189 N.W. 221 (Mich. 1922), 100, City of Grand Rapids v. Crocker

Docket Nº:1000
Citation:189 N.W. 221, 219 Mich. 178
Opinion Judge:SHARPE, J.
Attorney:[219 Mich. 180] Smedley, Linsey & Shivel, of Grand Rapids, for appellants. Ganson Taggart, of Grand Rapids, for appellee.
Judge Panel:Argued before FELLOWS, C.J., and WIEST, McDONALD, CLARK, BIRD, SHARPE, MOORE, and STEERE, JJ.
Case Date:July 20, 1922
Court:Supreme Court of Michigan

Page 221

189 N.W. 221 (Mich. 1922)

219 Mich. 178



CROCKER et al.

No. 1000

Supreme Court of Michigan

July 20, 1922

Error to Superior Court of Grand Rapids; Major L. Dunham, Judge.

Action by the City of Grand Rapids against Max Crocker and another. Judgment for plaintiff, and defendants bring error. Affirmed.


[219 Mich. 180] Smedley, Linsey & Shivel, of Grand Rapids, for appellants.

Ganson Taggart, of Grand Rapids, for appellee.


Herman F. Brandt, while employed as a fireman in the plaintiff city, was killed on November 24, 1918, by a collision between a 'squad wagon' in which he was riding to a fire and an automobile owned by the defendants and driven by one of them; the other being a passenger therein. The collision occurred at or near the intersection of Cherry street and La Grave avenue.

Sarah E. Brandt, widow of deceased, presented a claim for compensation to the city under the provisions of the Workmen's Compensation Act (2 Comp. Laws 1915,§ 5423 et seq.), to which the deceased and the city were both subject. An agreement for compensation whereby the applicant was to receive $10 per week for 300 weeks was executed on February 4, 1919, and approved on

Page 222

the following[219 Mich. 181] day by the Industrial Accident Board.

On June 24, 1919, Mrs. Brandt, as administratrix of the estate of her deceased husband, began suit in the superior court of Grand Rapids against the defendants herein, claiming damages to his estate by reason of his death, alleged to be due to the negligence of the defendants. The defendants with their plea interposed several special defenses, among them that the agreement for compensation entered into with the city barred the right of recovery. The trial of that suit resulted in a verdict and judgment in favor of the plaintiff on January 15, 1920, for $1,210.69; the court having instructed the jury that the sum which plaintiff would receive under the compensation agreement must be deducted by them from the damages as proven and determined.

On April 9, 1920, the city of Grand Rapids, plaintiff herein, began suit against the defendants to recover the amount paid by it to the widow under the compensation agreement. It had verdict and judgment for $1,067.14, being the amount paid by it under the compensation agreement up to the time of the trial.

1. Plaintiff's right to recover is based on the provisions in section 15 of part 3 of the act (2 Comp. Laws 1915, § 5468), which reads as follows:

'Where the injury for which compensation is payable under this act was caused under circumstances creating a legal liability in some person other than the employer to pay damages in respect thereof, the employé may at his option proceed either at law against that person to recover damages, or against the employer for compensation under this act, but not against both, and if compensation be paid under this act the employer may enforce for his benefit or for that of the insurance company carrying such risk, or the commissioner of insurance, as the case may be, the liability of such other person.'

In determining the rights of an employer under this section, two questions must be answered:

[219 Mich. 182] (a) Does the provision for election apply to the dependents of a deceased employé?

(b) If not, is there any right of recovery over on the part of the employer where compensation is paid to dependents by reason of the death of the employé?

(a) As to the first, the opinions of this court in Dettloff v. Hammond, Standish & Co., 195 Mich. 117, 161 N.W. 949, and Brabon v. Gladwin Light & Power Co., 201 Mich. 697, 167 N.W. 1024, assume, if they do not decide, that the answer should be in the affirmative, while the later cases of Vereeke v. City of Grand Rapids, 203 Mich. 85, 168 N.W. 1019, and Naert v. Western Union Tel. Co., 206 Mich. 68, 172 N.W. 606, hold otherwise. As the holding in these later cases must result in some instances, in permitting a double recovery against the third party wrongdoer or prevent recovery over on the part of the employer, it seemed our duty to further consider these questions. To the end that all parties interested might, so far as they desired, be heard, we invited briefs on the suggested questions. A number have been submitted by attorneys whose practice, as indicated by the decisions of this court, embraces the prosecution or defense of claims arising under the act. These have been most helpful to us, and we desire to express our appreciation of the service thus rendered.

