A Plaintiff in a PIP Suit May Not Present a Limited Claim to Case Evaluation nor Accept with Ad Hoc Conditions per MCR 2.403
By: Raed L. Abboo, Esq.
In a recent case for publication, the Michigan Court of Appeals determined that a Plaintiff may not limit presentation of his case for purposes of case evaluation and cannot arbitrarily limit his acceptance. See Vandercook v Auto-Owners Ins Co, ___NW2d___; 2018 Mich. App. LEXIS 2543 (Ct App, May 24, 2018). There, Plaintiff accepted case evaluation in an unorthodox manner by writing-in “as to benefits referenced in Plaintiff’s Case Evaluation Summary only. Not including wage loss.” Afterward, the parties were unable to agree on a dismissal order and both sides filed motions. Plaintiff’s motion was to set aside the case evaluation acceptance (without citing to controlling law); meanwhile, Defendant motioned the court for enforcement of the settlement pursuant to MCR 2.403(M). In an interesting move and in the interim, Plaintiff filed a separate lawsuit for the wage loss benefits he sought to pare off in the prior case evaluation acceptance. The trial court reviewed both motions and ultimately ruled against Defendant, but attempting to find a middle ground, the trial court held that the case evaluation settlement would apply only to all of the claims in Plaintiff’s case evaluation summary. Defendant appealed.
On Appeal, the Michigan Court of Appeals (“COA or upper court”) examined the proper interpretation and application of MCR 2.403(M), de novo. The upper court considered the issues of whether the trial court failed to follow applicable law and apply the court rules correctly. In doing so, the COA determined that case law and precedent supported the impression that ad hoc limitations would not be permitted. Essentially, the COA found that if limitations are permitted, the integrity of the case evaluation process would be jeopardized. In summarizing the prior decisions, the COA found that case evaluation is essential to ensuring expeditious and simple final resolution of cases that are on their way to lengthy and costly trial. Additionally, the COA found that a significant purpose of case evaluation is to provide final binding arbitration to cases. Only when there are multiple parties to a suit do the court rules provide the option to accept all or part of a case evaluation award, pursuant to MCR 2.403(L)(3)(b). Even in multiple party situations, a Plaintiff is not permitted to present only part of its claim nor able to parse out acceptance of an award as the Plaintiff did in Vandercook.
For those reasons, the COA held that the trial court in the Vandercook case denied Defendant the finality that the case evaluation process is intended to afford parties to a case, and therefore overturned their decision. Specifically, the upper court held:
We hold that plaintiff’s claims in this action did not consist of a dispute over only some, but not all, no-fault PIP benefits. Plaintiff’s complaint nowhere limited the scope of the adjudication to a specific set or list of disputed benefits. In Count I, plaintiff sought money damages for payment of all expenses for his care, recovery, and rehabilitation; wage loss; and replacement services, including other PIP benefits. In Count II, plaintiff sought determination of his rights to wage loss benefits, replacement service expenses, medical expenses, no-fault interest, attorney fees, and other benefits allegedly owed by defendant. Plaintiff also sought determination by the trial court of whether defendant could reduce, set off, or seek reimbursement for overpaid PIP benefits. Plaintiff’s complaint plainly did not limit his civil action to the benefits he listed in his case evaluation summary.
Id at 9-10.
In summary, a party is not permitted to submit less than all of its claims to case evaluation nor is able to limit acceptance of a claim against a party. Accordingly, the Michigan Court of Appeals’ holding is not only consistent with the court rules and precedent, it is also the only logical and reasonable conclusion based on the totality of the case evaluation process as we know it. In rendering this decision, the COA has provided direction on a very important issue involving an incredibly important aspect of every Michigan No-Fault case subject to case evaluation.
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