The Michigan Court of Appeals recently offered a reminder that Requests for Admission are meant to save resources by limiting the issues in dispute, and are not a means to litigate the merits of a party’s claims.
In Malusi v Farm Bureau General Ins Co of Michigan, the plaintiff was struck by a vehicle while riding his bicycle, and sought personal protection insurance (“PIP”) benefits through his parents’ no-fault insurer, Citizens Insurance. Citizens denied coverage, and the plaintiff sought benefits through the Michigan Assigned Claims Plan. The plaintiff then brought a claim against the assigned insurer, Farm Bureau, for allegedly unpaid PIP benefits. Farm Bureau filed a third-party claim against Citizens, asserting that the plaintiff was covered under his parents’ policy and Citizens was therefore responsible for the payment of any PIP benefits.
Farm Bureau sent a request for admission to Citizens asking Citizens to admit that it was the insurer of highest priority. Citizens denied the request. After both parties moved for summary disposition, the trial court granted Farm Bureau’s motion, concluding that the plaintiff was covered under the Citizens policy. Farm Bureau moved for attorney fees for Citizens’ allegedly unreasonable failure to admit that it was the insurer of highest priority. The trial court granted the motion and awarded fees.
On appeal, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that the trial court abused its discretion in awarding fees because Farm Bureau’s request for admission was improper. The court reiterated prior Michigan Supreme Court precedent holding that requests for admission are designed to limit areas of controversy and save the time and expense of proving “matters properly subject to admission.”
The Court of Appeals held that a request designed to force an opposing party to admit a claim against it has merit does not further these goals and is improper. By requesting that Citizens admit that it was the insurer of highest priority, Farm Bureau was effectively asking Citizens to admit that it was responsible for the payment of PIP benefits. Because the request for admission went directly to the merits of Farm Bureau’s claim, it was an improper subject for a request for admission. Thus, Citizens’ denial could not form the basis for an award of attorney fees.
This case serves as an important reminder for attorneys of the intended purpose of requests for admission and their proper role in facilitating litigation and limiting issues in dispute, rather than to prove or disprove the merits of a claim.