Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #360100; Unpublished
Judges Shapiro, Redford, and Yates; Per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion
Compulsory Insurance Requirements for Owners or Registrants of Motor Vehicles Required to Be Registered [§3101(1)]
Obligation of Non-Resident Owner / Registrant to Insure a Vehicle [§3102(1)]
Disqualification of Uninsured Owners / Operators for Noneconomic Loss [§3135(2)]
In this unanimous, unpublished, per curiam decision, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of Defendant Matthew Alan Kubacki’s motion for summary disposition, in which he sought dismissal of Plaintiff Shavon Alexander’s automobile negligence action. The Court of Appeals held that Alexander—an Ohio resident who commuted to Michigan for work five days per week in a vehicle that was registered in Georgia and owned by her stepfather, a Georgia resident—was not required to register her vehicle in Michigan for purposes of MCL 500.3101(1), and therefore not barred by MCL 500.3135(2)(c) from pursuing her tort claim for noneconomic loss against Kubacki.
Shavon Alexander had worked in Monroe, Michigan since 2013, and in 2019, she moved to Toledo, Ohio with plans to commute to her job in Monroe every weekday. She did not work at her job in Monroe for the first two months she lived in Toledo due to an injury she had suffered months prior, but when she returned to work in September, she would commute from Toledo to Monroe five days per week in a vehicle that was owned by her stepfather, a Georgia resident, and registered in Georgia. On October 17, 2019, Alexander was involved in a motor vehicle collision in I-75, after which she filed suit against the driver she alleged caused the collision, Matthew Kubacki. At the close of discovery, Kubacki filed a motion for summary disposition, arguing that Alexander was barred from recovering noneconomic damages related to the collision by MCL 500.3135(2)(c), based on her failure to comply with the registration requirements of MCL 500.3102(1). Notably, MCL 500.3135(2)(c) explicitly bars persons who fail to comply with MCL 500.3101(1)—not MCL 500.3102(1)—from recovering noneconomic damages in tort, but Kubacki, relying on the doctrine of in pari materia, argued that the Legislature intended for MCL 500.3135(2)(c) to apply both to those who fail to comply with MCL 500.3101(1) and MCL 500.3102(1). The trial court disagreed and denied Kubacki’s motion.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of Kubacki’s motion for summary, holding, first, that MCL 500.3135(2)(c) only bars injured persons who fail to comply with MCL 500.3101(1) from recovering noneconomic damages in tort—not injured persons who fail to comply with MCL 500.3102(1).
“Applying the unambiguous language of the statute, application of MCL 500.3135(2)(c) is limited to vehicles that fail to carry insurance as required by MCL 500.3101(1), and so we need not resolve whether plaintiff was required to maintain no-fault insurance under MCL 500.3102(1). Instead, this appeal turns solely on whether plaintiff’s vehicle was ‘required to be registered in this state’ such that the lack of Michigan no-fault insurance on the vehicle violated MCL 500.3101(1), and in turn, triggered MCL 500.3135(2)(c)’s bar on noneconomic damages.”
The Court then held that Alexander was not required to register her vehicle in Michigan under the relevant section of the Michigan Vehicle Code—MCL 257.243—and therefore not in violation MCL 500.3101(1), nor barred from recovering noneconomic damages in tort by MCL 500.3135(2)(c). MCL 257.243(1) provides:
“A nonresident owner, except as otherwise provided in this section, owning any foreign vehicle of a type otherwise subject to registration under this act may operate or permit the operation of the vehicle within this state without registering the vehicle in, or paying any fees to, this state if the vehicle at all times when operated in this state is duly registered in, and displays upon it a valid registration certificate and registration plate or plates issued for the vehicle in the place of residence of the owner.”
Alexander argued that her vehicle was exempt from Michigan registration because her stepfather—a Georgia resident and the titled owner of the vehicle—permitted her to operate the vehicle in Michigan, and because the vehicle had a valid Georgia registration certificate and plate. Kubacki argued, conversely, that Alexander was a constructive owner of the vehicle and the applicable owner of the vehicle for purposes of MCL 257.243(1), and that, because she did not register the vehicle in Ohio nor have an Ohio license plate, she failed to comply with the statute.
The Court of Appeals rejected Kubacki’s argument, noting that a vehicle may have more than one owner and that Alexander and her stepfather complied with each of the clear requirements of the statute.
“While plaintiff does not satisfy MCL 257.243(1), her stepfather does under a straightforward application of the statute. Again, he is ‘a nonresident owner’ of the vehicle who has permitted operation of the vehicle in Michigan. The remaining requirements are that the vehicle be ‘duly registered in, and displays upon it a valid registration certificate and registration plate or plates issued for the vehicle in the place of residence of the owner.’ MCL 257.243(1) (emphasis added). ‘The owner’ refers back to whatever particular ‘nonresident owner’ of the vehicle that the statute is being applied to. With respect to plaintiff’s stepfather, the vehicle complied with MCL 257.243(1)’s remaining requirements because it had a Georgia license plate and was registered in Georgia. Thus, plaintiff’s vehicle was generally exempt from registration under MCL 257.243(1).”
Lastly, the Court of Appeals rejected Kubacki’s argument that Plaintiff was required to register the vehicle in Michigan pursuant to MCL 257.243(4), which provides that ‘[a] nonresident owner of a pleasure vehicle otherwise subject to registration under this act shall not operate the vehicle for a period exceeding 90 days without securing registration in this state.’ Even assuming Alexander’s vehicle qualified as a ‘pleasure vehicle,’ the Court noted that the term ‘period’ refers to a continuous 90-day period, not 90 days total. In this case, the evidence demonstrated that Alexander did not drive the vehicle for a continuous 90 day period between the date she began commuting from Toledo and the date of the subject collision.
“The phrase ‘a period not exceeding 60 days’ in MCL 257.310(12) is substantially similar to the phrase ‘for a period exceeding 90 days’ used in MCL 257.243(4). Yet no one would seriously argue that MCL 257.310(12) means that someone may use a temporary driver’s permit for a total of 60 days, regardless of when those days occur. Rather, the temporary driver’s permit plainly allows the applicant to operate vehicles in Michigan over the course of a continuous 60-day period from issuance. Applying this common-sense interpretation to MCL 257.243(4), the registration requirement applies when a nonresident owner operates a ‘pleasure vehicle’ in Michigan for a continuous 90-day period. We find no basis to conclude that the Legislature intended that “a period exceeding 90 days” could occur over many discontinuous months or years.”