Matt Klakulak Argues in Front of the Michigan Supreme Court
The Case Summary as Provided by Michigan Supreme Court
Defendant Larry Robinson, Sr.’s two minor grandchildren were involved in an off-road vehicle (ORV) accident that occurred on his property. The younger child died as a result of injuries sustained in the accident. The child’s mother, as next friend and personal representative of the child’s estate, commenced a civil action alleging that the defendant was liable for the decedent’s injuries because he was negligent. The trial court granted summary disposition in favor of the defendant, concluding that the Recreational Land Use Act, MCL 324.73301 et seq., applies and precludes relief. The trial court also denied the plaintiff’s motion to amend the complaint to add a claim under the owner’s liability provision of the Motor Vehicle Code, MCL 257.401(1). The Court of Appeals affirmed in a published opinion. The Supreme Court has ordered oral argument on the application to address: (1) whether the owner’s liability provision of the Motor Vehicle Code, MCL 257.401(1), irreconcilably conflicts with the Recreational Land Use Act, MCL 324.73301(1), as to the defendant’s liability for the decedent’s injury; (2) whether the pertinent inquiry in resolving the apparent statutory conflict in this case is to determine which provision is more specific; and (3) if so, what is the appropriate framework for determining which provision is more specific?
Q. Matt, you had an appearance yesterday in front of the Michigan Supreme Court regarding the case Estate of Robinson v. Robinson, Supreme Court No. 164190. How did it go?
I thought it went well.
I fielded a number of questions from the Supreme Court Justices, but I was prepared for them, as I participated in a mock oral argument with colleagues beforehand and several of those questions came up in that earlier “practice” session. I had already thought through responses to those questions when they arose in the actual argument. This kind of preparation is invaluable.
The Court was focused on whether the owner’s liability statute and recreation use act actually irreconcilably conflict, and, if so, what is a proper analysis as to which statute is more specific to the subject matter in this case and which addressed the more narrow realm of circumstances, because under existing law, that statute prevails. Justice Cavanagh expressed concern that either statute can be found to prevail based upon the framework and perspective from which a person evaluates it and wanted to know if there was a more definitive or objective way to handle the inquiry. That was a hard question as to issues of statutory interpretation for which I had no resolution. But on a case specific basis I argued that the owner’s liability act was more specific and applied to the narrower realm of circumstances on our facts.
Q. So what’s next? When do you hear the outcome/decision from the Supreme Court and what does that mean for our client’s case and other cases after this?
The Supreme Court will now take an indeterminate amount of time to issue an order or opinion on our application for leave to appeal. There are a number of possible resolutions. First, and I am hopeful that the Court will grant our application and reverse and remand the matter to the trial court for Plaintiff to file an amended complaint to proceed on our owner’s liability claim. Such a ruling would likely allow future injured persons to pursue claims of owner’s liability notwithstanding the recreational use act, at least in certain factual circumstances.
Second, the Defendant would have the Court affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals.
And finally, another possibility is that the Supreme Court grants leave to appeal and has another round of briefing and additional oral argument.