Articles Posted in Michigan Supreme Court

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The decedent, James Erwin, Sr., had six children from a previous marriage when he married appellee Maggie Erwin in 1968. James and Maggie had four children together, bringing James’s total number of children to 10. Several years after their wedding, James and Maggie bought a house in Saginaw. However, although remaining in Saginaw, Maggie moved out and established a separate residence in 1976. She subsequently petitioned James for financial assistance, and James consented to a support order that provided assistance for Maggie and for their children. But the two continued to live apart. There was no indication that they ever lived under the same roof again. Decades later, in 2010, James and Maggie joined together as plaintiffs and sued James’s employer to reinstate Maggie’s health insurance coverage in accordance with his retiree medical benefits. James made it clear that Maggie was still his wife and that they had an ongoing relationship. James died intestate in 2012. James and Maggie had never filed for divorce nor had they otherwise formally separated. In the eyes of the law, they remained married until the time of James’s passing. Dissatisfied with the communication and cooperation shown by Maggie and her four children, one of James’s children from his first marriage, Beatrice King, represented by her attorney-brother, L. Fallasha Erwin, petitioned the probate court to open formal proceedings and to be appointed as the estate’s personal representative. The probate court proceedings were contentious from the outset. Beatrice asked the probate court to determine whether Maggie was a surviving spouse in accordance with Estates and Protected Individuals Code (EPIC). Beatrice argued, in part, that Maggie was not a surviving spouse under MCL 700.2801(2)(e)(i) because she was “willfully absent” from James in the years leading up to his death. If proved, because James died intestate, Maggie would not be an heir for the purposes of inheritance, and she would not be entitled to a share of James’s estate. The Court of Appeals concluded that “willful absence for the purposes of the EPIC was a factual question that may concern more than physical proximity,” and that a “trial court should determine whether a spouse is willfully absent . . . by considering all the facts and circumstances of the case.” The issues this case presented for the Michigan Supreme Court's review were both ones of first impression: (1) whether the term “willfully absent” was defined exclusively by physical separation, or whether it included consideration of the emotional bonds and connections between spouses; and (2) whether MCL 700.2801(2)(e)(i) required proof that a spouse intends to abandon his or her marital rights. The Supreme Court held the appellate court correctly concluded Maggie was not "willfully absent" from James in the years leading up to his death, and affirmed. View "In re Erwin Estate" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Michigan Supreme Court in this case was whether the rebuttable presumption of undue influence was applicable when the decedent’s attorney breaches Michigan Rule of Professional Conduct (MRPC) 1.8(c), which generally prohibited an attorney from preparing an instrument giving the attorney or his or her close family a substantial gift. Appellants argued that a breach of MRPC 1.8(c) automatically rendered an instrument void, while the appellee attorney argued that, rather than an invalidation of the instrument, a rebuttable presumption of undue influence arose in these circumstances. After considering the applicable provisions of the Estates and Protected Individuals Code (EPIC), MCL 700.1101 et seq., and the underlying principles of probate law, the Michigan Supreme Court determined a rebuttable presumption applied to these circumstances. "[T]he adoption of MRPC 1.8(c) has no effect on this conclusion because a breach of this rule, like breaches of other professional conduct rules, only triggers the invocation of the attorney disciplinary process; it does not breach the statutory law of EPIC." View "In re Mardigian Estate" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Michigan Supreme Court in this case is whether plaintiff, arguing that venue was improper, could avail herself of MCR 2.223(A), which permitted a court to order a venue change “on timely motion of a defendant,” MCR 2.223(A)(1), or on the court’s “own initiative,” MCR 2.223(A)(2). This case arose out of a fatal automobile accident in Lake County between defendant Rodney Hall and decedent James Armour II. Plaintiff Joanne Dawley, Armour’s spouse, sued Hall in Wayne County in August 2014. Defendant moved to transfer venue to Mason County or Lake County, alleging among other things that he conducted business in Mason County by owning and operating Barothy Lodge. The Wayne Circuit Court granted the motion and transferred venue to Mason County in March 2015. Ten months later, plaintiff moved under MCR 2.223 to change venue back to Wayne County, alleging that discovery had revealed that defendant did not, in fact, own the resort in his name; he was merely a member of Hall Investments, LLC, which owned the resort. Therefore, according to plaintiff, venue in Mason County was improper because defendant did not conduct business there. The trial court disagreed, but the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for transfer of venue to Wayne County. Defendant appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing among other things that MCR 2.223 did not permit a plaintiff to move for transfer of venue. The Supreme Court found that because plaintiff’s motion was neither a motion by defendant nor an action on the court’s “own initiative,” it held plaintiff could not file a motion for a change of venue under MCR 2.223(A). Accordingly, the Court vacated the Court of Appeals’ decision ordering transfer of venue. View "Estate of James Armour II v. Hall" on Justia Law

