Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #358526; Published
Judges Hood, Jansen, and Kelly; Per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Forthcoming; Link to Opinion
COVID-19 Tolling and the No-Fault Act
In this unanimous, published, per curiam decision, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary disposition order dismissing Plaintiff Dustin Wenkel’s action for unpaid no-fault PIP benefits against Farm Bureau General Insurance Company of Michigan (“Farm Bureau”). The Court of Appeals held that the administrative order issued by the Michigan Supreme Court at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic—tolling statutes of limitations for filing civil actions—did not toll the one-year-back rule set forth in MCL 500.3145, nor did it toll an agreement between the parties to toll the one-year-back rule until a specified date.
Dustin Wenkel was injured in a motor vehicle accident in 2002 and, in 2017, filed a first-party action seeking unpaid no-fault PIP benefits against Farm Bureau. On January 24, 2020, the parties stipulated to a dismissal without prejudice in which they explicitly agreed that Wenkel could ‘re-file his action at a later date, and that the one-year-back rule would be ‘tolled such that none of Plaintiff’s claims incurred on or after October 11, 2017, will be barred by the One Year Back Rule as along as litigation is re-instituted on or before April 3, 2020.’ In March of 2020, the Michigan Supreme Court issued an administrative order tolling statutes of limitations for filing civil actions because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and thus Wenkel, seemingly believing that the order also applied to his and Farm Bureau’s agreement to toll the one-year-back rule until April 3, 2020, did not re-file his action until June 8, 2020. Farm Bureau then moved for summary disposition, arguing that the Supreme Court’s administrative order did not apply to the parties’ agreement to toll the one-year-back rule until April 3, 2020, and that, since Wenkel failed to re-file by that date, the agreement was nullified. The trial court agreed, granting Farm Bureau’s motion.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s summary disposition order, holding that the Supreme Court’s administrative order applied neither to the one-year-back rule nor to “an artificial deadline related to the tolling of the one-year-back rule, set forth in a stipulated order.” Accordingly, Wenkel’s claim was barred because he failed to re-file by April 3, 2020.
“We interpret AO 2020-3 as tolling the statute of limitations for the commencement of actions and a concomitant tolling of the filing of responsive pleadings during the state of emergency. The one-year-back rule does not fall under either of those categories because it is a limitation on damages, not a limitation on whether the claim can be brought in the first place. To read AO 2020-3 as plaintiff suggests would effectively negate the words of the order itself. Simply put, the one-year-back rule is not a ‘deadline applicable to the commencement’ of a complaint. See Devillers v Auto Club Ins Ass’n, 473 Mich 562, 574; 702 NW2d 539 (2005) (‘[A]lthough a no-fault action to recover PIP benefits may be filed more than one year after the accident and more than one year after a particular loss has been incurred (provided that notice of injury has been given to the insurer or the insurer has previously paid PIP benefits for the injury), [the one-year-back rule] nevertheless limits recovery in that action to those losses incurred within the one year preceding the filing of the action.’).
The one-year-back rule is a rule that is impacted by when a complaint is filed, but we are not persuaded that the Supreme Court intended AO 2020-3 to be interpreted so broadly as to have encompassed the rule in its order. But even if that were the Supreme Court’s intent, we also interpret AO 2020-3 as applying only to deadlines set by court rule or statute, not those artificially imposed by agreement in a stipulated order. In the administrative order, the Court provided examples of deadlines it considered tolled: ‘the initial filing of a pleading under MCR 2.110,’ ‘a motion raising a defense or an objection to an initial pleading under MCR 2.116,’ and ‘any statutory prerequisites to the filing of such a pleading or motion.’ AO 2020-3. If the Court had intended deadlines set by court order to be impacted by its administrative order, it could have stated as much.”