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White v Richardson, et al (COA – UNP 9/22/2022; RB #4479)   

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Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #356307; Unpublished 
Judges Ronayne Krause, Jansen, and Swartzle; Per Curiam 
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion


STATUTORY INDEXING: 
Not Applicable

TOPICAL INDEXING: 
Notice and Statute of Limitations for Underinsured Motorist Coverage [Underinsured Motorist Coverage] 
Notice and Statute of Limitations for Uninsured Motorist Coverage [Uninsured Motorist Benefits]


SUMMARY: 
In this unanimous, unpublished, per curiam decision, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary disposition order dismissing Plaintiff Jonnie White’s action for uninsured or underinsured motorist (“UM/UIM”) coverage against Defendant Country Preferred Insurance Company (“Country Preferred”).  The Court of Appeals held that a policy provision establishing a two-year limitations period for filing an action for UM/UIM coverage was valid and enforceable because Illinois law was controlling in this case.  Alternatively, the Court held that, even if Michigan law was controlling in this case, the shortened limitations period would be enforceable because such provisions only run afoul of Michigan public policy where the contract in question is issued to a Michigan resident.  In this case, the Country Preferred policy was issued to an Illinois resident.

On June 9, 2017, Jonnie White was riding his motorcycle through an intersection when a motor vehicle unexpectedly turned in front of him, causing him to crash into its passenger side.  At the time of the crash, White was covered under a Country Preferred insurance policy issued to his wife, Angela Middleton, which provided UM/UIM coverage in accordance with Illinois law and set the limitations period for filing an action for UM/UIM coverage under the policy at two years.  White ultimately filed the underlying action against Country Preferred, but not until February 14, 2020, and Country Preferred moved for summary disposition, asserting that White’s claim was barred by the limitations period set forth in the contract.  White argued, in response, that the two-year limitations period violated Michigan public policy and was therefore unenforceable, to which Country Preferred argued that Illinois law, not Michigan law, was controlling in this case.  In support of its argument, Country Preferred noted that it is an Illinois corporation, that Middleton was an Illinois resident at the time of contracting, that the motorcycle was listed under the policy as being housed in Illinois, and that the policy was entered into in Illinois.  The trial court ultimately agreed with Country Preferred, and granted its motion.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary disposition order, holding that Illinois law was controlling in this case based on the analysis set forth in 1 Restatement of Conflict of Laws, 2d.  Under the Restatement, the relevant contacts to be taken into account when making a choice of law determination are: “the place of contracting”—Illinois—“the place of negotiation of the contract”—Illinois—“the place of performance”—Illinois—“the location of the subject matter [the motorcycle] of the contract”—Illinois— and “the domicil, residence nationality, place of incorporation and place of business of the parties”—Illinois.  Thus, Illinois law controlled, and since Illinois courts have established a two-year limitation period for filing UM/UIM actions, the Country Preferred policy’s provision was valid.   

“Defendant argues this Court should apply Illinois law to this case, and plaintiff argues this Court should apply Michigan law. Because the insurance policy contains no choice-of-law provision, we review 1 Restatement of Conflict of Laws, 2d. The place of contracting, place of negotiation of the contract, and the domicile of defendant were in Illinois at the time the contract was entered into. Middleton, the named insured in the insurance policy, insured the Harley Davidson motorcycle under an Illinois address, and defendant is an insurance company headquartered in Illinois. The domicile of the parties of the insurance policy is especially important considering defendant does not issue insurance contracts in Michigan. See 1 Restatement Conflict of Laws, 2d, § 188, comment e (‘a corporation’s principal place of business is a more important contact than the place of incorporation, and this is particularly true in situations where the corporation does little, or no, business in the latter state.’). Therefore, at least three Restatement factors support the application of Illinois law. 

Although the motorcycle was apparently located in Michigan, the insurance policy lists the motorcycle as being housed in Illinois, so, for the purposes of the insurance policy, the motorcycle appeared to be located in Illinois. Because both parties to the insurance policy were domiciled in Illinois when the contract was entered into, and the motorcycle also appeared to be housed in Illinois, the place of performance of the contract was also, presumedly, Illinois. Thus, there are no Restatement factors tying this particular contract to Michigan. Indeed, the only factors tying this contract to Michigan are that the accident occurred there, plaintiff, who was driving the insured vehicle, is a resident of Michigan, and this lawsuit was commenced in Michigan. None of those factors are relevant considerations for contract claims under 1 Restatement of Conflict of Laws, 2d. Instead, all the Restatement factors support the application of Illinois law to this case. Indeed, 1 Restatement Conflict of Laws, 2d, § 188 explicitly states: ‘If the place of negotiating the contract and the place of performance are in the same state, the local law of this state will usually be applied, except as otherwise provided in §§ 189-199 and 203.’ Sections 189 through 199 and 203 relate to special contracts, such as contracts for the transfer of interests in land, and do not apply to insurance contracts. Because the place of negotiating the contract and place of performance are both in Illinois, and no other provision of 1 Restatement of Conflict of Laws, 2d, requires the application of Michigan law, Illinois law applies to this case. 

. . . 

Because Illinois law applies to this case, and Illinois courts have repeatedly found a two-year contractual limitations period for UM benefits is consistent with Illinois public policy, the insurance policy provision limiting the period for plaintiff to bring his UM claim to two years after the accident occurred is valid and enforceable.” 

The Court of Appeals further held that even if Michigan law controlled, the two-year limitations period set forth in the policy would not be contrary to Michigan’s public policy.  MCL 500.2212 of the Michigan Administration Code sets forth the circumstances under which a shortened limitations period in an insurance policy “unreasonably reduces the risk purported to be assumed in the general coverage of the policy,” but that statute only speaks to insurance policies “issue[d] . . . to any person in this state.”  The Country Preferred policy was not issued to any person in Michigan, and thus “not subject to approval by the commissioner,” and its two-year limitations period “not contrary to Michigan public policy.”

“Similar to Tikkanen, Detroit Greyhound, and New England, the insurance policy in this case was issued and delivered to an individual outside Michigan. There is no evidence in the record establishing any of the insurance policy documents were delivered to plaintiff in Michigan. Indeed, plaintiff is not a named insured of the policy; rather, Middleton is the only named insured, and she had an Illinois address. Plaintiff is considered an ‘insured’ under Middleton’s policy because the motorcycle plaintiff was driving when the accident occurred was insured by the policy. Because of the lack of evidence establishing the UM policy was issued or delivered to an individual in Michigan, Rule 500.2212 is inapplicable to this case. Thus, the UM policy is not subject to approval by the commissioner; the provision shortening the period of limitations for UM claims to two years is enforceable, valid, and not contrary to Michigan public policy; and the trial court did not err in granting summary disposition to defendant.” 


Michigan auto accident attorney 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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