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147483 - Tienda v Integon National Ins

Gerardo Lorenzo Tienda and Silvia Lopez Gomez,
 
 
 
Plaintiffs-Appellees,
 
v
(Appeal from Ct of Appeals)
 
 
(Allegan – Cronin, K.)
 
Integon National Insurance Company, a/k/a GMAC Insurance Company,
 
Daniel S. Saylor
 
Defendant-Appellee,
 
and
 
 
Titan Insurance Company,
 
Ronald M. Sangster, Jr.
 
 
 
Intervening Defendant-Appellant.
 

Summary

​From October 2008 until May 2009, Tienda, Gomez, Lorenzo, and Castro worked in Florida where they picked strawberries. From May 2009 until early July, the four lived together on or near a farm in North Carolina where they harvested fruit. Around July 4, 2009, Lorenzo drove Tienda, Gomez, and Castro in his Expedition to Michigan; they rented an apartment together in Grand Rapids and drove together each day to a farm in Allegan County to harvest blueberries. Before the accident, Integon issued a North Carolina auto insurance policy to Lorenzo. When he applied for the policy, Lorenzo had a driver’s license issued by the state of Michigan that he testified he had for approximately eight years. However, on the Integon auto insurance application, Lorenzo listed his address as Teachey, North Carolina.

Integon initially paid no-fault benefits to Tienda and Gomez, but stopped because it took the position that, at the time of the accident, Lorenzo was a Michigan resident and, under MCL 500.3163(1), Integon was only obligated to pay for injuries or property damage occurring in Michigan if the owner of the vehicle is a resident of another state. Integon asserted that Lorenzo did not insure the vehicle with Michigan no-fault insurance when he actually was a Michigan resident, as shown by his driver’s license, and he misrepresented the primary location of the vehicle as his address in North Carolina.

Plaintiffs filed an action against Integon and asserted that Integon must pay first-party personal injury protection (PIP) benefits, that Integon refused to pay, and that it had unreasonably delayed paying the benefits. Plaintiffs also applied for benefits through the Assigned Claims Facility, which assigned the claim to Titan. The trial court permitted Titan to intervene in this action. Integon filed a cross-claim against Titan, seeking a judgment that Titan was responsible for PIP benefits owed to plaintiffs and seeking to recoup the benefits it had already paid to plaintiffs. Titan filed a counterclaim against Integon.

Integon and Titan moved for summary disposition, each claiming that the other company was responsible for paying no-fault benefits to Tienda and Gomez. The trial court ruled that Lorenzo’s place of residence was irrelevant and that Integon was obligated to pay for plaintiffs’ injuries.

The court also ruled that, if Lorenzo’s residency was at issue pursuant to MCL 500.3163, Lorenzo was not a Michigan resident because he had no intent to reside in Michigan permanently and he had no greater connection to Michigan than the other states in which he worked. The court concluded that Lorenzo was a resident of Florida because he spent more months during the year in Florida. The court granted summary disposition to Titan and ruled that plaintiffs were entitled to benefits under the Integon policy. The court also directed Integon to pay plaintiffs costs and fees of $21,683.61 as a penalty for its unreasonable refusal to pay, and its delay in paying no-fault benefits. Integon appealed.

In a published opinion dated April 23, 2013, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court erred, that Lorenzo was a Michigan resident as a matter of law when the accident occurred, and neither his out-of-state policy with Integon nor Integon’s choice to also do business in Michigan made Integon liable for plaintiffs’ no-fault benefits. Contrary to the trial court’s ruling, the Court of Appeals ruled Titan the insurer responsible for payment of no-fault benefits to plaintiffs. Titan appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court.

In an order dated February 5, 2014, the Michigan Supreme Court ordered oral argument on whether to grant the appellate application or take other action and directed the parties to address the issue whether the insured, upon whose policy the plaintiffs seek the payment of benefits, was an “out-of-state resident,” as that term is used in MCL 500.3163(1), at the time of the Michigan accident giving rise to the plaintiffs’ claim.