Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #354672; Published
Judges Gadola, Markey, and Murray; Per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Forthcoming; Link to Opinion
In this unanimous, published, per curiam decision, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s summary disposition order, in which it determined that Plaintiff Anya Corbin, a minor, was domiciled with her mother at the time of the subject motor vehicle collision, and that Defendant Farm Bureau General Insurance Company (“Farm Bureau”), therefore, was the highest priority insurer with respect to Corbin’s claim for no-fault PIP benefits. The Court of Appeals held that the trial court erred in applying a sub-holding contained in a footnote in Grange Ins Co of Mich v Lawrence, 494 Mich 475 (2013) to the facts of this case. The footnote at issue instructs courts on how to determine the domicile of a minor whose parents have equal physical custody pursuant to the explicit terms of a custody order. In this case, the Court of Appeals noted that the consent order of filiation between Corbin’s divorced parents left the custody arrangement up to their discretion, so long as they continued to cooperate and work together. Thus, the footnote in Grange did not apply, and the Court of Appeals remanded back to the trial court to determine Corbin’s domicile by applying the traditional multifactored analyses from Workman v Detroit Auto Inter-Insurance Exch, 404 Mich 477 (1979) and Dairyland Ins Co v Auto Owners Ins Co, 123 Mich App 675 (1983).
Anya Corbin was involved in a motor vehicle collision that left her permanently and severely disabled. At the time of the collision, Corbin was with her mother, who shared joint legal and physical custody of Corbin with Corbin’s father, pursuant to a consent order of filiation entered into by the two upon divorce. Corbin’s mother did not have no-fault insurance at the time of the collision, so she filed a claim for no-fault PIP benefits on Corbin’s behalf through the Michigan Assigned Claims Plan (MACP). The MACP, in turn, assigned Corbin’s claim to Farm Bureau. Shortly thereafter, Corbin’s father filed the underlying first-party action, as Corbin’s next friend, against Meemic Insurance Company (“Meemic”). The lawsuit alleged that Corbin was a resident relative of Meemic’s insured, Corbin's paternal great-grandmother, at the time of the collision, and that Meemic, therefore, was the highest priority insurer with respect to Corbin’s claim for PIP benefits. A priority dispute ensued between Farm Bureau and Meemic, with the trial court ultimately siding with Meemic, based on the following language from a footnote in Grange:
“In the unusual event that a custody order does grant an equal division of physical custody, and only in this instance, then the child’s domicile would alternate between the parents so as to be the same as that of the parent with whom he is living at the time. Restatement [Conflict of Laws 2d], 22 (1971). Thus, the child’s domicile is with the parent who has physical custody as established by the custody order at the specific time of the incident at issue. This approach is constituent with the terms of the custody order and avoids a finding that the child has dual coexisting domiciles. [Id. at 512 n 78 (first alteration in original).]”
Based on this footnote, Meemic argued—and the trial court agreed—that “because a custody order was in place that granted joint physical and legal custody of plaintiff to her parents, her domicile for no-fault purposes was with whichever parent had actual custody at the time of the accident”—i.e. Corbin’s mother.
The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s order, holding that the trial court erred in applying the above footnote to the facts of this case. The Court read footnote 78 to apply only in situations where a custody order explicitly grants an equal division of physical custody. In this case, the consent order of filiation did not grant Corbin’s mother and father equal custody, but rather left the custody arrangement up to them to establish so long as they continued to cooperate and work together as co-parents. Thus, the Court remanded back to the trial court to conduct a proper domicile analysis, focusing on the factors set forth in Workman and Dairyland.
“ . . . As the trial court recognized, the order of filiation did not establish a primary custodial parent or otherwise fix a parenting time schedule. That is, plaintiff’s schedule was left to her parents so long as they continued to cooperate and work together. The trial court nonetheless concluded that the order of filiation was dispositive, and that, pursuant to the instructions contained in footnote 78 of Grange, plaintiff’s domicile was with whichever parent had actual custody at the time of the automobile accident.
The conclusions set forth in footnote 78 do not apply to the above arrangement.3 The dispositive fact in Grange was that both of the custody orders awarded primary physical custody to one parent. Grange, 494 Mich at 513-515. And footnote 78 does not apply by its own terms. The Grange Court referred in that footnote to the unusual situation in which a custody order awards both joint physical custody and equal parenting time. Id. at 512 n 78. ‘In the unusual event that a custody order does grant an equal division of physical custody, and only in this instance, then the child’s domicile would alternate between the parents so as to be the same as that of the parent with whom he is living.’ Id. (second emphasis added). This is not such a case, as the order of filiation left parenting time to the discretion of the parents.
Meemic contends that the above application of Grange is inapt because Grange specifically held that, where custody of a minor is governed by a court order, parents are bound by the order and lose the legal capacity to establish a domicile of choice for that minor. Again, this rule does not cleanly apply here because the order of filiation did exactly what the custody orders in Grange did not: it reserved to the parents their right to determine both residence and domicile, with some limitations. The order did not set forth a parenting time schedule, let alone one that required equal parenting time. This alone takes this order outside what was addressed in footnote 78.”