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Jagannathan Neurosurgical Institute, PLLC, et al v GEICO Indemnity Co, et al (COA – UNP 7/15/2021; RB #4294)

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Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #353776; Unpublished
Judges Riordan, Kelly, and Shapiro; Per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion


STATUTORY INDEXING:
Obligations of Admitted Insurers to Pay PIP Benefits on Behalf of Nonresidents Injured in Michigan [Former §3163(1)]

TOPICAL INDEXING:
Not Applicable


SUMMARY:
In this unanimous unpublished per curiam decision, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary disposition order dismissing Plaintiff Jagannathan Neurosurgical Institute, PLLC’s (“Jagannathan”) first-party action to recover no-fault PIP benefits from Defendants GEICO Indemnity Company and GEICO General Insurance Company (“GEICO,” collectively). The Court of Appeals held that Jagannathan’s patient was not an out-of-state resident at the time of the subject collision for purposes of the former MCL 500.3163, and that Jagannathan, therefore, could not recover PIP benefits on the basis of an assignment from GEICO—an authorized Michigan insurer for purposes of MCL 500.3163—under whose Florida automobile insurance policy Jagannathan’s patient was insured at the time of the collision.

Marlene and William Holbrook purchased a Michigan home in 2017, and in November of 2018, William traveled to the Michigan home with several of the couple’s belongings, intending to make it his permanent residence. Approximately one week later, William went to pick up Marlene from a Michigan airport, and on the drive from the airport to their home, they were involved in a car crash in which Marlene was injured. At the time of the crash, William and Marlene were covered under a Florida automobile insurance policy issued by GEICO—an authorized insurer in Michigan for purposes of MCL 500.3163—with personal injury protection limits of $10,000 per person. Marlene incurred more than $10,000 in medical treatment for the injuries she sustained in the crash, and one of her providers, Jagannathan, thereafter filed the underlying first-party action against GEICO on the basis of assignment it obtained from Marlene. Jagannathan argued that GEICO was responsible for Marlene’s PIP benefits because GEICO is an authorized insurer in Michigan for purposes of MCL 500.3163 and because William—the owner and operator of the vehicle Marlene was traveling in at the time of the subject collision—was an “out-of-state resident” at the time of the collision. The trial court disagreed, finding that William was domiciled in Michigan at the time of the collision, and therefore not an “out-of-state resident” for purposes of the statute.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary disposition order in favor of GEICO, holding that William was not an “out-of-state resident” at the time of the collision, and that GEICO, therefore, was not responsible for Marlene’s PIP benefits pursuant to MCL 500.3163. The Court of Appeals relied on the Michigan Supreme Court’s domicile analysis set forth in Grange Ins Co of Mich v Lawrence, 494 Mich 475 (2013): “ ‘[D]omicile is acquired by the combination of residence and the intention to reside in a given place . . . . If the intention of permanently residing in a place exists, a residence in pursuance of that intention, however short, will establish a domicile. Id. at 495.’ ” In this case, William was both present in Michigan at the time of the crash, and had the intention of staying in Michigan permanently. The fact that he returned to Florida on occasion to gather more belongings and had not yet sold his Florida property did not operate to undo his satisfaction of Grange’s domicile analysis.

“Here, even viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff, it is clear that William was domiciled in Michigan at the time of the car crash. The Holbrooks’ purchased the Michigan house in 2017, and their testimony reflects their intent to make that home their permanent home. Both had family close to the Michigan home, including a grandchild and a great-grandchild with whom Marlene wanted to have a closer relationship. The Holbrooks sold their Florida home in anticipation of their move. However, because of pending litigation and Marlene’s medical issues, they purchased another house in Florida. Then, in November 2018, William drove to Michigan with a number of their belongings. He testified that his intent at that point was to live in Michigan and not return to Florida. A few days to a week after he left, Marlene took a one-way flight to Michigan. It is undisputed that she intended to live in Michigan permanently and not return to the Florida home. The record also reflects that Marlene was disabled and William had been trained to provide her with fulltime care. After she arrived in Michigan, William continued to provide her with that care, and the record is devoid of any evidence suggesting that anyone else was retained to provide that care in his absence. Although William also intended to return to the Florida home, the Holbrooks’s testimony shows that the purpose of the trip was to prepare the home for sale and move more of their personal belongings from Florida to Michigan. Finally, the record shows that before Marlene flew to Michigan, the Holbrooks completed change-of-address forms with the post office and updated their address with their bank to reflect their Michigan address.

It is true that, at the time of the accident, the Holbrooks still had some property, including two large trailers mostly full of William’s ‘equipment,’ at their Florida home. They also still owned the Florida home and had a Florida automobile insurance policy. William also had a Florida driver’s license. Yet, the fact that the Holbrooks owned a home in Florida and had property at that home, is not reflective of William’s intent to reside permanently or indefinitely in Florida because the uncontradicted evidence shows that the Florida home was purchased as a temporary residence while the Holbrooks prepared for their intended permanent move to Michigan. Furthermore, although plaintiff asserts that William returned to Florida after the accident and that he lived there until the Florida home sold, there is nothing to support that assertion. Instead, the evidence reflects that after the crash, William continued to reside in Michigan with his disabled wife, providing her with fulltime care. He then made one or two trips to the Florida home to conduct some ‘repairs’ before the sale of the home was finalized and to transport more personal belongings from the Florida home to the Michigan home. Taking a trip from Michigan to Florida to retrieve belongings and to finalize the sale of the Florida home is not reflective of an intent to reside indefinitely in Florida. Moreover, even if the evidence showed that immediately after the crash, William left his wife in Michigan and returned to live in the Florida home, the record does not support that he did so on an indefinite basis. An indefinite period of time is one that lasts for an unknown or unstated length of time. Here, the uncontradicted testimony reflects that any trip William made from Michigan to Florida was for a definite period of time, i.e., until the house sale was finalized.”

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