Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #355521; Unpublished
Judges Rick, Ronayne Krause, and Letica; Per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion
Jurisdiction in PIP Cases
In this unanimous unpublished per curiam decision, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s summary disposition order dismissing Plaintiff Michigan Head & Spine Institute’s (“Michigan Head & Spine”) first-party action against Defendant Frankenmuth Mutual Insurance Company (“Frankenmuth Mutual”). Relying on its prior decision in Mich Head & Spine Institute PC v Auto-Owners Ins Co, ___ Mich App ___ (2021), the Court of Appeals held that Michigan Head & Spine could aggregate 24 unrelated claims for unpaid no-fault PIP benefits against Frankenmuth Mutual in order to meet the jurisdictional threshold of $25,000 for Michigan circuit courts.
Michigan Head & Spine filed a lawsuit against Frankenmuth Mutual seeking unpaid no-fault PIP benefits for healthcare services it provided to 24 separate individuals between April 2019 and February 2020. In the aggregate, Michigan Head & Spine argued that the 24 claims exceeded $91,000, thereby vesting subject matter jurisdiction in the Oakland County Circuit Court. Frankenmuth Mutual moved for summary disposition, arguing that, because 23 of the 24 claims did not, individually, meet the $25,000 threshold, Michigan Head & Spine—as an assignor standing in the shoes of the individual assignees—could not combine claims that the assignees, themselves, could not combine. Moreover, Frankenmuth Mutual argued that each of the 24 claims required individualized discovery, and that to try each as a single action would confuse the jury and result in extreme prejudice to Frankenmuth Mutual. The trial court ultimately agreed, granting summary disposition in Frankenmuth Mutual’s favor.
The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s summary disposition order, observing that a separate panel just recently disposed of this exact issue in Mich Head & Spine Institute PC. In that case, the Court held that, under MCR 2.203(B), a single plaintiff can aggregate various claims in order to meet the jurisdictional threshold. Therefore, in this case, so too could Michigan Head & Spine aggregate 24 individual claims against Frankenmuth Mutual.
The circuit court held that plaintiff could not aggregate multiple claims of multiple patients, who had assigned their rights to plaintiff, to meet the circuit court’s jurisdictional threshold. This Court recently decided a similar issue in Mich Head & Spine Institute PC. In Mich Head & Spine Institute PC, the plaintiff, a health care provider, filed a complaint for no-fault insurance benefits from defendants for healthcare services provided to 39 individuals involved in separate motor-vehicle accidents. Id. at ___; slip op at 1. The circuit court granted summary disposition in favor of the defendants, concluding that the plaintiff could not aggregate multiple claims of multiple patients to meet the circuit court’s jurisdictional requirement. Id. at ___; slip op at 3. This Court concluded that, in granting summary disposition for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, the trial court had misapplied Boyd v Nelson Credit Ctrs, 132 Mich App 774, 780-781; 348 NW2d 25 (1984). In discussing the holding in Boyd, this Court concluded that, although ‘separate claims of individual plaintiffs may not be aggregated for the purposes of determining jurisdiction . . . . [T]he various claims of a single plaintiff may be aggregated.’ Mich Head & Spine Institute PC, ___ Mich App at___; slip op at 3. Further, we recognized that although the plaintiff had 39 individual claims based on treatment it provided to 39 separate patients, the plaintiff was ‘indisputably a single plaintiff attempting to aggregate its various claims.’ Id. at ___; slip op at 3. Therefore, we held that the plaintiff could ‘aggregate its various claims for the purposes of determining jurisdiction.’ Id. at ___; slip op at 3.”
The Court of Appeals next held that further discovery was needed before the trial court could rule on a motion for severance based on Frankenmuth Mutual’s contention that Michigan Head & Spine’s aggregated claims would result in significant prejudice to Frankenmuth, confusion of the jury at trail, and an inconvenient administration of justice. The Court noted that, in this case, Frankenmuth merely argued, without specificity, that there were multiple other issues relevant to the individual claims that would justify severance of the cases. Until those issues were more fully developed through discovery, it would not be proper to rule on a motion for severence.
“Therefore, under MCR 2.203(B), plaintiff may join as many claims as it has against defendant. Defendant argues, without specificity, that there are multiple other issues relevant to the individual claims that would justify severance of the cases under MCR 2.207 (DBA, 10-11).2 However, ‘the record requires further development through discovery before the accuracy of those representations can be determined so as to allow the court to rule on a motion for severance.’ Mich Head & Spine Institute PC, ___ Mich App at___ n 2; slip op at 4. Therefore, we decline to address this issue. See id.”
Lastly, the Court of Appeals rejected Frankenmuth Mutual’s argument that, because one of the 24 individual assignors filed his own no-fault lawsuit, partial summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(6) was warranted with respect to that claim. The Court of Appeals observed that “ ‘summary disposition cannot be granted under MCR 2.116(C)(6) unless there is another action between the same parties involving the same claims currently initiated and pending at the time of the decision regarding the motion for summary disposition.’ ” The Court reiterated that “[Michigan Head & Spine] had a direct cause of action against [Frankenmuth Mutual] for claims arising on or after June 11, 2019,” and since “[t]he pleadings indicate that there were claims that arose on or after June 11, 2019 . . . [Frankenmuth Mutual’s] argument has no merit.”