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Otis v Belleville Scrap and Auto Parts; (COA-UNP, 9/5/1991; RB #1506)


Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket No. 120628; Unpublished 
Judges Jansen, Wahls, and Hood; Unanimous; Per Curiam 
Official Michigan Reporter Citation:  Not Applicable; Link to Opinion alt  

Definition of Owner [§3101(2)(h)] 
Exception to General Priority for Non-Occupants [§3115(1)]

Collateral Estoppel and Res Judicata  
Motor Vehicle Code (Civil Liability of Owner) (MCL 257.401) 
Motor Vehicle Code (Registration and Title Requirements) (MCL 257.201, et seq.)   

In this unanimous per curiam Opinion, the Court of Appeals held that an action seeking recovery under the vehicle owner's liability act, MCLA 257.401, was collaterally estopped by earlier litigation between the parties in which it had been determined that the defendant in the second action was not the owner of the vehicle. 

Plaintiff was severely injured when he was struck by a stolen automobile while standing in the driveway. The automobile had been purchased the day before, but title transfer papers had not been filed with the Secretary of State by the purchaser until after the accident. Plaintiff first brought an action for personal injury protection benefits against Amerisure, who insured Belleville, the original owner and seller of the vehicle. Since the purchaser of the vehicle had no insurance at the time of the accident, the claim was assigned to Auto Club Insurance Association by the Assigned Claims Facility. 

In the first action, the trial court held that Belleville was not the owner of the automobile at the time of the accident under the Michigan Vehicle Code, MCLA 257.1, thus relieving its auto insurer of liability for plaintiff’s no-fault benefits. The plaintiff did not appeal this determination that Belleville was not the owner for purposes of no-fault benefits. Subsequently, plaintiff filed a complaint against Belleville seeking recovery in a third party action under the motor vehicle owner's liability act. The trial court granted summary disposition in favor of Belleville on the basis of collateral estoppel arising from the first action in which it was determined that Belleville was not the owner for purposes of no-fault insurance benefits.  

On appeal, the Court of Appeals held that ownership of the vehicle was an issue that necessarily had to be determined in order to resolve the priority question pursuant to §3115 of the No-Fault Act. Ownership having been determined for purposes of no-fault benefits, the court held that ownership for those purposes is no different than the issue of ownership for purposes of the owner liability statute. The Court of Appeals has previously held that the motor vehicle code and the owner's liability statute are to be read in pari materia, and the definition of "owner" found in the Motor Vehicle Code may be read into the No-Fault Act to determine priorities between insurers. Therefore, plaintiff’s second action under the owner liability act was collaterally estopped.  

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