished  per curiam  decision, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary disposition order dismissing Plaintiff Shanti Turner’s first-party no-fault action against Defendant Auto-Owners Insurance Company (“Auto-Owners”). Turner named Auto-Owners as the only defendant in this case, despite the fact that she was actually insured by Home-Owners Insurance Company (“Home-Owners”) at the time of the subject motor vehicle collision, and did not seek to amend her complaint to substitute Home-Owners until more than one year after the subject collision. Therefore, the Court of Appeals held that Turner’s claims against Home-Owners were barred by the one-year-back rule, and that Turner could not rely on the “so-called misnomer doctrine” in attempting to relate an amendment to her complaint naming the correct entity back to the filing date of her original action.

Turner was injured in a motor vehicle collision on December 21, 2017, and filed a first-party action against Auto-Owners on December 21, 2018. On January 28, 2019, Auto-Owners filed its answer and notice of affirmative defenses in which it repeatedly asserted that Turner had sued the wrong no-fault insurer. Despite discovering this mistake, Turner took no action for several months, at which point, on October 22, 2019, Auto-Owners filed a motion for summary disposition, pointing out that Auto-Owners and Home-Owners are separate and distinct entities even though they are both subsidiaries of Auto-Owners Insurance Group (“AOIG”). As a result, Auto-Owners argued that Turner had no claim against it because it had never issued a no-fault insurance policy to her. Ultimately, the trial court granted Auto-Owners’ motion for summary disposition, and denied Turner’s motion to amend her complaint to substitute Home-Owners as a defendant.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary disposition order in favor of Auto-Owners, first holding that there was no issue of material fact as to which entity insured her at the time of the collision. The Court further held that Home-Owners and Auto-Owners are, in fact, distinct entities, and that the one-year-back rule therefore barred any claims Turner may have had against Home-Owners. This is because the relation-back doctrine does not apply to amendments to complaints which seek to add new parties to a lawsuit. Furthermore, the Court of Appeals held that the “so-called misnomer doctrine”—by which an amendment may relate back to the original filing date of a complaint if there was a minor or inconsequential error in the spelling or naming of a party to the lawsuit, so long as service was made on the right party—did not apply in this case, because the doctrine does not apply where “ ‘the plaintiff seeks to substitute or add a wholly new and different party to the proceedings.’ ”

“This case does not fall within the so-called misnomer doctrine by which an amendment may relate back to the filing of the original action. ‘The misnomer doctrine applies only to correct inconsequential deficiencies or technicalities in the naming of parties, for example, where the right corporation has been sued by the wrong name, and service has been made upon the right party, although by a wrong name.’ Miller v Chapman Contracting, 477 Mich 102, 106-107; 730 NW2d 462 (2007) (quotation marks, brackets, ellipsis, and citations omitted). When ‘the plaintiff seeks to substitute or add a wholly new and different party to the proceedings, the misnomer doctrine is inapplicable.’ Id. at 107. This case does not involve an inconsequential deficiency or technicality in the naming of a party. Plaintiff sued the wrong insurer and is now seeking to add a wholly new and different party. Also, the extent of a plaintiff’s fault in pursuing an action against the wrong entity is a factor in determining whether the misnomer doctrine applies. See Cobb v Mid-Continent Tel Serv Corp, 90 Mich App 349, 354; 282 NW2d 317 (1979). Defendant notified plaintiff at the outset of the case that she had sued the wrong entity and that Home-Owners was her no-fault insurer, but plaintiff took no action to seek leave to amend the complaint for almost a year, waiting until after defendant moved for summary disposition on this ground before asking for leave to amend the complaint. Plaintiff may not use the misnomer doctrine as a shield given that she was not diligent in seeking a timely amendment. Plaintiff was on notice from the outset of the case that defendant was not the proper entity to sue, but plaintiff failed to act. For all of these reasons, the misnomer doctrine is inapplicable.”