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May 29, 2020
In Powell v Farm Bureau Ins Co., the intervening plaintiff, Mona Powell, brought suit for automobile negligence. The plaintiff, Renald Powell, brought an action for a declaratory judgment to confirm his right to indemnification under defendant’s no-fault insurance policy with Mona. Defendant moved for summary disposition on the basis that there had been fraud in the lawsuits. The trial court initially denied defendant’s motion for summary disposition. On reconsideration, the trial court held that Renald was a participant in Mona’s fraud to recover benefits and thus, defendant’s obligation to indemnify Renald was “limited to the minimum amounts required by Michigan’s Financial Responsibility Act, MCL 257.20, and MCL 500.3009.” Mona and Renald appealed, arguing that the trial court erred by finding there was no genuine issue of fact that they perpetrated fraud against defendant to obtain PIP benefits.
Mona owned the business Momo’s Transport, which she started to provide non-emergency medical transportation. However, Momo’s Transport never conducted business of any sort. In August 2014, Mona and Renald purchased a business no-fault automobile insurance policy from defendant with a $1,000,000 liability limit. On November 28, 2014, Renald was driving a Chrysler vehicle insured by the policy with Mona as passenger. A vehicle driven by Kristal Scott struck the Chrysler. Mona underwent subsequent medical treatment and submitted claims to defendant for PIP benefits.
Mona brought an action seeking first-party PIP benefits from defendant and third-party negligence claims against Renald and Scott. The trial court granted defendant’s motion for summary disposition of Mona’s first-party claims, as her coverage was void due to submitting fraudulent attendant care claims. Defendant subsequently stated that it would not indemnify Renald for liability he might incur against Mona on the basis of fraud. Renald brought an action for declaratory judgment, in which Mona intervened. He argued that he did not commit fraud and that Mona was not an insured within defendant’s policy. Defendant moved for summary disposition and argued that Renald’s liability coverage was void since he participated in Mona’s fraud. The trial court held that there was no genuine issue of material fact that Renald participated in Mona’s fraud and that defendant was entitled to void Renald’s liability coverage. Mona and Renald appealed.
The Court of Appeals adopted the U.S. Supreme Court’s analysis in Scott v Harris, 550 US 372, 380; 127 S Ct 1769; 167 L Ed 2d 686 (2007). In Scott, the Supreme Court held that “[w]hen opposing parties tell two different stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of ruling on a motion for summary judgment.”
In the present case, the trial court relied on evidence submitted by defendant in the first-party claim and additional evidence that defendant submitted showing that Renald was a participant in the fraud, including video surveillance evidence. The trial court and the Court of Appeals held that the videos blatantly contradicted Mona’s attendant care records. The videos showed that care providers did not arrive at Mona’s house on days where she claimed they provided attendant care. Mona and Renald argued there was a genuine issue of material fact since a care provider, Shanique Hodge, submitted an affidavit explaining why she was not seen on the video, and there were photographs that show an entrance not captured by the cameras. However, the photographs were never submitted. Additionally, the Court stated that the only way for an individual to access the house without being visible on the videos would have been to climb over hedges and sneak through the yards of the Powells’ neighbors. The videos failed to demonstrate that Hodge accessed the house in such a manner or that Hodge visited the Powell house. Thus, Hodge’s affidavit did not establish a question a fact and claims that Hodge came to the house to provide attendant care services were blatantly contradicted by the videos.
Further, the Court held that there is no question of fact that Renald participated in Mona’s fraud. Renald signed the application where Mona falsely represented that she was insuring the vehicle for a business and colluded to falsely represent attendant care records. The Court rejected Renald’s argument that defendant failed to prove all elements of intentional fraud as specified in Bahri v IDS Property Cas Ins Co, 308 Mich App 420, 424-425; 864 NW2d 609 (2014). Renald alleged that defendant failed to show that he made false representations to deceive defendant and that if he made false representations, it was to ensure Mona received payment. However, the videos established the claims that Hodge and Jimmie Ford provided attendant care were false.
The Court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that it had erred when it initially denied defendant’s motion for summary disposition by not finding that Renald committed fraud. The video evidence clearly indicated that Mona’s attendant care claims were false and Renald committed insurance fraud by attempting to support Mona’s claims.
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Sarah Nadeau, Editor of The Garan Report Publication, is a Shareholder in our Detroit Office. Sarah can be reached at 313.446.1530 or email@example.com