Covenant Med. Ctr., Inc. v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., Docket No. 152758

Citation895 N.W.2d 490
Decision Date25 May 2017
Docket NumberDocket No. 152758,Calendar No. 5
CourtSupreme Court of Michigan

Zahra, J.

This case presents the significant question of whether a healthcare provider possesses a statutory cause of action against a no-fault insurer to recover personal protection insurance benefits for allowable expenses incurred by an insured under the no-fault act, MCL 500.3101 et seq . Relying on several of its previous decisions, the Court of Appeals concluded that it is "well settled that a medical provider has independent standing to bring a claim against an insurer for the payment of no-fault benefits."1 The insurer sought leave to appeal in this Court, and we granted the application to consider in part that conclusion, which this Court has never addressed.2

A thorough review of the statutory no-fault scheme reveals no support for an independent action by a healthcare provider against a no-fault insurer. In arguing that healthcare providers may directly sue no-fault insurers, plaintiff primarily relies on MCL 500.3112, which provides, in pertinent part, that "[p]ersonal protection insurance benefits are payable to or for the benefit of an injured person or, in case of his death, to or for the benefit of his dependents." While this provision undoubtedly allows no-fault insurers to directly pay healthcare providers for the benefit of an injured person, its terms do not grant healthcare providers a statutory cause of action against insurers to recover the costs of providing products, services, and accommodations to an injured person. Rather, MCL 500.3112 permits a no-fault insurer to discharge its liability to an injured person by paying a healthcare provider directly, on the injured person's behalf. And further, no other provision of the no-fault act can reasonably be construed as bestowing on a healthcare provider a statutory right to directly sue no-fault insurers for recovery of no-fault benefits. We therefore hold that healthcare providers do not possess a statutory cause of action against no-fault insurers for recovery of personal protection insurance benefits under the no-fault act. The Court of Appeals caselaw concluding to the contrary is overruled to the extent that it is inconsistent with this holding. We reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals in this case and remand the case to the Saginaw Circuit Court for entry of an order granting summary disposition to defendant.


On June 20, 2011, Jack Stockford was injured in a motor vehicle accident. His no-fault insurer was defendant, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. Stockford was treated on at least three occasions by plaintiff, Covenant Medical Center, a healthcare provider. Plaintiff sent defendant bills on July 3, August 2, and October 9, 2012, for medical services it provided to Stockford. It is undisputed that defendant received the bills, which totaled $43,484.80. Defendant denied coverage on or about November 15, 2012, and refused to pay the bills.

On June 4, 2012, Stockford filed suit against defendant for no-fault benefits, including personal protection insurance (PIP) benefits.3 Stockford settled his case with defendant on April 2, 2013, for $59,000. In connection with the settlement, Stockford executed a broad release, which encompassed all allowable no-fault expenses, including medical bills, and "any and all past and present claims incurred through January 10, 2013[.]"

Plaintiff brought the instant suit against defendant on April 25, 2013, seeking payment of its billed expenses.4 Plaintiff asserted that it learned of the settlement and release when defendant answered its complaint in May 2013. In September 2013, defendant moved for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(7) (dismissal due to release) and MCR 2.116(C)(8) (failure to state a claim). Defendant maintained that plaintiff's claim for benefits was derivative of Stockford's claim, which was extinguished by the release. Therefore, defendant argued, plaintiff no longer possessed a claim against it.

In an opinion dated May 15, 2014, the circuit court granted summary disposition to defendant pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(7). The court agreed with defendant that Stockford's release was dispositive, holding that any claim plaintiff may have had against Stockford's insurer was "dependent on the insurer being obligated to pay benefits to the provider on behalf of its insured" and that the "release end[ed] the insurer's obligation to pay benefits to or on behalf of its insured under its contract of insurance."

Plaintiff appealed by right in the Court of Appeals. In a published per curiam opinion, the panel reversed the circuit court's decision, concluding that defendant's liability to plaintiff could not be discharged by defendant's settlement with Stockford because defendant had received written notice of plaintiff's claim before the settlement, presumably from the bills that plaintiff mailed to defendant.5 The panel opined that, in this situation, the settlement could not constitute a "good faith" payment covering the noticed third-party claim for purposes of MCL 500.3112. The panel reasoned in part:

[W]hile a provider's right to payment from the insurer is created by the right of the insured to benefits, an insured's agreement to release the insurer in exchange for a settlement does not release the insurer with respect to the provider's noticed claims unless the insurer complies with MCL 500.3112.[6 ]

According to the panel, in order to discharge liability under these circumstances, MCL 500.3112"requires that the insurer apply to the circuit court for an appropriate order directing how the no-fault benefits should be allocated."7 The Court of Appeals therefore reversed the circuit court's order granting summary disposition in favor of defendant and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Defendant applied for leave to appeal in this Court. As previously mentioned, this Court granted leave to consider in part "whether a healthcare provider has an independent or derivative claim against a no-fault insurer for no-fault benefits[.]"8


The circuit court granted summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(7), which applies when "[e]ntry of judgment, dismissal of the action, or other relief is appropriate because of release...." This Court reviews de novo a court's decision to grant summary disposition.9

This Court also reviews de novo questions of statutory interpretation.10 The role of this Court in interpreting statutory language is to "ascertain the legislative intent that may reasonably be inferred from the words in a statute."11 "The focus of our analysis must be the statute's express language, which offers the most reliable evidence of the Legislature's intent."12 When the statutory language is clear and unambiguous, judicial construction is not permitted and the statute is enforced as written.13 "[A] court may read nothing into an unambiguous statute that is not within the manifest intent of the Legislature as derived from the words of the statute itself."14


The Court of Appeals concluded that the release executed between Stockford and defendant did not release defendant from liability regarding plaintiff's claim. This conclusion was premised on the notion that a healthcare provider who provides services to a person injured in a motor vehicle accident possesses its own statutory claim against the injured person's no-fault insurer to compel payment for services rendered on behalf of the insured. The Court of Appeals panel in the instant case did not critically dissect the pertinent statutory provisions of the no-fault act to find support for this premise but instead followed previous decisions of the Court of Appeals, which it was bound to do.15 Plaintiff urges us to likewise follow the long line of cases from the Court of Appeals recognizing that a healthcare provider may sue a no-fault insurer to recover PIP benefits under the no-fault act. We decline plaintiff's invitation, relying instead on the language of the no-fault act to conclude that a healthcare provider possesses no statutory cause of action against a no-fault insurer for recovery of PIP benefits.


The foundation of any opinion interpreting a statutory provision is the parsing of the words of the pertinent act or statute under review. This case is no exception. Nonetheless, we are presented with decades of Court of Appeals caselaw concluding that a healthcare provider may assert a direct cause of action against a no-fault insurer to recover no-fault benefits. Although this Court is not in any way bound by the opinions of the Court of Appeals, we nevertheless tread cautiously in considering whether to reject a long line of caselaw developed by our intermediate appellate court. That being said, the longevity of a line of Court of Appeals caselaw will not deter this Court from intervening when that caselaw clearly misinterprets the statutory scheme at issue. Correcting erroneous interpretations of statutes furthers the rule of law by conforming the caselaw of this state to the language of the law as enacted by the representatives of the people. And it is imperative that this Court aim to conform our caselaw to the text of the applicable statutes to ensure that those to whom the law applies may look to those statutes for a clear understanding of the law.16 We therefore begin our analysis with a brief discussion of how this issue developed in the Court of Appeals.

There are three cases on which the Court of Appeals has frequently relied when concluding that a healthcare provider may directly sue a no-fault insurer. The first is LaMothe v. Auto Club Ins. Ass'n ,17 in which the panel opined that it could "anticipate that health care services providers,...

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