Michigan Appellate Digest
Smitham v State Farm Fire & Casualty Co
View Docket Sheet
Released: August 9, 2012
Panel: JANSEN, Cavanagh, Hoekstra
297 Mich App 537; 824 NW2d 601 (2012)
Opinion - Authored - Published View Opinion
Summary Disposition - Review - Standard
The grant or denial of summary disposition is reviewed de novo to determine if the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Summary Disposition - Barred Claim - Limitations Period
Summary disposition may be granted when a claim is barred because of a statute of limitations.
Summary Disposition - Barred Claim - Standard - Documentary Evidence
A party may support a motion for summary disposition because the claim is barred with affidavits, depositions, admissions, or other documentary evidence. If such material is submitted, it must be considered. The substance of the supporting proofs must be admissible in evidence.
Summary Disposition - Barred Claim - Standard - Complaint
A party moving for summary disposition because the claim is barred is not required to file supportive material, and the opposing party need not reply with supportive material. The contents of the complaint are accepted as true unless contradicted by documentation submitted by the movant.
Insurance - Fire - Limitations Period - Tolling
A statute requires that a fire insurance policy specify that an action under the policy may be commenced only after compliance with the policy requirements. An action must be commenced within one year after the loss or within the time period specified in the policy, whichever is longer. The time for commencing an action is tolled from the time the insured notifies the insurer of the loss until the insurer formally denies liability.
Statutes - Construction - Federal - Judicial Interpretation - State Law
A federal court's construction of a state statute is highly persuasive.
Insurance - Fire - Limitations Period - Tolling - Denial of Claim - Contractual Provision - Conflict - Effect
A fire insurance policy which makes the tolling of the period for commencing action conditional upon the insurer's issuance of a formal denial of liability conflicts with the statutory requirement that the time for commencing an action is tolled from the time the insured notifies the insurer of the loss until the insurer formally denies liability, and thus is void. In this case, the first plaintiff lost personal property during a robbery, and the following day, February 28, 2008, she filed a claim with the defendant insurer under its fire insurance policy. On August 7, 2008, the defendant denied the claim, but on June 26, 2009, it reopened the claim and again denied liability in a letter dated June 4, 2010. The defendant later sent the plaintiff a check for small part of the claimed loss. Under the policy, in the event a claim was formally denied, in whole or in part, the period of time in which a suit could be commenced against the company was extended by the number of days between the date the notice of loss was provided to the company and the date the claim was formally denied. The plaintiff brought suit on October 29, 2010, and the defendant moved for summary disposition on the basis that the claim was barred by the one-year limitations period specified in the insurance policy. The trial court granted summary disposition, and the plaintiff appealed. The defendant's policy made the tolling of the limitations period contingent upon the issuance of a formal denial of liability, and it thus conflicted with the statutory provision regarding the tolling of the limitations period. The defendant's contractual tolling provision was void, and the trial court improperly granted summary disposition for the defendant.
Insurance - Fire - Limitations Period - Denial of Claim - Withdrawal - Effect
When an insurer denies a claim and then agrees to reopen it, the initial denial is effectively withdrawn. In this case, the defendant argued that, regardless of the validity of its contractual limitations period, the plaintiff's claim was still untimely under the statutory limitations period. However, its calculation of the running of the limitations period assumed that the period between its initial denial of the claim and its reopening of the claim counted against the one-year period, but the reopening of the claim effectively withdrew the initial denial.
Insurance - Fire - Limitations Period - Denial of Claim - Partial Payment - Effect
A formal denial of an insurance claim must be explicit and direct. An insuredís awareness of the amount of a payment does not alone establish a formal denial of the claim. In this case, the defendant argued that the plaintiff's awareness of the amount of its partial payment was sufficient to end the tolling period, but that partial payment was not an explicit and direct formal denial as was required.
Insurance - Fire - Limitations Period - Tolling - Denial of Claim
An insurer re-triggers the running of the one-year limitations period by notifying the insured in certain terms that it is denying all liability in excess of what it has paid, thereby placing the insured on clear notice that the limitation period has resumed running.