Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #359051; Unpublished
Judges Cavanagh, O’Brien, and Rick; Per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion
In this unanimous, unpublished, per curiam decision, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s summary disposition order dismissing Plaintiff Johnna Jenkins’s (Personal Representative of the Estate of James Jenkins) action for no-fault PIP benefits against Defendant Farmers Insurance Exchange (“Farmers”). The Court of Appeals held that a question of fact existed as to whether James Jenkins was a constructive owner of the uninsured motorcycle he was operating at the time of the subject accident, such as would preclude him from receiving PIP benefits for the injuries he sustained in the accident pursuant to MCL 500.3113(b).
James Jenkins was injured in a motorcycle-versus-motor vehicle accident while operating an uninsured motorcycle titled in his mother, Johnna Jenkins’s name. The motor vehicle involved in the accident was also uninsured, and thus Jenkins applied for PIP benefits after the accident with the Michigan Automobile Insurance Placement Facility (“MAIPF”). The MAIPF assigned his claim to Farmers, but Farmers refused to pay his benefits based on its contention that James was a constructive owner of the motorcycle at the time of the accident, and therefore barred from PIP benefits under MCL 500.3113(b). The relevant facts pertaining to the ownership and usage of the motorcycle included the following: James used the motorcycle several times per week, although he always had to ask Johnna’s permission before doing so; Johnna paid for the motorcycle and its upkeep, although James would refill it with gas after using it; only Johnna had keys to the motorcycle, and they and the motorcycle, itself, were always kept at her house; and, sometimes, Johnna would tell James he could not use the motorcycle, and James would abide by her decision. Based on these facts, the trial court in Jenkins’s lawsuit against Farmers found that James was a constructive owner of the motorcycle as a matter of law, and granted summary disposition in Farmers’ favor.
The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s summary disposition order, holding that a question of fact existed as to whether James was a constructive owner of the motorcycle for purposes of MCLs 500.3101(3)(l)(ii) and 500.3113(B). At the outset of its analysis, the Court noted that, in Ardt v Titan Ins Co, 233 Mich App 65 (1999), it defined “ownership” for purposes of MCL 500.3101(3)(l)(ii) as, ‘flow[ing] from proprietary or possessory usage, as opposed to merely incidental usage under the direction or with the permission of another.’ In this case, the fact that James did not have his own set of keys, did not pay for the motorcycle other than occasionally refilling it with gas, did not store the motorcycle at his house, and, most importantly, had to ask Johnna’s permission whenever he wanted to use the motorcycle, indicated “merely incidental usage under the direction or with the permission of another”—which is to say, non-constructive ownership.
With this understanding of ‘owner,’ we conclude that the trial court erred by concluding that, as a matter of law, James was an ‘owner’ of the motorcycle. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff, James had to ask permission every time he used the motorcycle (and this permission was sometimes denied), he did not help purchase the motorcycle, he never paid for the motorcycle’s upkeep other than replacing gas, he did not have his own set of keys to the motorcycle, the keys were stored at Johnna’s house, and the motorcycle itself was generally if not always stored at Johnna’s home. This evidence, particularly the fact that James had to ask permission to use the motorcycle, was sufficient to create a question of fact whether James was indeed a constructive owner of the motorcycle under MCL 500.3101(3)(l)(ii). See Ardt, 233 Mich App at 691 (explaining that ‘ownership’ does not generally include usage ‘with the permission of another’).