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A Better Partnership
June 28, 2015

COA: A plaintiff cannot rely on the internal documents of a defendant transportation authority to satisfy the notice requirement under the MTA Act

In Fields v. Smart, No. 318235, the Court of Appeals held that the Metropolitan Transportation Authorities Act (“MTA Act”) requires that someone other than the defendant actually serve some form of notice on the defendant transportation authority rather than  relying solely on the authority’s receipt of police reports and the authority’s own internal documents.
 
Plaintiff, Debra Fields, filed suit following a bus-automobile crash that occurred on April 17, 2010. She brought the action for negligence against Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transport (“SMART”) and a SMART employee driver. Plaintiff called SMART’s insurer within three weeks of the accident, and on May 10, 2010, defendants received a police report and recorded a SMART accident report. The circuit court granted summary disposition in favor of defendants on the basis that plaintiff did not meet the notice requirement of MCL 124.419 under the MTA Act. Plaintiff appealed.
 
The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed. Generally, governmental agencies are statutorily immune from tort liability; however, the government waives its immunity voluntarily in certain circumstances. When the government waives its immunity, the Legislature places conditions and limits on the liability a potential claimant may impose on a governmental entity or person. Under MCL 124.419 of the MTA Act, a claimant seeking to hold a transportation authority liable for a tortious act must provide written notice of the claim within sixty days of the occurrence of the injury. Nuculovic v. Hill, 287 Mich App 58, 63; 783 NW2d 124 (2010). The issue before the court was whether plaintiff’s communication with SMART constituted sufficient notice pursuant to MCL 124.419. Plaintiff argued that, collectively, the police report, phone calls, and SMART’S internal documents satisfied the notice requirement statute. Conversely, SMART argued that the plaintiff failed to provide written notice as required by the statute.
 
The Court of Appeals considered the plain language of MCL 124.419 and held the plaintiff must provide the defendant with written notice of the type of claim that the plaintiff would pursue. The Court recognized that to rule otherwise would require SMART to anticipate when an injured person is likely to file suit and then notify itself of that person’s intent. Because the plaintiff provided no evidence that she served defendants with a written notice prior to the sixty day period of limitations, the Court affirmed the circuit court’s decision and granted summary disposition in favor of the defendant.
 
Judge Shapiro concurred.  He noted that the MTA Act’s text did not require that the person responsible for the written notice be the plaintiff.  He also noted that the MTA Act set out no specific contents that needed to be in the written notice “beyond the existence” of the claim itself.  Finally, while noting that he was constrained by Michigan Supreme Court to conclude that dismissal was required where plaintiff failed to give notice, he urged the Michigan Supreme Court to revisit the question.  He believed that there were other sanctions short of dismissal that could also possibly be imposed for the failure of notice and that dismissal, while not inconsistent with the statutory language, was certainly not the only possibly remedy.

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