The Plaintiff, Joseph Mull, sustained injuries when he was involved in a motor vehicle accident while driving a motorcycle owned by his girlfriend. The Defendant insurance company argued the plaintiff’s admission that he didn’t have permission from his girlfriend to use the motorcycle on the day of the accident precludes him from collecting benefits under Michigan’s no-fault act, MCL 500.3101 et seq.
The Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the insurer of the vehicle plaintiff hit, seeking personal injury protection benefits. The insurance company moved for summary disposition in lieu of an answer under MCR 2.116(C)(8) and (C)(10), arguing the Plaintiff wasn’t entitled to no-fault benefits if he was willingly operating a motorcycle without permission.
The Plaintiff said he was never explicitly told by his girlfriend not to operate the vehicle, so a question of fact remained as to whether he had permission to use the bike. The trial court denied the insurance company’s motion. They appealed.
The Court’s Analysis
The Michigan Court of Appeals wrote that the issue was whether The Plaintiff’s use of his girlfriend’s motorcycle was unlawful under MCL § 500.3113(a). As it did in the trial court, the insurer claimed that the Plaintiff acted unlawfully when taking the motorcycle; as a result, he’s precluded from collecting certain benefits under the no-fault statute. Specifically, MCL § 500.3113(a) states:
A person is not entitled to be paid personal protection insurance benefits for accidental bodily injury if at the time of the accident any of the following circumstances existed:
(a) The person was using a motor vehicle or motorcycle which he or she had taken unlawfully, and the person knew or should have known that the motor vehicle or motorcycle was taken unlawfully.
In a 2012 decision, the Michigan Supreme Court held that “[t]he plain meaning of the phrase ‘taken unlawfully’ readily embraces a situation in which an individual gains possession of a vehicle contrary to Michigan law.” The insurance company argued the Plaintiff took the motorcycle unlawfully under the terms of the “joyriding” statutes. MCL § 750.413 states:
Any person who shall, willfully and without authority, take possession of and drive or take away, and any person who shall assist in or be a party to such taking possession, driving or taking away of any motor vehicle, belonging to another, shall be guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment in the state prison for not more than 5 years.
MCL 750.414 states, in relevant part:
Any person who takes or uses without authority any motor vehicle without intent to steal the same, or who is a party to such unauthorized taking or using, is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than 2 years or a fine of not more than $1,500.00.
The Supreme Court said that both joyriding statutes make it unlawful to take any motor vehicle without authority, “effectively defining an unlawful taking of a vehicle as that which is unauthorized.” The Court went on to explain that because a taking doesn’t have to be larcenous to qualify as unlawful, the phrase “taken unlawfully” in MCL § 500.3113(a) applies to anyone who takes a vehicle without the authority of the owner—regardless of whether that person intended to steal it.
The Court of Appeals found there was no genuine issue of material fact that the Plaintiff’s use of the motorcycle was “unauthorized” because he didn’t get permission from his girlfriend to use the bike. In fact, the Plaintiff testified he knew his girlfriend wouldn’t allow him to ride the motorcycle, even if he asked.
As indicated by our Supreme Court, “[b]ecause a taking does not have to be larcenous to be unlawful, the phrase ‘taken unlawfully’ in MCL 500.3113(a) applies to anyone who takes a vehicle without the authority of the owner, regardless of whether that person intended to steal it.” Here, the Plaintiff argued that he didn’t intend to steal the bike, and his girlfriend never reported the motorcycle to the police as missing; however, the Court of Appeals said that the argument was based on an incorrect understanding of the term “unlawful” in this context.
Next, the Court of Appeals said that analyzing MCL § 500.3113(a) requires looking at the Plaintiff’s state of mind and whether he “knew or should have known” that he didn’t have authority to use the motorcycle, which examines the legality of the taking from the driver’s perspective. Reviewing the Plaintiff’s deposition testimony and statements from his recorded interview, the court found that no reasonable juror could conclude other than that the Plaintiff knew, or should have known, that he didn’t have his girlfriend’s authority to use the motorcycle. He admitted he didn’t ask his girlfriend for permission to use the bike on the day of the accident because he knew she’d say no. Moreover, he acknowledged in a recorded interview with the insurance company that he took the motorcycle from his girlfriend’s garage and without her permission on the day of the accident:
Q. OK. Now does [his girlfriend] keep the motorcycle with her at her residence or do you take it with you back and forth?
A. No, she keeps it at her residence and I took it like a bad boy. I wasn’t supposed to take it.
Q. Oh. It wasn’t stolen, right?
A. No, no. Taken…
Q. She didn’t report it.
A. No, no, no. It’s taken without her knowledge or permission.
The Plaintiff’s main argument was because his girlfriend never explicitly told him he wasn’t allowed to use the motorcycle, he can’t be precluded from recovery under the statute. The Court of Appeals said that while that argument might have had merit under the previous version of the statute, it failed under the current “knew or should have known” standard. Under the applicable statute, the evidence presented revealed no genuine issue of material fact that the Plaintiff at least should have known he didn’t have authority to use the motorcycle.
The Plaintiff admitted he did not have permission to use the motorcycle, and his girlfriend confirmed this. In fact, the Plaintiff considered himself a “bad boy” for using the motorcycle without his girlfriend’s permission.
Thus, the Court of Appeals said the motorcycle was taken unlawfully by the Plaintiff, and he knew it was taken unlawfully, leaving no genuine issue of material fact for a jury to consider. No reasonable juror could conclude he didn’t know he took the motorcycle without authority. Hence, the trial court erred in finding a genuine issue of material fact existed under MCR 2.116(C)(10).
As a result, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case for entry of an order granting the insurance company’s motion for summary disposition. Mull v. Citizens Ins. Co., 2022 Mich. App. LEXIS 995 (Mich. App February 17, 2022).
If you or a family member has been seriously injured in an accident in Michigan, contact the Grand Rapids motorcycle accident lawyers at Buchanan Firm. We will help you pursue compensation against those who are responsible.
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