Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #261115 and #261952; Unpublished
Judges Fort Hood, Bandstra, and Donofrio; unanimous; per curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not applicable, Link to Opinion
Disqualification for Unlawful Taking and Use of a Vehicle [3113(a)]
Motor Vehicle Code (Definition of Owner)
In this unanimous unpublished per curiam opinion, the Court of Appeals reversed summary disposition for plaintiffs in this action for third-party no-fault benefits, finding the vehicle at fault was not being driven with the owner’s consent or knowledge.
This action arises out of an accident involving a motor vehicle owned by defendant Dominic Palazzolo. Palazzolo gave his daughter, Christina Palazzolo, permission to drive the vehicle. Christina, in turn, allowed Sean Simms to use the vehicle, and Simms, in turn, allowed Rontae Hill, to drive the vehicle. When Christina discovered that Hill had her father’s vehicle, she contacted Hill and told him to return it. When Hill refused, Dominic Palazzolo reported the vehicle stolen. The accident occurred while the vehicle was in Hill’s possession and after it was reported stolen.
In reversing, the Court of Appeals first found that under MCL 257.37, Christina was not an owner of the vehicle, because she did not have exclusive control over the vehicle for at least 30 days. In so deciding, the court noted that although Christina drove the vehicle most of the time, other family members drove the vehicle on weekends and during college breaks. Because Christina did not own the vehicle, when Hill was driving the vehicle, he was not driving it with the owner’s (Christina’s father) consent or knowledge. Moreover, when Dominic Palazzolo was told Hill had the vehicle, Palazzolo reported the vehicle stolen. This action constitutes unequivocal evidence that when the accident occurred, Hill was not driving the vehicle with Palazzolo’s consent or knowledge. In this regard, the court stated:
“By formally reporting the vehicle stolen to the police, Dominic wanted the operation of the vehicle immediately stopped, and the vehicle held by the police. The record is unequivocal that Dominic pursued available means to have the authorities cease any and all unauthorized use of the Taurus one day before the accident at issue occurred. The record evidence here reveals that any use of the Taurus was strictly prohibited and clearly without consent. . . . Dominic’s actions constitute ‘positive, unequivocal, strong and credible evidence’ that Hill was no longer driving the Taurus with the consent or knowledge of Dominic. In other words, Dominic subsequently denied consent and any further operation of the vehicle would be without his knowledge. . . . Under the unique circumstances present, and taking the undisputed evidence in a light most favorable to plaintiffs, no reasonable trier of fact could find that at the time of the accident Hill was driving the Taurus with the consent or knowledge of its owner.”
(emphasis in original)