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Citizens Ins Co of America v Likely (UNP – COA 10/21/2021; RB # 4329) 

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Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #354615; Unpublished 
Judges Letica, Servitto, and Kelly; Per Curiam 
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion


STATUTORY INDEXING: 
Not Applicable 

TOPICAL INDEXING: 
Injunctive and Equitable Relief in PIP Cases


SUMMARY:
In this unanimous unpublished per curiam decision, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary disposition order dismissing Defendant Citizens Insurance Company of America’s (“Citizens”) declaratory judgment action against Plaintiff Carl Likely.  Likely was injured in a motor vehicle collision in 2002 and filed five separate lawsuits over the course of the next 18 yearsseeking unpaid no-fault PIP benefits from Citizens.  In 2020, Citizens filed the underlying action—in an admitted attempt to avoid future litigation—seeking a declaratory judgment that Likely had fully recovered from the injuries he sustained in the 2002 crash.  The Court of Appeals held that Citizens’ complaint was insufficient in that it contained only conclusory and unsupported allegations regarding Likely’s condition and failed to state a claim for which relief could be granted.  Moreover, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court did not err in denying Citizens’ motion to amend its complaint because its claim was not ripeit “rest[ed] on hypothetical and contingent future events—[Likely’s] potential need for benefits—which may not occur.”  In other words, Citizens could not file a declaratory action to prohibit Likely from hypothetically claiming PIP benefits for future treatments that were not even contemplated as of the date of filing.

Citizens filed the underlying action in 2020 seeking a declaratory judgment that Likely had “ ‘fully recovered from any injuries he sustained in his August 2002 motor vehicle accident’ ” and, as a result, would not be entitled to additional no-fault benefits in the future.  Citizens did not offer any facts in support of its allegation, and thus Likely moved for summary disposition, arguing that Citizens failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.  The trial court agreed and granted Likely’s motion, after which Citizens filed a motion for reconsideration and a motion for leave to file an amended complaint, to which it attached a proposed amended complaint which included statements from medical examiners claiming Likely had “ ‘no signs of residual injuries and no need for any additional treatment or services.’ ”  The trial court denied both motions.

The Court of Appeals first held that Citizens’ complaint failed to state claim for which relief could be granted because Citizens failed to include “even the most general facts in support of its allegation that defendant was ‘fully healed.’ ” The Court observed that Michigan appellate case law has clearly established that “[a] plaintiff’s conclusory allegations are insufficient to state a cause of action,” and that MCR 2.111(B)(1) “clearly states that complaints must include ‘[a] statement of facts . . . on which the pleader relies in stating the cause of action . . . ’ ”  

“As the trial court recognized, plaintiff’s conclusory allegation that defendant was ‘fully healed’ was not specific and not accompanied by supporting facts. A plaintiff’s conclusory allegations are insufficient to state a cause of action. Kloian v Schwartz, 272 Mich App 232, 240; 725 NW2d 671 (2006). And ‘unsupported statements of legal conclusions are insufficient to state a cause of action.’ Kyocera Corp v Hemlock Semiconductor, LLC, 313 Mich App 437, 445; 886 NW2d 445 (2015), citing ETT Ambulance Serv Corp, Inc, 204 Mich App at 395. For example, in Dacon, 441 Mich at 321, the representative of a minor child sued a hospital for malpractice, alleging that the hospital had failed to provide the proper treatment and medication for the minor child. Our Supreme Court held, in relevant part, that plaintiff failed to satisfy the MCR 2.111(B)(1) notice standard because it ‘d[id] not refer either specifically or generally to any facts’ and ‘delineate[d] nothing specific about how the [hospital] erred. By literally alleging everything, this allegation allege[d] nothing. Allegations such as this do not provide reasonable notice to defendants and are not proper under MCR 2.111.’ Id. at 330. The same is true in this case. Plaintiff failed to refer to even the most general facts in support of its allegation that defendant was ‘fully healed.’ It has alleged everything and alleged nothing at the same time. Id. Plaintiff merely stated that defendant was ‘fully healed’ and offered no specific allegations leading to that conclusion. Therefore, the trial court did not err in deciding that plaintiff’s conclusory and unsupported allegations failed to state a claim for which relief could be granted. 

Plaintiff nevertheless argues the trial court misconstrued the proceedings as being a motion for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(10), rather than MCR 2.116(C)(8). Unlike MCR 2.116(C)(8), which tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint, El-Khalil, 504 Mich at 159-160, MCR 2.116(C)(10) tests the factual sufficiency of a claim. Maiden, 461 Mich at 120. Plaintiff argues the trial court’s focus on the factual insufficiency of plaintiff’s complaint implies the trial court misconstrued the proceedings as being brought under MCR 2.116(C)(10). However, MCR 2.111(B)(1), clearly states that complaints must include ‘[a] statement of facts . . . on which the pleader relies in stating the cause of action . . .’ A general allegation that defendant has fully healed, without setting forth the basis underlying that allegation is an insufficient “statement of facts.’ ” 

The Court of Appeals further held that the trial court did not err in denying Citizens’ motion to amend its complaint because Citizens’ claim simply was not ripe.  Citizens admitted that its reason for seeking the declaratory judgment was to avoid future lawsuits by Likely, and that, as of the time it filed its complaint, Likely was not actually claiming any benefits or needing treatment.  Thus, Citizens’ claim was based solely on hypothetical, future events—Likely needing additional treatments—and there was no genuine case or controversy between the parties.

“Plaintiff openly stated that its reason for seeking a declaratory judgment was to avoid the multiple lawsuits filed by defendant. Plaintiff also asserted that defendant is not currently in need of any benefits or treatment. This fact is of particular salience, since ‘[a] claim is not ripe if it rests upon contingent future events that may not occur as anticipated, or may not occur at all.’ Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution, 280 Mich App at 282. Plaintiff’s claim rests on hypothetical and contingent future events—defendant’s potential need for benefits—which may not occur. Defendant may never ask for additional or future benefits; or he may ask for benefits several times. Either way, the reality is that defendant is currently asserting no claim for benefits; therefore, there is no ‘genuine case or controversy between the parties.’ City of Huntington Woods, 279 Mich App at 615. Plaintiff is seeking a speculative determination, one that is based on a ‘hypothetical[] dispute’ Id, and as such, the proposed amended complaint presents a claim that is not ripe. As a result, plaintiff’s proposed amendment of the complaint, even if sufficient under MCR 2.111(B)(1), would be futile. This Court may uphold a trial court’s ruling where the right result is issued, albeit for the wrong reason, Gleason v Michigan Dept of Transp, 256 Mich App 1, 3; 662 NW2d 822 (2003) and we do so here.” 


Lansing car accident lawyer Stephen Sinas is the lead editor of the appellate case summaries published on this site regarding the Michigan auto insurance law. To learn more about how Stephen Sinas and how the Sinas Dramis Law Firm can help you if you have been injured in a Michigan auto accident, visit SinasDramis.com.

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