IN RE JENNIFER L GEROR DDPAnnotate this Case
STATE OF MICHIGAN
COURT OF APPEALS
In re JENNIFER L. GEROR, a developmentally
JENNIFER L. GEROR, a developmentally
August 6, 2009
November 3, 2009
Genesee Probate Court
LC No. 03-170939-DD
FARM BUREAU GENERAL INSURANCE
COMPANY OF MICHIGAN,
Advance Sheets Version
Before: SAAD, C.J., and SAWYER and BORRELLO, JJ.
Farm Bureau General Insurance Company of Michigan appeals the probate court’s order
that required Farm Bureau to pay petitioner’s attorney fees. We affirm.
Respondent argues that the probate court lacked jurisdiction to order Farm Bureau to pay
the petitioner’s attorney fees. We disagree.
Subject matter jurisdiction is a legal issue that we review de novo on appeal. In re
Haque, 237 Mich App 295, 299; 602 NW2d 622 (1999). “Probate courts are courts of limited
jurisdiction. Const 1963, art 6, § 15. The jurisdiction of the probate court is defined entirely by
statute.” In re Wirsing, 456 Mich 467, 472; 573 NW2d 51 (1998). “[T]he Mental Health Code
provides that, except in the case of minors, a guardian for a developmentally disabled person
may be made pursuant only to chapter 6 of the Mental Health Code[, MCL 330.1600 et seq.].”
In re Neal, 230 Mich App 723, 727; 584 NW2d 654 (1998), citing MCL 330.1604(2).
Respondent argues that MCL 330.1615, the section of the Mental Health Code pertaining
to attorney fees, contains no provision that grants the probate court the authority to order
payment of attorney fees by third parties like respondent. However, we conclude that this statute
does not control the issue.
While it is true that appointment of a guardian for a developmentally disabled person
must be done pursuant to the Mental Health Code, Neal, supra at 727, the issue here is attorney
fees arising from an action on an insurance contract. And this Court found that question to be
within the probate court’s jurisdiction in In re Shields Estate, 254 Mich App 367; 656 NW2d 853
(2002). The Court explained:
Under MCL 700.1303(1)(i), the probate court has jurisdiction to “[h]ear
and decide a contract proceeding or action by or against an estate, trust, or ward.”
The statute imposes no limits on the types of contract actions and, further, the
Legislature explained in MCL 700.1303(3) that the purpose of the statute was to
simplify the disposition of actions involving estates. . . . Accordingly, the probate
court had jurisdiction to decide this case. [Id. at 369 (emphasis added).]
This reasoning applies here because, according to MCL 700.1108(a), as used in the
Estates and Protected Individuals Code, “‘ward’ means an individual for whom a guardian is
appointed.” Petitioner is a developmentally disabled person and her mother, Laurie Geror, was
appointed petitioner’s guardian. Therefore, petitioner is a ward, and the probate court had
jurisdiction under MCL 700.1303(1)(i) to hear her contract dispute with respondent and to award
Defendant also contends that the attorney fees of petitioner’s attorney, Craig L. Wright,
are not “allowable expenses” under the no-fault act, MCL 500.3101 et seq. We disagree.
Determining what is an allowable expense under the no-fault act is a question of law,
reviewed de novo. Griffith v State Farm Mut Automobile Ins Co, 472 Mich 521, 525-526; 697
NW2d 895 (2005). “‘The no-fault insurance act is remedial in nature and must be liberally
construed in favor of persons intended to benefit thereby.’” Gauntlett v Auto-Owners Ins Co,
242 Mich App 172, 179; 617 NW2d 735 (2000) (citations omitted). “[S]ubject to the other
provisions of the act, ‘an insurer is liable to pay [personal protection insurance] benefits for
accidental bodily injury arising out of the ownership, operation, maintenance or use of a motor
vehicle . . . .’” Sprague v Farmers Ins Exch, 251 Mich App 260, 266; 650 NW2d 374 (2002),
quoting MCL 500.3105(1). These personal protection insurance benefits “‘are payable only for
“[a]llowable expenses.” [MCL 500.3107] defines allowable expenses as “consisting of all
reasonable charges incurred for reasonably necessary products, services and accommodations for
an injured person’s care, recovery, or rehabilitation.”’” Sprague, supra at 267 (citations
This Court has previously ruled that expenses associated with both guardianship and
other services can be allowable expenses. In Heinz v Auto Club Ins Ass’n, 214 Mich App 195,
197-198; 543 NW2d 4 (1995), this Court held that “the no-fault act is not limited strictly to the
payment of medical expenses” and, furthermore, that MCL 500.3107(1)(a) “provides for the
payment of expenses incurred for the reasonably necessary services for an injured person’s care.”
Though Heinz framed the issue as a question whether services are reasonably necessary for an
injured person’s care, respondent cites several cases that specifically address the recovery of
expenses by guardians. Here the probate court observed that Wright was not seeking to recover
fees as a guardian, but, rather, as an attorney who provided legal services directly to petitioner,
the injured individual.
The question, therefore, is whether, pursuant to Heinz, Wright’s legal services were
“reasonably necessary services for an injured person’s care.” Id. at 198. Costs for “room and
board, attendant care, modifying vehicles for paralyzed individuals, rental expenses, and similar
costs have been found by this Court to be reasonably necessary expenses under [MCL
500.3107(1)(a)].” Hamilton v AAA Michigan, 248 Mich App 535, 545; 639 NW2d 837 (2001).
In the case at bar, Lawrence Geror, petitioner’s father, filed three emergency petitions
claiming that petitioner’s health had been negatively affected by the actions of Laurie Geror, her
guardian. Wright, acting as petitioner’s attorney, visited petitioner’s home, and while petitioner
appeared to be healthy and receiving adequate care, Wright determined that a medical
professional should assess the situation. The nurse subsequently assigned to the case produced
several reports, which Wright reviewed in order to make recommendations for petitioner’s care.
In preparation for the hearing on guardianship, Wright also attended depositions of the medical
professionals who testified regarding whether petitioner’s needs were being met.
Wright’s ultimate task was to investigate the facts and determine whether petitioner was
receiving the necessary care, as well as represent her interests in a dispute over who, ultimately,
would provide her future care. Wright’s legal services were directly related to petitioner’s care,
and therefore Wright’s attorney fees are allowable expenses pursuant to MCL 500.3107(1)(a).
/s/ Henry William Saad
/s/ David H. Sawyer
/s/ Stephen L. Borrello