There seems to be no lack of harmony in the rules governing the interpretation of statutes. All are agreed that the primary one is to ascertain and give effect to the intention of the Legislature. All others serve but as guides to assist the courts in determining such intent with a greater degree of certainty. If the language employed in a statute is plain, certain, and unambiguous, a bare reading suffices, and no interpretation is necessary. The rule is no less elementary that effect must be given, if possible, to every word, sentence, and section. To that end, the entire act must be read, and the interpretation to be given [219 Mich. 183] to a particular word in one section, arrived at after due consideration of every other section, so as to produce, if possible, a harmonious and consistent enactment as a whole.

'No rule is better settled than, in construing a statute, effect must be given to every part of it. One part must not be so construed as to render another part nugatory, or of no effect. The same rule applies to words, in construing a sentence.' People v. Burns, 5 Mich. 114.

See, also, Whipple v. Judge, 26 Mich. 342.

The application of such rules and the reasoning on which they are founded are well stated in the following quotations:

'Sec. 295. Effect to be Given to True Intent of Act. Modification of Language.--Where the language of a statute, in its ordinary meaning and grammatical construction, leads to a manifest contradiction of the apparent purpose of the enactment, or to some inconvenience or absurdity, hardship or injustice, presumably not intended, a construction may be put upon it, which modifies the meaning of the words, and even the structure of the sentence. This is done, sometimes, by giving an unusual meaning to particular words; sometimes by altering their collocation; or by rejecting them altogether; or by interpolating other words; under the influence, no doubt, of an irresistible conviction that the Legislature could not possible have intended what its words signify, and that the modifications thus made are mere corrections of careless language, and really give the true intention. The ascertainment of the latter is the cardinal rule, or rather the end and object, of all construction; and where the real design of the Legislature in ordaining a statute, although it be not precisely expressed, is yet plainly perceivable, or ascertained with

Page 223

reasonable certainty, the language of the statute must be given such a construction as will carry that design into effect, even though, in so doing, the exact letter of the law be sacrificed, or though the construction be, indeed, contrary to the [219 Mich. 184] letter.' Endlich on the Interpretation of Statutes.

'Sec. 347(218). Words Expanded or Limited to Accord with Intent.--It is indispensable to a correct understanding of a statute to inquire first what is the subject of it; what object is intended to be accomplished by it. When the subject-matter is once clearly ascertained and its general intent, a key is found to all its intricacies; general words may be restrained to it, and those of narrower import may be expended to embrace it to effectuate that intent. When the intention can be collected from the statute, words may be modified, altered or supplied so as to obviate any repugnancy or inconsistency with such intention.' Lewis' Sutherland, Statutory Construction.

'Sec. 348(219). Not only may the meaning of words be restricted by the subject-matter of an act or to avoid repugnance with other parts, but for like reasons they may be expanded. The application of the words of a single provision may be enlarged or restrained to bring the operation of the act within the intention of the Legislature, when violence will not be done by such interpretation to the language of the statute. The propriety and necessity of thus construing words are most obvious and imperative when the purpose is to harmonize one part of an act with another in accord with its general intent. The statute itself furnishes the best means of its own exposition; and, if the intent of the act can be clearly ascertained from a reading of its provisions, and all its parts may be brought into harmony therewith, that intent will prevail without resorting to other aids for construction. The intention of an act will prevail over the literal sense of its terms. * * * Where general and particular words occur, having reference to the subject of the act or some feature of it, the intention is the guide as deduced from a consideration of all its parts and the system of which it forms a part.' Lewis' Sutherland, Statutory Construction.

See, also, opinion of Mr. Justice Brooke, in Attorney General v. Detroit United Ry., 210 Mich. 227, 254, 177 N.W. 726, 1023, and cases cited.

[219 Mich. 185]...

To continue reading