Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #351466; Unpublished
Judges Stephens, Servitto, and Letica; Per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable, Link To Opinion
In this unanimous unpublished per curiam opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary disposition order dismissing Plaintiff Michael Collinson’s first-party action for survivor’s loss benefits after his mother, Janice Collinson, was killed in a fatal car crash. The Court of Appeals held that Collinson, who was 26 years old at the time of Janice Collinson’s death, was not physically or mentally incapacitated from earning, and therefore not a conclusively presumed dependent for purposes of the no-fault act. Furthermore, the Court of Appeals held that the facts regarding Plaintiff’s inability to maintain employment and earn his own income as they existed at the time of Janice Collinson’s death did not support a finding that Michael Collinson was her dependent under MCL 500.3110.
After Janice Collinson’s death in a fatal car crash, her son, Michael Collinson, applied for survivor’s loss benefits from Defendant Meemic Insurance Company (“Meemic”). At the time of her death, Michael Collinson was 26 years old, earned an income below the poverty line, lived in low-income housing, was a single father of two children, and had a history of difficulty maintaining employment. He also claimed that Janice Collinson provided financial support to him at the time of her death, proofed by her bank statements, tax statements, cooperative housing lease agreement, and his T-Mobile and Comcast account payment information. Meemic denied his application for survivor’s loss benefits and moved for summary disposition in his resultant first-party lawsuit against it, arguing that Collinson was not a dependent under MCL 500.3110 or, in the alternative, that Collinson failed to provide evidence that his mother contributed things of tangible economic value to him as is required under MCL 500.3108. While Collinson submitted the aforementioned evidence, Meemic asserted that Collinson “could not attribute a single transaction that was made by [Janice Collinson] for his benefit.” Ultimately, the trial court granted summary disposition in Meemic’s favor, ruling that Michael Collinson was not a conclusively presumed dependent under MCL 500.3110(1) and that the facts as they existed at the time of Janice Collinson’s death did not support a finding of dependency under MCL 500.3110(2).
The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary disposition order, first rejecting Michael Collinson’s attempt to analogize this case to Vovak v Detroit Auto Inter-Insurance Exch, 98 Mich App 81 (1980). In Vovak, the Court of Appeals held that a decedent’s elderly parents—the decedent’s father being employed only part-time and receiving social security at the time of the decedent’s death, and the mother being unemployed and having worked sparingly throughout her life—were dependent based on the facts as they existed at the time of their child’s death. In this case, however, the Court noted that the facts were “just the opposite” of those in Vovak: despite Michael Collinson’s difficulty maintaining employment, he testified that he had no difficulty finding work and that “the only reason for his lack of earning capacity was due to having children.” The Court held, however, that having children or childcaring responsibilities is not grounds for conclusively presuming dependency under MCL 500.3110(1), “nor a fact recognized by this Court under MCL 500.3110(2), that if having existed at the time of the decedent’s death, would establish dependency.”
"Vovak does not help plaintiff’s position. The case does instruct that courts may take into consideration age and employment experience, however, the facts in support of finding dependency in Vovak, namely advanced age and employment inexperience, are not present here; actually, they are just the opposite. Plaintiff was 26 years old at the time of decedent’s death and at his deposition, testified to having held a number of jobs. Plaintiff’s testimony indicated that he had no difficulty finding work and that he became unemployed at will, for example, because he did not like the job he was doing at the time. In fact, at his deposition, plaintiff identified not age or work experience as an incapacitation, but testified that the reason for his lack of earning capacity was due to having children. He testified that he could not obtain full-time work because he was a single-father of two children. Having children or childcare issues is not grounds for conclusively presuming dependency under MCL 500.3110(1), nor a fact recognized by this Court under MCL 500.3110(2), that if having existed at the time of the decedent’s death, would establish dependency.”
Noteworthy as well was the Court’s rejection of its prior decision in Dawson v State Farm Mut Auto Ins Co, unpublished per curiam opinion of the Court of Appeals, issued August 13, 2019 (Docket No. 342652), at least with regard to its interpretation of the phrase “physically or mentally incapacitated from earning.” Meemic argued in this case that Dawson’s definition of that phrase—that one “suffers from an affliction that makes it impossible to earn”—ought to have persuasive effect in this case. The Court disagreed, “given Vovak’s holding that advanced age and work inexperience could also be considered toward establishing incapacitation.” Thus, the Court deemed Dawson to have no persuasive or instructive effect.