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In several cases consolidated for review, the issue common to all was whether the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services could recover from beneficiaries’ estates an amount equivalent to certain Medicaid benefits paid to, or on behalf of, those beneficiaries during their lifetimes. Pursuant to the Michigan Medicaid estate-recovery program (MMERP), DHHS asserted creditor claims in the amount of those benefits against the estates of four deceased beneficiaries. In each case, the estate prevailed in the probate court and DHHS appealed. The Court of Appeals consolidated the appeals and reversed in part, concluding that DHHS could pursue its claims for amounts paid after MMERP’s July 1, 2011 implementation date, but not for amounts paid between that date and the program’s effective date, July 1, 2010. One estate appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, arguing due process barred DHHS from recovering any amount paid before 2013, when the agency had directly notified the estate’s decedent of MMERP. DHHS applied for leave to appeal in all four cases, arguing that the Court of Appeals had erred in concluding that the agency was not entitled to recover the amounts paid between July 1, 2010, and July 1, 2011. The Supreme Court concluded DHHS was not barred from pursuing estate recovery for amounts paid after July 1, 2010. View "In re Gorney Estate" on Justia Law

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Nancy Mick, as personal representative of the estate of Stephen Bradley, sought to have the Kent County Sheriff's Department held in contempt of court. She obtained an order from the probate court to take Stephen Bradley into custody for a psychiatric evaluation. The sheriff's department did not arrive, and Mr. Bradley shot and killed himself. Mick originally filed a wrongful-death action against the sheriff's department, but the department was granted governmental immunity from suit. Mick then filed her contempt action, arguing the estate of Mr. Bradley suffered damages as a result of the sheriff department's failure to show. The department again moved for dismissal on immunity grounds, but the probate court denied that motion. The department then appealed the probate court's decision at circuit court, which reversed. The Court of Appeals reversed the circuit court, finding that the governmental tort liability act (GTLA) did not apply in this case. The department appealed to the Supreme Court. Upon review, the Supreme Court the department was entitled to dismissal on an immunity basis, and reversed the Court of Appeals. View "In re Bradley Estate" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Pamela Mattison, gave birth to twins who were conceived by artificial insemination after their father, Jeffery Mattison, had died. She sought social security survivors' benefits for the children based on Jeffery's earnings. The Social Security Administration denied her application, and an administrative law judge affirmed that decision. Plaintiff then filed an action in the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan challenging the decision. That court has asked the Michigan Supreme Court to rule on whether the children could inherit from Jeffery under Michigan intestacy law. Having heard oral argument, the Supreme Court granted the district court's request to answer the question and held that under Michigan intestacy law, plaintiff's children could not inherit from Jeffery. The matter was returned to the district court for further proceedings. View "In re Mattison v. Social Security Comm." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellee Candice Johnson suffered a lost pregnancy at 20 weeks’ gestation, and on behalf of herself and the deceased fetus, Baby Johnson, sued Defendant-Appellant Rajan Pastoriza, M.D. and his professional corporation alleging negligence. Defendant moved for summary judgment; the circuit court refused to grant the motion, but ordered Plaintiff to appoint a personal representative for the estate of the baby and to amend the complaint to bring the negligence claim that had been brought on behalf of the baby through Michigan's wrongful-death statute. Defendant appealed. The appellate court held that the wrongful-death statute as amended in 2005, applied retroactively to Plaintiff's claim for wrongful death. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that the 2005 amendment to the wrongful-death statute did not apply to claims arising before the effective date of the amendment. Further, because Defendant would be subjected to liability that did not exist at the time the cause of action arose, the amendment was not remedial, and therefore could not be deemed retroactive. The case was remanded to the circuit court for entry of summary judgment in favor of Denfendant on the wrongful-death claim. View "Johnson v. Pastoriza" on Justia Law