Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #357169; Unpublished
Judges Swartzle, Cameron, and Patel; Per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion
Motor Vehicle Code (Civil Liability of Owner) (MCL 257.401)
In this unanimous, unpublished, per curiam decision, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's summary disposition order dismissing Plaintiff Zakariya Alhariri's auto negligence action against Defendant University Auto Repair, Inc. ("UAR"). The Court of Appeals held that UAR was not the owner of the motor vehicle in question at the time of the subject crash, because legal title had been transferred upon the signing of the application for title five days earlier.
Monifa Rogers and Margaret Humphrey went to UAR on December 4, 2018 to jointly purchase a vehicle. Rogers signed a sales agreement and took possession of the vehicle on December 4, 2018, but she, Humphrey, and UAR did not sign the application for title until January 2, 2019, nor submit the application for title to the Secretary of State until February 13, 2019. In the interim, on January 7, 2019, Rogers crashed the vehicle with Zakariya Alhariri as her passenger, resulting in Alhariri sustaining serious injuries. Alhariri filed a third-party auto negligence action against Rogers and Fremont Insurance Company (“Fremont”)—Alhariri’s uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance carrier—and included a count against UAR, alleging that UAR was the owner of the vehicle pursuant to MCL 257.401. UAR moved for summary disposition, arguing that it had transferred title to Rogers and Humphrey before the crash—on January 2, 2019, specifically, when all three parties signed the application for title—and thus was not the owner of the vehicle on January 7, 2019. Fremont argued, in opposition to UAR’s motion, that title was not transferred until the date the application for title was submitted to the Secretary of State. The trial court granted UAR’s motion, after which Alhariri and Fremont reached a settlement. As part of the settlement, Fremont assigned Alhariri its right to appeal the trial court’s summary disposition order in favor of UAR and waived any rights of subrogation/recovery against Alhariri. The trial court then entered a stipulated order of dismissal as to Fremont and subsequently dismissed Alhariri’s remaining claims against Rogers pursuant to a consent judgment.
Alhariri proceeded to appeal the trial court’s summary disposition order in favor of UAR, but UAR argued that the Court of Appeals did not have jurisdiction to hear the appeal because neither Fremont nor Alhariri were aggrieved parties. UAR noted that it had a liability insurance limit of $300,000, whereas Rogers had $1,000,000 in uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage under her policy with Fremont, which policy included a subrogation provision. However, the Court of Appeals held that because Fremont agreed to assign its right to appeal the trial court’s summary disposition order and waived its right of subrogation, Alhariri maintained a pecuniary interest in the outcome on appeal and thus was an aggrieved party.
“In this case, plaintiff filed suit against UAR and Fremont. UAR had a $300,000 liability policy limit. Fremont had a $1,000,000 policy limit, and its policy included a subrogation provision. However, as part of the settlement agreement, Fremont agreed to ‘waive[ ] any rights of subrogation/recovery from’ plaintiff, UAR, or its insurance carriers. Because plaintiff has a pecuniary interest in the outcome on appeal, we conclude that plaintiff is an aggrieved party.”
Nonetheless, the Court held that Alhariri’s argument as to owner liability was without merit, because, under MCL 257.233(9), “legal title is transferred upon (1) delivery of the vehicle, and (2) the signing of the application for title.” Thus, in this case, where delivery of the vehicle occurred on December 4, 2018 and the application for title was signed on January 2, 2019, the effective date of transfer was January 2, 2019. As of the date of the crash, therefore—January 7, 2019—UAR was no longer a title owner.
As for Alhariri’s argument that transfer did not occur until the application for title was submitted to the Secretary of State, the Court noted that in Perry v Golling Chrysler Plymouth Jeep, Inc, 477 Mich 62 (2007), the Supreme Court specifically held that “ ‘mailing or delivery [of the application for title] to the Secretary of State’ ” is not a prerequisite for transferring title.
“The term ‘owner’ includes ‘a person who holds the legal title of a vehicle.’ MCL 257.37(b). With respect to when legal title transfers, MCL 257.233(9) provides as follows:
Upon the delivery of a motor vehicle and the transfer, sale, or assignment of the title or interest in a motor vehicle by a person, including a dealer, the effective date of the transfer of title or interest in the vehicle is the date of signature on either the application for title or the assignment of the certificate of title by the purchaser, transferee, or assignee.
Therefore, legal title is transferred upon (1) delivery of the vehicle, and (2) the signing of the application for title. As relevant to this appeal, our Supreme Court in Perry v Golling Chrysler Plymouth Jeep, Inc, 477 Mich 62, 64; 729 NW2d 500 (2007), held that ‘mailing or delivery [of the application for title] to the Secretary of State’ is not necessary to transfer title.
In this case, UAR presented evidence to support that Rogers, Humphrey, and UAR signed the application for title on January 2, 2019, and that Rogers took possession of the vehicle on December 4, 2018. Specifically, UAR presented the January 2, 2019 application for title and Rogers’s deposition testimony, where she testified that her signature appeared on the January 2, 2019 application and that she left UAR with the vehicle on December 4, 2018. Therefore, it was Fremont’s burden as the nonmoving party to present evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the application was properly executed on January 2, 2019. Fremont failed to do so.”