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Bazzo v Doe, et al (COA – UNP 6/2/2022; RB #4424)   


Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #357178; Unpublished  
Judges Swartzle, Cameron, and Patel; Per Curiam 
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion

Not Applicable

Unlawful Lending or Use of Title, Registration, and/or Plate (MCL 257.256)

In this unanimous, unpublished, per curiam decision, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary disposition order dismissing Plaintiff Katherine Lynn Bazzo’s negligence action against Defendant Groulx Automotive, Inc. (“Groulx”), a car dealership.  Bazzo was injured while traveling as a passenger in Mohammad Waseen Qureshi’s personal vehicle, which bore a Groulx dealer plate at the time of the subject crash.  The Court of Appeals held that Bazzo could not proceed with a negligence claim based on Groulx’s violation of MCL 257.256, because the Groulx salesperson who gave Qureshi the dealer plate was not acting within the course and scope of his employment when he did so.  

After being hired as a ‘salesman assistant’ at Groulx, Sam Liechti met and struck up a ‘loose business relationship’ with Mohammad Waseen Qureshi, who claimed he was interested in purchasing a motor vehicle from Groulx.  Over the next several months, Qureshi test drove several Groulx vehicles, all of which were affixed either by Liechti or another Groulx employee with Groulx dealer plates.  At some point, Qureshi took a Groulx dealer plate off a Groulx vehicle and affixed it to his personal Dodge Viper.  Katherine Lynn Bazzo was traveling as a passenger in Qureshi’s Viper one day—with the Groulx plate affixed to it—when Qureshi lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a tree.  Bazzo subsequently filed a third-party auto negligence action against Qureshi and Groulx, arguing that Groulx was liable for negligence by breached its statutory duty under MCL 257.256 to strictly control use of its dealer plates.  The trial court disagreed and granted summary disposition in Groulx’s favor.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary disposition order, rejecting Bazzo’s argument that Groulx was vicariously liable for Liechti’s breach of the duty created under MCL 257.256—a breach which can give rise to a negligence claim, according to the Michigan Supreme Court’s holding in Weiland v Kenny, 385 Mich 654 (1971).  MCL 257.256 provides, in relevant part:

“A person shall not lend to another person, or knowingly permit the use of, any certificate of title, registration certificate, registration plate, special plate, or permit issued to him or her if the person receiving or using the certificate of title, registration certificate, registration plate, special plate, or permit would not be entitled to the use thereof.” 

The Court of Appeals distinguished this case from Weiland—which also featured a crash involving a personal vehicle affixed with dealer plates—noting that in Weiland, “The evidence supported that the defendant dealer allowed its employees, including the defendant driver, regular access to its automobile dealer plates,” and thus the Supreme Court held that the defendant dealer ‘was estopped from saying that its statutory violation was not causally connected with the vehicular collision.’  In this case, there was no evidence that Groulx’s owners were aware that Qureshi was in control of one of its dealer plates, nor any evidence that Groulx gave Liechti permission to give one of its dealer plates to Qureshi.  Thus, the Court held that Liechti was not acting in the course and scope of his employment when he gave Qureshi the subject dealer plate and that Groulx could not, therefore, be held vicariously liable for Liechti’s breach of the duty created by MCL 257.256.

“Plaintiff argues that Wieland controls because Qureshi averred that Liechti ‘knowingly allowed [him] to use the Groulx Automotive Dealer Plate on’ the Viper. Qureshi denied that he stole the dealer plate from Groulx or that he had ever ‘received a demand or a request to return the dealer plate. . . .’ In response, however, Groulx argues that the facts in Wieland are distinguishable from the facts herein because there is no evidence to support that Groulx’s owners were aware that Qureshi was in possession of the dealer plate and because Groulx is not liable for Liechti’s alleged actions under a theory of vicarious liability. We agree with Groulx. . . . 

Even when viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to plaintiff, we conclude that summary disposition in favor of Groulx is proper because there is no evidence that Liechti was acting within the scope of his employment when he allegedly provided Qureshi with the dealer plate. Indeed, contrary to plaintiff’s arguments on appeal, Qureshi did not aver that Liechti provided him with the dealer plate to entice him to purchase a vehicle from Groulx. Rather, Qureshi averred that Liechti provided him with the plate because they were friends. Because the affidavit supports that Liechti was not engaging in the service of his master and was instead seeking to further his individual interests, i.e., maintaining his friendship with Qureshi, Liechti’s alleged actions cannot be fairly characterized as falling within the scope of employment. Consequently, plaintiff failed to provide evidence to support that Groulx is vicariously liable for Liechti’s alleged breach of the duty created under MCL 257.256(1). Similarly, we conclude that the collision and resulting injuries to plaintiff were not the reasonably foreseeable result of Groulx’s actions here. The trial court correctly concluded, therefore, that summary disposition was also appropriate on proximate-causation grounds. See Johnson v Vanderkooi, 502 Mich 751, 767-769, 776-777; 918 NW2d 785 (2018).” 

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