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A Better Partnership
April 21, 2016

COA – Where Court of Appeals previously ruled that there was sufficient evidence of causation to go to a jury, that issue could not be re-litigated on remand

In the consolidated appeal of Brownlow v. McCall Enterprises, Inc., Nos. 325843 and 326903, the Michigan Court of Appeals held that where the Court of Appeals previously ruled that there was sufficient evidence of causation to go to a jury, the law of the case doctrine precluded the defendant from relitigating the issue of causation in a subsequent motion for summary disposition after remand. 
 
This case arises out of a small fire that occurred in the plaintiffs’ microwave in early 2007.  The fire filled plaintiffs’ home with smoke and plaintiffs’ filed a claim with their insurer to remove the smoke odor from the home.  Defendant was in charge of removing the smoke odor; an ozone generator was placed in the home, plaintiffs left the home for the weekend and upon return noticed the smell was gone, but damage to the home and personal property remained.  Plaintiffs also complained of health issues as a result of the ozone exposure and filed suit against their insurer and defendant.  The trial court dismissed plaintiffs’ negligence and MCPA claims; plaintiffs appealed the dismissal of their MCPA claims.  The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision and the Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal.  On remand, the trial court granted the defendant’s motion in limine to preclude claims for personal property damage, dismissed plaintiff Brownlow from the action and granted defendant’s motion to award attorney fees as case evaluation sanctions.  The trial court also denied plaintiff Travis’s counter motion for partial summary disposition; plaintiffs again filed an appeal.
 
On appeal in Docket No. 325843, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s order granting summary disposition in favor of defendant, the order dismissing plaintiff Brownlow as a party, as well as the order awarding defendant case evaluation sanctions against Brownlow.  In Docket No. 326903, the Court reversed the trial court’s orders granting case evaluation sanctions against plaintiff Travis.  Plaintiffs argued that the law of the case doctrine precluded the trial court from considering defendant’s second motion for summary disposition regarding the issue of causation.  The Court found that “’the law of the case doctrine provides that a ruling by an appellate court with regard to a particular issue binds the appellate court and all lower tribunals with respect to that issue,’ provided that the facts remain materially the same.  Here, the Court previously determined that the issue of causation should to the jury, therefore, on remand to the trial court, the doctrine precluded defendant from relitigating the issue of causation. 
 
Next, plaintiffs argued that the trial court abused its discretion in granting defendant’s motion in limine to exclude damage to personal property.  The Court held that the issue of whether the MCPA claims was limited to real or personal property was never before the Court and was never implicitly or explicitly decided.  Consequently, the trial court erred in also dismissing plaintiff Brownlow as a party for lack of standing because while he was not an owner of the damaged home, he did have personal property that was damaged during the fire.  Finally, plaintiffs argued that the trial court erred by declining to grant their counter-motion for summary disposition as to defendant’s liability under the MCPA.  After a review of the legislative intent in drafting the MCPA, the Court held that there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding defendant’s liability under the MCPA, and, therefore, plaintiffs were not entitled to summary disposition.  Because the Court held that the trial court erred in granting the defendant’s second motion for summary disposition regarding causation and by dismissing Brownlow as a party, it was necessary to reverse the case evaluation sanctions against both plaintiffs.
 
Accordingly, the Court remanded the case for further proceedings and directed that the case be assigned to a different circuit court judge.

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