Determination of Domicile [§3114(1)]
In this unpublished per curiam decision, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s summary disposition order dismissing the plaintiff’s first-party action for no-fault PIP benefits, in which the trial court ruled as a matter of law that the plaintiff’s patient, and later assignee, Brandon Gault, was not domiciled with his mother, defendant Farm Bureau General Insurance Company of Michigan’s (Farm Bureau) insured, at the time of the subject motor vehicle collision. The Court of Appeals held that all the evidence indicated that Gault did live with his mother at the time of the collision, and thus remanded for entry of summary disposition in favor of the plaintiff.
Brandon Gault was severely injured in a motor vehicle collision and subsequently received treatment from the plaintiff in this case, Hurley Medical Center (HMC). Gault assigned his right to no-fault PIP benefits for his treatment to HMC, and HMC ultimately filed this first-party action to recover said benefits against the insurer of his mother’s vehicle, Farm Bureau. Farm Bureau moved for summary disposition, arguing that Gault was domiciled with his father, not mother, at the time of the collision, and that Farm Bureau was therefore not the insurer of highest priority pursuant to MCL 500.3114. The relevant facts included the following: Gault used his mother’s address as his mailing address, and there was no evidence he received mail at his father’s house; Gault had his own bedroom at his mother’s address, and there was no evidence that he had his own bedroom at his father’s address; Gault kept clothes and possessions at his mother’s home, and there was no evidence he had any clothes or possessions at his father’s home; and Gault listed his mother’s address on his hospital records. Farm Bureau presented no evidence regarding Gault’s father’s whereabouts for any period during the three years preceding the collision—Farm Bureau’s only evidence regarding Gault’s domicile was the fact that Gault lived with his father for a period in high school. Despite these facts, following a hearing on Farm Bureau’s motion, the trial court ruled as a matter of law that Gault was domiciled with his father at the time of the collision.
The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s summary disposition order in favor of Farm Bureau, holding that all the available evidence supported the conclusion that Gault was domiciled with mother, not his father, at the time of the collision, and thus remanded back to the trial court for entry of summary disposition in HMC’s favor.
Applying the Dairyland factors, we conclude that they all support the conclusion that Gault was domiciled with his mother, not his father. First, Gault used his mother’s address for receipt of mail, including bills and mail from his father. There is no evidence that he used his father’s address to receive mail. In fact, there is no evidence as to the father’s whereabouts for three years prior to the accident nor any evidence as to his place of residence at the time of the accident. -4- Second, Gault’s mother maintained a bedroom for him at her home, and there is no evidence that his father did so at his unknown place of residence. The same is true as to his clothing and possessions. Though staying in various locations with friends, co-workers and his grandmother while not with his mother, Gault kept some clothes and possessions at his mother’s home while defendant has not offered any evidence that Gault had any clothing or possessions at his father’s unknown place of residence. Gault did not have a driver license or state ID but the hospital records listed his mother’s home as his address and a physician’s consult note written during the hospitalization states, “Pt lives with his mom in Bellaire MI. . . . Pt address is correct.” Gault then stayed at this mother’s home following his hospitalization.
Turning to the Workman factors, we agree with plaintiff that the relationship between Gault and his mother was informal, which favors a finding of domicile, see Salinger v Hertz Corp, 211 Mich App 163, 166; 535 NW2d 204 (1995), and that although Gault spent most nights with various friends and co-workers, his one consistent bedroom was in his mother’s home. Gault had several places of lodging, but not one was with his father. Regarding Gault’s subjective intent, the record is mixed given his lifestyle, but there is no evidence that he took any action that could be construed as demonstrating an intention to establish domicile with his father. To the contrary, there is no evidence that at the time of the accident Gault viewed his father’s home (wherever it was) as his primary home or his home at all. As demonstrated by the Dairyland and Workman factors, to the degree that Gault had a “true, fixed permanent home,” Grange, 494 Mich at 493, it was with his mother.
Defendant has not offered any evidence to support a finding of domicile with Gault’s father. Rather, defendant relies solely on the fact that for some time while in high school—until dropping out in the 11th grade—he lived with his father. Then his father “left” and the record does not contain any evidence of his whereabouts. Defendant argues that Gault is domiciled with his father even though he stopped living with his father while still a minor and has never lived there as an adult. Defendant relies primarily on Grange’s holding that, as a matter of law, a child’s domicile is determined by the custody provisions in the parents’ judgment of divorce. Id. at 511- 512. However, that holding has no applicability here. At the time of the accident, Gault was an adult, not a child. Moreover, there is no evidence that his parents were ever married. Certainly, the record does not contain a judgment of divorce or custody orders. Contrary to defendant’s argument, Grange does not disturb the fact that once a minor becomes an adult, the Workman and Dairyland factors control. Upon obtaining the age of majority, a person’s domicile is determined by those factors, not by a custody order or the intention of the child’s parents. This is not to say that a child’s domicile with a parent ends as soon as the child turns 18. However, it is the newlyminted adult’s actions and intent that determine his domicile rather than an action of law pursuant to a custody order or his parents’ wishes. “[D]omicile by operation of law, [is] established when a person under legal disability lacks the capacity to establish a domicile of choice.” Id. at 501- 502. Once a child is an adult, he is no longer “under legal disability.”