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A Better Partnership
November 04, 2014

COA untangles garnishment rules

Bulldozer runs over man; Man sues company operating bulldozer. It’s a classic tort story, but one complicated by insurance.

In Decker v. Trux R Us, Inc., No. 316479, the bulldozed plaintiff (“Decker”) and bulldozing defendant (“Trux”) reached a settlement of over two million dollars. The settlement and subsequent consent judgment were subject to an agreement that Decker would seek recovery from insurance proceeds from an Auto Owners Insurance Company (“Auto Owners”) policy, and not from Trux. Auto Owners responded to Decker’s request for garnishment by filing a disclosure in which it denied coverage of the accident. So far, so good. But Decker then failed to file discovery requests in response to the disclosure within 14 days. Under MCR 3.101(L)(1) and 3.101(M), that meant the contents of Auto Owners’ disclosure were admitted. Auto Owners then, as garnishee, obtained summary disposition.
Decker appealed the case and argued that the court should have applied MCR 3.101(T), which allows the court to extend the time for various filings. While MCR 3.101(L) is clear that the time for filing discovery request is “within 14 days”, Decker nonetheless argued that MCR 3.101(T) should control in light of MCR 1.105, which states that the MCRs should be construed “to avoid the consequences of error that does not affect the substantial rights of the parties.”
The Court of Appeals stated that the plain language of rules 3.101(L), (M), and (T) is reconcilable without (T) always prevailing. First, the plain language of (L) and (M) is mandatory. If the plaintiff fails to file discovery requests within 14 days of the defendant’s disclosure, then the court must accept the disclosure as true. Second, (L) and (M) also control because they are more specific in their directions than (T). Third, (L) and (M) apply to the deadline for a plaintiff to serve discovery requests on the defendant. In contrast, (T) applies to filing extensions (i.e., with the court). Decker failed to serve the discovery request within 14 days. 
The Court of Appeals accordingly affirmed summary disposition for Auto Owners.

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