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.
BORRELLO, P.J. (dissenting).
I dissent in this matter because I believe that Benjamin Strother is entitled to coverage
under the family member joyriding exception to MCL 500.3113(a). Therefore, I would reverse
the trial court's order granting summary disposition in favor of defendant on the basis of MCL
500.3113(a) and would remand for a jury trial.
This case arose out of an automobile accident in which Strother was injured. The vehicle
that Strother was driving belonged to his live-in companion, Heidi Allen. The automobile was
covered by a no-fault insurance policy issued by defendant. Strother was not licensed on the day
of the accident, and he took the vehicle without Allen's knowledge or consent. Strother and
Allen have two children together. The circumstances of their living arrangements indicate that
Strother provided all the household income, and Allen was responsible for many household
tasks, including paying bills.
The trial court granted summary disposition on the basis of MCL 500.3113, which
provides in relevant part:
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.
The phrase "taken unlawfully" is not defined in the no-fault act itself. Landon v Titan Ins
Co, 251 Mich App 633, 638; 651 NW2d 93 (2002). In Butterworth Hosp v Farm Bureau Ins Co,
225 Mich App 244, 245-246; 570 NW2d 304 (1997), the injured party was the car owner's son,
who lived in a separate house and took the vehicle in violation of the owner's express refusal to
permit him to do so. The trial court concluded that the injured party was not entitled to coverage
because he was not a member of the owner's household. Id. at 247. We reversed on the ground
that the injured party had not intended to steal the car, but only to joyride in it contrary to MCL
750.413, and our Supreme Court had "found a 'family member' joyriding exception to [MCL
500.3113(a)]." Butterworth Hosp, supra at 248, citing Priesman v Meridian Mut Ins Co, 441
Mich 60, 70; 490 NW2d 314 (1992) (Griffin, J., dissenting). Thus, because the injured party was
the insured's son, he could not have taken the vehicle "unlawfully" within the meaning of MCL
500.3113(a). Butterworth Hosp, supra at 249. In Mester v State Farm Mut Ins Co, 235 Mich
App 84, 87; 596 NW2d 205 (1999), we observed that in Butterworth Hosp, we had extended the
family member joyriding exception to MCL 500.3113(a) to adult family members from another
household who joyride in a relative's car without permission; however, we declined to extend the
family member joyriding exception to all joyriders. Mester, supra at 88.
Thus, the controlling issue in this case is whether Strother and Allen are "family
members" within the meaning of the exception to MCL 500.3113(a). In contrast to the majority's
holding in this case, I would conclude that they are family members. This Court has previously
recognized that "the reality of the nature of families existing in today's society" precludes
restricting the definition of "family" to "include only persons related by consanguinity."
Youngblood v DEC Properties, 204 Mich App 581, 583; 516 NW2d 119 (1994). Rather, "the
relevance of 'family' does not pertain to blood or lineage, but rather to members of a household . .
. ." Id. In addition, the definition of "family member" contained in the Mental Health Code,
MCL 330.1001 et seq., also suggests that the Legislature would recognize Strother and Allen as
family members. MCL 330.1100b(3) provides that a "[f]amily member means a parent,
stepparent, spouse, sibling, child, or grandparent of a primary consumer, or an individual upon
whom a primary consumer is dependent for at least 50% of his or her financial support."
Contrary to the majority's assertion that MCL 330.1100b(3) is inapplicable to the facts of this
case, I find that it is instructive regarding the Legislature's views regarding the definition of
In response to the majority's contention that my view would expand coverage to "unrelated
adults," ante at ___, I would respond that perhaps the majority should consider a more expansive
definition of what constitutes a "family member" to more accurately reflect the myriad types of
families that actually exist in society today. The majority seems content to narrowly define the
term "family member" by judicial edict in a manner that comports with its social values, with no
consideration or recognition of the fact that families are created by more than blood.
Furthermore, the majority seems reluctant to consider a legislative definition of the term "family
member" that is contrary to its restrictive construction of what a family should be. MCL
330.1100b(3), while not controlling on this issue in this case, provides sound legislative guidance
regarding the emerging definition of "family member" in contemporary society. At the very
least, I believe this Court should consider how the Legislature has defined the term, even if the
Although Youngblood was concerned with the service of a notice, it is consistent with the
definition in MCL 330.1100b(3), which suggests a definition of "family" that is more expansive
than merely the traditional "nuclear" family, or even persons related solely by blood or legal
formalities. Moreover, in Youngblood, this Court was concerned with whether serving a member
of a person's household would likely result in actually notifying the proper person. Youngblood,
supra at 582-583. Youngblood and the definition of "family member" in MCL 330.1100b(3)
both suggest that any inquiry into whether a given individual is a family member must not rely
merely on legal formalities, but must take into account the practicalities of the involved
relationships and the changing nature of the composition of families in today's society.
Although Strother and Allen were not married, they thought of themselves as "family"
and acted as a traditional family. They raised two children together and lived with each other
while sharing household responsibilities for nine years. Their testimony showed that Allen was
financially dependent on Strother, while Strother depended on Allen to do such household tasks
as paying the bills. Under the circumstances, the practicalities of their situation mandate the
conclusion that they are family members. Therefore, I would reverse the decision of the trial
court and allow the matter to proceed to trial.
/s/ Stephen L. Borrello
statute defining it is not directly applicable to the facts of this case.