Allison v. Aew Capital Management, L.L.P.

Decision Date25 June 2008
Docket NumberCalendar No. 6.,Docket No. 133771.
Citation751 N.W.2d 8,481 Mich. 419
PartiesIrving ALLISON, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. AEW CAPITAL MANAGEMENT, L.L.P., d/b/a Sutton Place Apartments, Defendant, and Village Green Management Company and BFMSIT, II, Defendants-Appellants.
CourtMichigan Supreme Court

Janet M. Brandon, Farmington Hills, for the Michigan Association for Justice, Amicus Curiae.

OPINION

MARKMAN, J.

We granted leave to appeal to address the following questions: (1) whether parking lots in leased residential areas constitute "common areas" under MCL 554.139(1)(a); (2) whether the natural accumulation of snow and ice is subject to the lessor's duty set forth in MCL 554.139(1)(a) to keep premises and common areas "fit for the use intended by the parties"; and (3) whether the natural accumulation of snow and ice is subject to the lessor's duty set forth in MCL 554.139(1)(b) to "keep the premises in reasonable repair." We answer the first two questions in the affirmative and the third question in the negative. Because we conclude that the duty set forth in MCL 554.139(1)(a) was not violated here because one to two inches of snow did not render the parking lot unfit for the use intended we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and reinstate the trial court's order granting summary disposition in favor of defendants.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff fractured his ankle during a fall when he was walking on one to two inches of accumulated snow in the parking lot of his apartment complex. He then noticed ice on the ground where the snow had been displaced. Plaintiff filed suit against defendant AEW Capital Management, doing business as Sutton Place Apartments, alleging negligence and breach of the covenant to maintain and repair the premises, MCL 554.139(1). The trial court granted summary disposition to defendant, concluding that the danger was "open and obvious," and directed that the pleadings be amended to replace AEW with the proper defendants, Village Green Management Company and BFMSIT, II.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's ruling on the basis of Teufel v. Watkins, 267 Mich.App. 425, 429 n. 1, 705 N.W.2d 164 (2005), which held that MCL 554.139(1) does not control a lessor's duty to remove snow and ice from a parking lot. Unpublished opinion per curiam, issued November 28, 2006 (Docket No. 269021). The panel expressed its disagreement with Teufel and sought a conflict resolution panel. Id. After this request was denied, the panel granted plaintiff's motion for reconsideration and vacated its initial opinion. Unpublished order, entered January 19, 2007 (Docket No. 269021). The panel then reversed the trial court's grant of summary disposition, stating that Teufel did not constitute governing precedent because its holding regarding the inapplicability of MCL 554.139(1) was only presented in a footnote. Allison v. AEW Capital Mgt., LLP (On Reconsideration), 274 Mich.App. 663, 669-670, 736 N.W.2d 307 (2007). The panel also concluded that a parking lot constitutes a common area under MCL 554.139(1)(a), that one of a parking lot's intended uses entails persons walking on it, and that a parking lot covered with ice is not fit for that purpose. Id. at 670-671, 736 N.W.2d 307. Defendants filed an application for leave to appeal in this Court, and we granted leave to appeal. 480 Mich. 894, 738 N.W.2d 757 (2007).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This Court reviews de novo the grant or denial of a summary disposition motion. Saffian v. Simmons, 477 Mich. 8, 12, 727 N.W.2d 132 (2007). Matters of statutory interpretation are also reviewed de novo. Id. Defendants moved for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(8) and (10). A motion under MCR 2.116(C)(8) should be granted if the pleadings fail to state a claim as a matter of law, and no factual development could justify recovery. Maiden v. Rozwood, 461 Mich. 109, 119, 597 N.W.2d 817 (1999). A motion under MCR 2.116(C)(10) should be granted if the evidence submitted by the parties "fails to establish a genuine issue regarding any material fact, [and] the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Id. at 120, 597 N.W.2d 817; see also MCR 2.116(C)(10). There is a genuine issue of material fact when reasonable minds could differ on an issue after viewing the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. West v. Gen. Motors Corp., 469 Mich. 177, 183, 665 N.W.2d 468 (2003).

III. ANALYSIS

Plaintiff asserted two different causes of action in this case: (1) negligence and (2) breach of the covenants to keep the premises and common areas fit for their intended use and to keep the premises in reasonable repair, MCL 554.139(1).1 If defendants had a duty under MCL 554.139(1)(a) or (b) to remove snow and ice from the parking lot, then plaintiff could proceed on his second claim even if plaintiff's negligence claim was barred by the "open and obvious" danger doctrine.2 MCL 554.139 provides a specific protection to lessees and licensees of residential property in addition to any protection provided by the common law. The statutory protection under MCL 554.139(1) arises from the existence of a residential lease and consequently becomes a statutorily mandated term of such lease. Therefore, a breach of the duty to maintain the premises under MCL 554.139(1)(a) or (b) would be construed as a breach of the terms of the lease between the parties and any remedy under the statute would consist exclusively of a contract remedy.3

A. "COMMON AREAS"

MCL 554.139 provides:

(1) In every lease or license of residential premises, the lessor or licensor covenants:

(a) That the premises and all common areas are fit for the use intended by the parties.

