Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #360843; Unpublished
Judges Rick, Shapiro, and Letica; Per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion
Definition of Owner [§3101(2)(h)]
Disqualification for Uninsured Owners or Registrants of Involved Motor Vehicles or Motorcycles [§3113(b)]
Persons Disqualified from Receiving Benefits Through the Assigned Claims Facility [§3173]
In this unanimous, unpublished, per curiam decision, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s summary disposition order dismissing Plaintiff Theodore Mutry’s action against Defendant, the Michigan Automobile Insurance Placement Facility (“MAIPF”). The Court of Appeals held that a question of fact existed as to whether Theodore Mutry was a constructive owner of the uninsured vehicle in question, such as would bar him from receiving PIP benefits by way of the MAIPF pursuant to MCL 500.3101(3)(l)(i), MCL 500.3113(b), and MCL 500.3173.
Eight days before being injured in a motor vehicle accident, Theodore Mutry accompanied his girlfriend, Malisha Lucas, to a car dealership, where Lucas purchased a 2015 Chevrolet Cruze. The Cruze was titled in Lucas’s name and uninsured at the time of the accident eight days later, and thus Mutry filed an application for PIP benefits following the accident with the MAIPF. On his application, Mutry stated that in the eight-day interim between the date the Cruze was purchased and the date of the accident, he had driven the vehicle daily, had access to a set of keys, put gas in the car, contributed money to its purchase or maintenance, and gave himself permission to use the car. Based on these answers, the MAIPF declined to assign his claim for benefits, asserting that he was a constructive owner of the Cruze at the time of the accident and therefore barred from receiving PIP benefits under MCL 500.3113(b).
Mutry then filed suit, and in his deposition, he testified that he used the vehicle a few times, but not daily; he testified that the keys he had access to were not his own; he testified he never put gas in the car; he testified that he did not contribute money to the purchase or maintenance of the vehicle; and, regarding his permission to use the vehicle, he testified that the vehicle was there for him to drive if he ‘needed to, like if [he] need[ed] to do something . . .” Based on Mutry’s testimony and his answers in his original application, the MAIPF moved for summary disposition, arguing that Mutry was a constructive owner of the vehicle and that, according to Twichel v MIC Gen Ins Corp, 469 Mich 524 (2004), it did not matter that Mutry had not yet had use of the vehicle for 30 days at the time of accident, so long as there was an arrangement between him and Lucas that contemplated his unfettered usage of the vehicle for more than 30 days. The trial court granted the MAIPF’s motion.
The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court, holding that a question of fact existed as to whether Mutry was a constructive owner of the Cruze at the time of the accident. The Court noted that Mutry identified Lucas as the sole owner of the Cruze; testified to only driving the vehicle, himself, a couple of times in the eight days between the date the vehicle was purchased and the date of the crash; and testified that the vehicle was there for him to drive only if he needed “to do something.” Based on this testimony, the Court determined that Mutry did not “have unfettered use of the vehicle as an owner would.”
“In this case, the trial court’s determination that the facts were unrebutted based on plaintiff’s deposition and application was incorrect in part. Plaintiff’s application was contradicted on three points—plaintiff denied that he contributed money toward the purchase of the vehicle, that he used the vehicle daily, and that he purchased gasoline for the vehicle. Plaintiff did not contradict his application on five points—plaintiff used the vehicle, not daily as initially reported, but a couple of times over the course of the eight days; plaintiff had access to a set of keys, but later testified that he did not have his own set of keys; plaintiff had not ever had to ask for permission to use the vehicle; plaintiff had never been denied permission to use the vehicle; and plaintiff gave himself permission to use the vehicle on the date of the accident.
Even so, plaintiff identified Lucas as the lone owner of the vehicle on his application and, during his deposition, plaintiff denied that he owned a car. Plaintiff also explained that the car was there for him to drive if he ‘needed to, like if [he] need[ed] to do something . . . .’ Thus, although plaintiff had access to the car’s keys, he did not have unfettered use of the vehicle as an owner would. Cf. Chop, 244 Mich App at 680-681 (the plaintiff regularly used the car, kept at her apartment complex, for work and to run other personal errands); Kessel, 244 Mich App at 257 (the plaintiff had exclusive use of the vehicle for any use she needed). In fact, plaintiff used the vehicle sporadically, albeit apparently without securing Lucas’s permission given their relationship. Detroit Med Ctr, 284 Mich App at 493 (the injured driver used the vehicle sporadically and did not believe she owned the vehicle, even though her relationship with the car’s owner was such that permission to use the vehicle was never denied); Ardt, 233 Mich App 689 (the plaintiff had sporadic use of the vehicle). Viewing this evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, we conclude that a question of fact exists on the question of whether plaintiff was a constructive owner of the motor vehicle involved in the accident. Twichel, 469 Mich at 530 (‘the focus must be on the nature of the person’s right to use the vehicle’); Ardt, 233 Mich App at 690 (quotation marks and citation omitted) (‘having the use of a motor vehicle for purposes of defining an owner, . . . means using the vehicle in ways that comport with concepts of ownership.’).”