Dampier v. Wayne County, Docket No. 202200

CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan (US)
Citation233 Mich.App. 714,592 N.W.2d 809
Docket NumberDocket No. 202200
PartiesJohnnie B. DAMPIER, Senida Merritt, Beverly Jasper Williams, Warna Nelson, Larry Dampier and Robert Williams, Plaintiff-Appellants, v. Grace Hospital Corporation, d/b/a Grace Northwest Hospital, and Stinson Funeral Home, Inc., Defendants, and CHARTER COUNTY OF WAYNE, Defendant-Appellee.
Decision Date05 February 1999

Page 809

592 N.W.2d 809
233 Mich.App. 714
Johnnie B. DAMPIER, Senida Merritt, Beverly Jasper Williams,
Warna Nelson, Larry Dampier and Robert Williams,
Grace Hospital Corporation, d/b/a Grace Northwest Hospital,
and Stinson Funeral Home, Inc., Defendants,
CHARTER COUNTY OF WAYNE, Defendant-Appellee.
Docket No. 202200.
Court of Appeals of Michigan.
Submitted Oct. 20, 1998, at Detroit.
Decided Feb. 5, 1999, at 9:05 a.m.
Released for Publication April 21, 1999.

Page 812

[233 Mich.App. 717] Steinberg, O'Connor, Paton & Burns, P.L.L.C. (by Richard L. Steinberg ), Detroit, for the plaintiffs.

Jennifer M. Granholm, Corporation Counsel, and Ellen E. Mason, Assistant Corporation Counsel, Detroit, for the defendant.

Before: MARKEY, P.J., and SAWYER and WHITBECK, JJ.


The trial court granted summary disposition with respect to all elements of this case, basically on the ground of governmental immunity. Plaintiffs appeal as of right on the grounds that both the statutory public hospital and common-law exceptions to governmental immunity apply to their negligence claim and that they stated claims for violations of the Michigan Constitution for which governmental immunity[233 Mich.App. 718] is unavailable. Plaintiffs also argue that the trial court should have permitted them to file a second amended complaint to assert a claim for violating the United States Constitution. We affirm with respect to the trial court's grant of governmental immunity but reverse and remand to permit the filing of a second amended complaint asserting a federal constitutional claim.

I. Basic Facts and Procedural History

The basic facts of this matter are fairly straightforward, if somewhat grisly, but the procedural history is reasonably complex. The unfortunate train of events commenced in July of 1995, when William Dampier, husband of plaintiff Johnnie Dampier, was transported to Grace Hospital after suffering a heart attack. William Dampier was pronounced dead shortly after his arrival at the hospital. Johnnie Dampier requested that an autopsy be conducted to determine the exact cause of William Dampier's death. William Dampier's remains were kept in the care, custody, and control of Grace Hospital, which thereafter entrusted the remains to Wayne County. Wayne County, in turn, entrusted the remains to Stinson Funeral Home. Stinson permitted plaintiffs to view William Dampier's remains, whereupon they made the macabre discovery that the remains had been allowed to decompose to a "ghastly and grotesque sight."

Plaintiffs thereafter filed this case, alleging a claim of negligence against Wayne County, Grace Hospital, and Stinson and a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress against Stinson. In July of 1996, the trial court granted Wayne County's first motion for summary disposition on the basis that Wayne [233 Mich.App. 719] County was immune with respect to plaintiffs' claims. Plaintiffs then filed a motion to vacate entry of this order on the ground that the order failed to state accurately the bases of the trial court's ruling. The trial court granted the motion, vacated the order, and permitted plaintiffs to file a first amended complaint to allege contract and state constitutional claims against Wayne County.

In their first amended complaint, plaintiffs added claims against Wayne County for breach of a contract delegated to it by Grace Hospital and violation of the Due Process Clause of the Michigan Constitution. Plaintiffs failed to respond in writing to Wayne County's motion for summary disposition, but orally asserted at the ensuing hearing that they had stated a viable state constitutional claim to which Wayne County was not immune.

After the trial court indicated it was going to grant Wayne County's motion, plaintiffs orally moved for leave to file a second amended complaint to allege a federal constitutional claim against Wayne County pursuant to 42 USC 1983, for violation of their due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. The trial court orally denied this motion and thereafter entered an order granting Wayne County's motion for summary

Page 813

disposition with respect to the claims in plaintiffs' first amended complaint and denying plaintiffs' motion for leave to file a second amended complaint. Thereafter, the trial court dismissed Grace Hospital and Stinson from the suit without prejudice.
233 Mich.App. 720] II. Standard of Review

A. Generally

This Court reviews de novo an order granting summary disposition. Weisman v. U S Blades, Inc., 217 Mich.App. 565, 566, 552 N.W.2d 484 (1996).