(b) To keep the premises in reasonable repair during the term of the lease or license, and to comply with the applicable health and safety laws of the state and of the local unit of government where the premises are located, except when the disrepair or violation of the applicable health or safety laws has been caused by the tenant's wilful or irresponsible conduct or lack of conduct.

The primary goal of statutory interpretation is "to ascertain the legislative intent that may be reasonably inferred from the words expressed in the statute." G.C. Timmis & Co. v. Guardian Alarm Co., 468 Mich. 416, 420, 662 N.W.2d 710 (2003). If the language of the statute is clear, we presume that the Legislature intended the meaning expressed. Id. If the statute does not define a word, we may consult dictionary definitions to determine the plain and ordinary meaning of the word. Koontz v. Ameritech Services, Inc., 466 Mich. 304, 312, 645 N.W.2d 34 (2002). However, legal terms of art are to be construed according to their peculiar and appropriate meaning. MCL 8.3a.

MCL 554.139 does not define the term "common areas." However, Black's Law Dictionary (6th ed), p 275, defines "common area" as: "[i]n law of landlord-tenant, the portion of demised premises used in common by tenants over which landlord retains control (e.g. hallways, stairs) and hence for whose condition he is liable, as contrasted with areas of which tenant has exclusive possession." This definition is in accord with the plain and ordinary meaning of the term. "Common" is defined as "belonging equally to, or shared alike by, two or more or all in question[.]" Random House Webster's College Dictionary (1997). Therefore, in the context of leased residential property, "common areas" describes those areas of the property over which the lessor retains control that are shared by two or more, or all, of the tenants. A lessor's duties regarding these areas arise from the control the lessor retains over them. See, e.g., Williams v. Cunningham Drug Stores, Inc., 429 Mich. 495, 499, 418 N.W.2d 381 (1988) (stating that "a landlord may be held liable for an unreasonable risk of harm caused by a dangerous condition in the areas of common use retained in his control such as lobbies, hallways, stairways, and elevators").

The issue in this case concerns whether parking lots within leased residential property constitute "common areas" within the meaning of the statute. The Court of Appeals answered in the affirmative, relying on Benton v. Dart Properties, Inc., 270 Mich.App. 437, 715 N.W.2d 335 (2006), to conclude that parking lots constitute common areas. In Benton, supra at 442-443, 715 N.W.2d 335, the Court of Appeals held that sidewalks within an apartment complex constitute common areas under MCL 554.139(1)(a) because they are located within the complex, they are constructed and maintained by the lessor, and they are relied on by tenants to access their apartments and vehicles. In this case, the Court of Appeals adopted this reasoning to conclude that parking lots also constitute common areas because they are located within the complex, they are maintained by the lessor, and tenants must necessarily walk on parking lots to access their vehicles. Allison, supra at 670, 736 N.W.2d 307.

We agree that a parking lot within a leased residential property fits within the meaning of "common area" because it is...

To continue reading

Request your trial
187 cases
  • People v. Waclawski
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan — District of US
    • December 29, 2009
    ...N.W.2d 1. Because "fellatio" is not defined in the statute, this Court may look to a dictionary definition. Allison v. AEW Capital Mgt., LLP, 481 Mich. 419, 427, 751 N.W.2d 8 (2008). Random House Webster's College Dictionary (2nd ed. 1997), p. 478, defines "fellatio" as "oral stimulation of......
  • Dep't of Envtl. Quality v. Gomez, Docket No. 328033.
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan — District of US
    • November 17, 2016
    ...could differ on an issue after viewing the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Allison v. AEW Capital Mgt., LLP, 481 Mich. 419, 425, 751 N.W.2d 8 (2008). "This Court is liberal in finding genuine issues of material fact." Jimkoski v. Shupe, 282 Mich.App. 1, 5, 763 N.......
  • Amerisure Mut. Ins. Co. v. Carey Transp., Inc.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Western District of Michigan
    • September 26, 2008
    ...only the loss to the items not listed? Carey's Opp to Adriatic MSJ at 10 (paragraph break added). 33. Cf. Allison v. AEW Capital Mgmt., LLP, 481 Mich. 419, 751 N.W.2d 8, 12 (2008) ("When a statute does not define a word, we may consult dictionary definitions to determine the plain and ordin......
  • Johnson v. Vanderkooi
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Michigan — District of US
    • November 21, 2019
    ...that the taking of fingerprints as part of the P&Ps did not violate the Fourth Amendment. See Allison v. AEW Capital Mgt., L.L.P. , 481 Mich. 419, 436-437, 751 N.W.2d 8 (2008).We hold that the referenced determinations in Nuriel were not dicta. " ‘[O]biter dictum’ is defined as ‘1. an incid......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT