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A Better Partnership
June 15, 2016

COA: No premises liability unless defendant has possession and control of the property

The Michigan Court of Appeals held that an individual may not recover from a defendant who does not owe a legal duty in Morelli v Madison Heights, Docket No. 326621.  The Court affirmed the decision in Morrow v Boldt, 203 Mich App 324, 328; 512 NW2d 83 (1994), that a plaintiff may only receive damages from a defendant for injuries from conditions of land if that defendant has legal possession and control of the premises.
In August 2012, Kimberly Morelli injured her foot on the grassy strip between the road and sidewalk in front of the home of Donald East, co-defendant with the City of Madison Heights.  A local ordinance provides that the berm area in which Morelli fell is part of a public right-of-way.  While Madison Heights delegates responsibility to maintain the grass on the berm to the homeowner, Madison Heights retains an easement over the public right-of-way.  Accordingly, the Court concluded that Madison Heights, the owner of the easement, had the legal duty to maintain the public right-of-way in a safe condition.  As in Morrow, that East regularly mowed the grass pursuant to a second ordinance did not render him liable for Morelli’s injuries. The Court of Appeals concluded that East did not owe Morelli a legal duty to fill in the hole in the berm.
The Court also rejected Morelli’s claim that East should be held liable for negligently altering the state of the right-of-way.  Any mowing that East did around the hole did not make the hazard itself different.
The Court of Appeals ordered entry of summary disposition in favor of East. 

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