B. Governmental Immunity

"Summary disposition is proper under MCR 2.116(C)(7) for a claim that is barred because of immunity granted by law." Smith v. Kowalski, 223 Mich.App. 610, 616, 567 N.W.2d 463 (1997). When reviewing a grant of summary disposition based on governmental immunity, this Court considers all documentary evidence submitted by the parties. Id. "All well-pleaded allegations are accepted as true and construed in favor of the nonmoving party." Id. To survive a motion for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(7), the plaintiff must allege facts warranting application of an exception to governmental immunity. Id.

C. Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief May be Granted

"Pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(8), a motion for summary disposition is granted if the claim is so clearly unenforceable as a matter of law that no factual development could possibly justify recovery." Simko v. Blake, 448 Mich. 648, 654, 532 N.W.2d 842 (1995). A motion for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(8) is tested on the pleadings alone; all factual allegations contained in the complaint must be accepted as true. Id.

[233 Mich.App. 721] D. Amendment of the Complaint

Leave to amend a complaint should be freely given when justice so requires. MCR 2.118(A)(2). Hakari v. Ski Brule, Inc., 230 Mich.App. 352, 355, 584 N.W.2d 345 (1998). This Court will reverse a trial court's decision on a motion to amend a complaint only where the trial court abused its discretion. Id.

E. Breach Of Contract

In support of its motion for summary disposition of plaintiffs' first amended complaint, Wayne County attached the affidavit of Sawait Kanluen, M.D., Wayne County Medical Examiner. Therefore, because the parties and the trial court went beyond the pleadings with regard to this issue, we address this issue pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(10). W B Cenac Medical Service, PC v. Michigan Physicians Mut. Liability Co., 174 Mich.App. 676, 681, 436 N.W.2d 430 (1989).

A motion for summary disposition brought under MCR 2.116(C)(10), based on the lack of a genuine issue of material fact, tests whether there is factual support for the claim. Cenac, supra at 681, 436 N.W.2d 430. In ruling on the motion, the trial court must consider the affidavits, pleadings, depositions, admissions, and other documentary evidence submitted by the parties. Id. The opposing party must show that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Id. The opposing party may not rest upon mere allegations or denials in the pleadings but must, by affidavit or other documentary evidence, set forth specific facts showing the existence of a genuine issue for trial. Id. If the opposing party fails to make such a showing, summary disposition is appropriate. Id.

[233 Mich.App. 722] III. Governmental Immunity

A. Introduction

Plaintiffs argue (1) that the Wayne County Morgue constitutes a public hospital, of which William Dampier was a patient, so that the public hospital exception to immunity applies, (2) that a common-law exception to immunity exists for the mishandling of a decedent's remains, and (3) that Wayne County is not immune with respect to plaintiffs' state constitutional claim for violation of their property right in William Dampier's

Page 814

remains. 1 We address each possible exception below

B. Public Hospital Exception

MCL 691.1407; MSA 3.996(107) governs the application of governmental immunity from tort liability and provides:

(1) Except as otherwise provided in this act, all governmental agencies shall be immune from tort liability in all cases wherein the government agency is engaged in the exercise or discharge of a governmental function. Except as otherwise provided in this act, this act shall not be construed as modifying or restricting the immunity of the state from tort liability as it existed before July 1, 1965, which immunity is affirmed.

* * * * * *

[233 Mich.App. 723] (4) This act does not grant immunity to a governmental agency with respect to the ownership or operation of a hospital or county medical care facility or to the agents or employees of such hospital or county medical care facility. As used in this subsection:

* * * * * *

(b) "Hospital" means a facility offering inpatient, overnight care, and services for observation, diagnosis, and active treatment of an individual with a medical, surgical, obstetric, chronic, or rehabilitative condition requiring the daily direction or supervision of a physician. The term does not include a hospital owned or operated by the department of mental health or a hospital operated by the department of corrections.

Neither party disputes the characterization of the operation of the Wayne County Morgue as a governmental function. Plaintiffs argue that the Wayne County Morgue constitutes a public hospital for the operation of which Wayne County is not entitled to immunity, pursuant to M.C.L. § 691.1407; MSA 3.996(107) We disagree.

The definition of public hospital provided in the statute controls. Tryc v. Michigan Veterans' Facility, 451 Mich. 129, 136, 545 N.W.2d 642 (1996). Plaintiffs further argue that the Michigan Supreme Court, in Bendford v. Nat'l Life & Accident Ins. Co., 356 Mich. 52, 60-62, 96 N.W.2d 113 (1959), determined that a deceased person undergoing an autopsy constitutes a patient of the medical examiner and that the autopsy constitutes the medical treatment...

To continue reading

Request your trial
18 cases

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