HEIDI ALLEN V STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTO INS COAnnotate this Case
STATE OF MICHIGAN
COURT OF APPEALS
HEIDI ALLEN, as Conservator of the Estate of
October 4, 2005
Lapeer Circuit Court
LC No. 03-032939-NF
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE
Official Reported Version
Before: Borrello, P.J. and Bandstra and Kelly, JJ.
In this automobile negligence action, plaintiff seeks to recover first-party no-fault
personal protection insurance (PIP) benefits.1 The trial court determined that the no-fault act,
MCL 500.3101 et seq., precluded Benjamin Strother's recovery of PIP benefits and granted
defendant summary disposition pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(10). Plaintiff appeals as of right, and
The facts of this case are largely uncontested. Strother was injured while driving a car
solely owned by Heidi Allen and insured by defendant. Both Strother and Allen concede that
Strother did not have Allen's permission to use Allen's car, primarily because Strother lost his
driver's license as a result of alcohol-related offenses. At the time of the accident, Strother and
Allen were unrelated, though they resided in the same house.
The question presented to the trial court was whether Strother was entitled to recover PIP
benefits from Allen's State Farm policy. MCL 500.3114 provides in relevant part:
The statutory phrase is "personal protection insurance benefits," but they are also known as
"first-party" or "PIP" benefits. McKelvie v Auto Club Ins Ass'n, 459 Mich 42, 44 n 1; 586 NW2d
(1) Except as provided in subsections (2), (3), and (5), a personal
protection insurance policy described in section 3101(1) applies to accidental
bodily injury to the person named in the policy, the person's spouse, and a relative
of either domiciled in the same household, if the injury arises from a motor
vehicle accident. . . .
* * *
(4) Except as provided in subsections (1) to (3), a person suffering
accidental bodily injury arising from a motor vehicle accident while an occupant
of a motor vehicle shall claim personal protection insurance benefits from insurers
in the following order of priority:
(a) The insurer of the owner or registrant of the vehicle occupied.
Clearly, Strother is not provided coverage under MCL 500.3114(1) because, at the time of the
accident, he was not the person named in the policy and he was not the spouse of Allen, who was
the owner of the vehicle and the person named in the policy. Although domiciled in the same
house, Strother was not a relative of Allen by marriage, consanguinity, or adoption. Therefore,
his sole recourse for PIP benefits would be through subsection 4.
However, under MCL 500.3113, PIP benefits are precluded under certain circumstances.
MCL 500.3113 provides:
A person is not entitled to be paid personal protection insurance benefits
for accidental bodily injury if at the time of the accident any of the following
(a) The person was using a motor vehicle or motorcycle which he or she
had taken unlawfully, unless the person reasonably believed that he or she was
entitled to take and use the vehicle.
Under MCL 500.3113(a), PIP benefits will be denied if (1) a person took a vehicle unlawfully
and (2) that person also did not have a reasonable basis for believing that he or she could take
and use the vehicle. Bronson Methodist Hosp v Forshee, 198 Mich App 617, 626; 499 NW2d
423 (1993). Defendant moved for summary disposition on the basis that Strother was precluded
under MCL 500.3113(a) from recovering PIP benefits because he took Allen's vehicle
unlawfully without a reasonable belief that he was entitled to take and use it.
The term "taken unlawfully" is not defined in the statute. The leading case interpreting
the phrase, as used in MCL 500.3113(a), is Priesman v Meridian Mut Ins Co, 441 Mich 60; 490
NW2d 314 (1992). In that case, our Supreme Court addressed whether an underage, unlicensed
driver was excluded from recovering PIP benefits when he was injured after unlawfully taking
his mother's vehicle. Three members of the Court created a judicial exception to MCL
500.3113(a) for "joyriding" family members, generally, teenagers taking their parents' vehicles
without permission. The three justices2 believed that because joyriding was such a common
occurrence in families, benefits should not be denied in that situation, because that was not what
the Legislature presumably intended. Priesman, supra at 68.
This Court, in Butterworth Hosp v Farm Bureau Ins Co, 225 Mich App 244, 248-249;
570 NW2d 304 (1997), recognized that Priesman was not binding precedent, but, nonetheless,
felt compelled to follow its reasoning. This Court held that when a vehicle is taken by a family
member, benefits will only be denied under MCL 500.3113(a) if there was an actual intent to
steal the vehicle. Id. 249-250. The majority declined to accept the concurring judge's position
that the exception for joyriding offenses should extend beyond family members. Id. at 249 n 2.
Similarly, this Court specifically declined to extend the joyriding exception to individuals who
are not family members in Mester v State Farm Mut Ins Co, 235 Mich App 84, 88; 596 NW2d
There is no evidence to suggest that Strother ever intended to permanently deprive Allen
of her vehicle, and his conduct could be termed "joyriding" as the exception has been discussed
following Priesman. However, Strother is not a "family member" entitled to the joyriding
exception. Neither party contends that Strother and Allen are legally or biologically related in
any way. Accordingly, pursuant to Butterworth and Mester, the joyriding exception does not
apply, and Strother is precluded from recovering PIP benefits under MCL 500.3113(a).
Notwithstanding these binding precedents, the dissenting opinion would extend the
judicially created joyriding exception to unrelated adults by expansively defining the limits of a
"family." The dissent contends that we are imposing, by "judicial edict," a limited definition of
what a "family" is. Post at ___ n 1. We are not. Instead, we are acknowledging the universally
accepted and common definition of a "family," i.e., people who are biologically or legally
related. It is the dissent that wants to enlarge that definition by judicial edict. Any such
enlargement, as it would apply to a statutory scheme like the no-fault act at issue here, is
properly within the province of the people's elected legislative representatives, not the courts.
As the dissent points out, the Legislature has enlarged the definition of "family member"
in the Mental Health Code. MCL 330.1100b(3). However, the Mental Health Code definition
has nothing to do with this no-fault case, see MCL 330.1100, except to illustrate that the
Legislature knows how to expand the definition of a "family member" when, for limited
statutory purposes, that is considered an appropriate public policy.
In essence, the dissent concludes that the family member exception should be expanded
to include nonrelatives residing in the same household who "[think] of themselves as 'family,'"
despite the lack of any biological or legal relationship. Post at ___. However, under the Mental
Health Code definition of "family member," persons need not be related, reside with each other,
Justice Boyle concurred in the result only.
or even "think of themselves as 'family'" to meet that definition if a "financial support"
relationship exists. MCL 330.1100b(3). Again, while such an expansive approach is what the
Legislature intended for purposes of the Mental Health Code, a similar intent has not been shown
for the no-fault act. To so conclude is not to judicially impose any "social values" as the dissent
charges; it is to respect the policy choices made by the people's representatives in enacted
statutes. See post at ___ n 1.
Pursuant to Butterworth and Mester, the joyriding family member exception does not
apply. Because Strother is precluded from recovering PIP benefits pursuant to MCL
500.3113(a), the trial court did not err in granting defendant's motion for summary disposition.
/s/ Richard A. Bandstra