Paige v. City of Sterling Heights, Docket No. 127912.

CourtSupreme Court of Michigan
Writing for the CourtTaylor
Citation476 Mich. 495,720 N.W.2d 219
PartiesRandall G. PAIGE (Deceased), Plaintiff-Appellee, v. CITY OF STERLING HEIGHTS, Self-Insured, Defendant-Appellant.
Docket NumberDocket No. 127912.
Decision Date31 July 2006
720 N.W.2d 219
476 Mich. 495
Randall G. PAIGE (Deceased), Plaintiff-Appellee,
CITY OF STERLING HEIGHTS, Self-Insured, Defendant-Appellant.
Docket No. 127912.
Supreme Court of Michigan.
July 31, 2006.

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Teresa Martin and Rapaport, Pollok, Farrell & Waldron, P.C. (by Steven J. Pollok), Southfield, Lansing, for Adam Paige.

Plunkett & Cooney, P.C. (by Mary Massaron Ross and Ronald A. Weglarz), Detroit, for the city of Sterling Heights.

Conklin, Benham, Ducey, Listman & Chuhran, P.C. (by Martin L. Critchell), Detroit, for amicus curiae Michigan Self-Insurers' Association.


In this case involving the Worker's Disability Compensation Act (WDCA), MCL 418.101 et seq., the first issue is whether the phrase "the proximate cause" in MCL 418.375(2) means the sole proximate cause, i.e., "the one most immediate, efficient, and direct cause of the injury or damage." We conclude that it does, as we did in construing the identical phrase in the governmental tort liability act (GTLA), MCL 691.140 et seq., in Robinson v. Detroit, 462 Mich. 439, 462, 613 N.W.2d 307 (2000). We therefore overrule Hagerman v. Gencorp Automotive, 457 Mich. 720, 579 N.W.2d 347 (1998), which incorrectly construed the phrase to mean "a proximate cause" that is a substantial factor in causing the event. Accordingly, we vacate the decision of the Workers' Compensation Appellate Commission (WCAC) and remand this case to the WCAC for reconsideration. The second issue is when, in the circumstance of a parent-employee's death, a child of that person is entitled to a presumption of whole dependency. We conclude that a child is only entitled to the presumption if

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he or she was under the age of 16 at the time of the parent-employee's death. Because the WCAC erred in holding to the contrary, on remand, the WCAC must make the necessary factual determinations to apply this holding.


Randall G. Paige worked as a firefighter for the city of Sterling Heights (hereafter defendant). On October 12, 1991, Paige was sent to the scene of a severe automobile accident. After extracting a three-year-old girl from an automobile and carrying her to an ambulance, Paige began experiencing an ache in his right arm. Approximately 30 minutes later, after he had returned to the fire station, Paige was completing a report of the automobile accident when he again experienced pain in his right arm. This time, the pain in his arm was accompanied by chest pains and profuse sweating. Paige was transported to a hospital, where he was diagnosed as having suffered a myocardial infarction. He did not return to work after this incident. In 1993, he was granted an open award of workers' compensation benefits by magistrate Donald Miller.1

Paige suffered a second myocardial infarction on August 15, 2000. He was diagnosed as having coronary artery disease, and underwent a quadruple coronary artery bypass on August 21, 2000. On January 4, 2001, Paige died in his sleep. An autopsy report prepared by the Oakland County Medical Examiner's office noted that Paige suffered from occlusions of the left anterior descending coronary artery, right coronary artery, and four coronary bypass grafts. The deputy forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy opined that Paige "died of arteriosclerotic2 cardiovascular disease (heart attack)." The certificate of death that was completed by Paige's treating cardiologist, Dr. Mark Goldberg, lists the immediate cause of Paige's death as acute myocardial infarction, and further lists coronary artery disease as an underlying cause that existed for "years" before Paige's death and led to the immediate cause of death.

Paige's son, Adam Paige, who was eight years old when Paige suffered his first heart attack and 17 when Paige died, filed a claim for workers' compensation death dependency benefits pursuant to MCL 418.375(2).3 Under this statute, the child

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of a deceased employee is entitled to death dependency benefits if he or she was dependent on the deceased employee and a work-related injury was the proximate cause of the parent-employee's death. In making his claim for death dependency benefits, Adam claimed that as a minor he had been dependent on his father for support. Further, he claimed that the work-related heart attack in 1991 had contributed to his father's death by weakening his heart and, therefore, constituted "the proximate cause" of his father's death under Hagerman, which held that the phrase does not mean the sole proximate cause of death but, rather, requires only a cause that is a substantial factor in the employee's death. Hagerman, supra at 728, 736, 579 N.W.2d 347. Defendant opposed the claim for death dependency benefits, arguing that Adam had not introduced evidence establishing that he was, in fact, dependent on his father. Moreover, defendant argued that Hagerman had been impliedly overruled by Robinson, which held that the phrase "the proximate cause" means the sole proximate cause or, in other words, the one most immediate, efficient, and direct cause of the injury or damage. Robinson, supra at 462, 613 N.W.2d 307. Accordingly, defendant asserted that under the Robinson definition Randall Paige's work-related 1991 heart attack was not "the proximate cause" of his death.

Magistrate Andrew Sloss resolved both issues in Adam's favor. First, he determined that the Hagerman definition of "the proximate cause" applied and, therefore, the work-related heart attack that Randall Paige suffered in 1991 did not have to be the sole or most immediate cause of his death but, rather, only needed to be a substantial factor in the events leading to his death. He determined that the 1991 heart attack was a substantial factor in Paige's death, stating that all three doctors who testified at the hearing on Adam's claim "agreed that it was a combination of underlying coronary artery disease together with the cumulative damage to the heart that began with his work-related myocardial infarction in 1991" that caused Randall Paige's death in 2001. The magistrate concluded by determining that Adam was entitled to death dependency benefits as long as he qualified as a dependent. Noting that Adam's status as a dependent is to be determined as of the date of his father's 1991 work-related injury, MCL 418.341,4 Magistrate Sloss recognized that Magistrate Miller had listed Adam as Randall Paige's dependent in his 1993 order granting Randall Paige an open award of benefits. He held that this determination of dependency was controlling, and granted Adam's request for death dependency benefits.

Defendant appealed Magistrate Sloss's ruling to the WCAC. Again, defendant argued that the magistrate should have applied the Robinson definition of "the proximate cause." The WCAC, however, rejected defendant's argument, concluding that Hagerman was controlling because it specifically addressed MCL 418.375(2) while Robinson, on the other hand, involved a provision of the GTLA. Defendant also again challenged Adam's status as a dependent. Although it did not directly challenge Magistrate Sloss's reliance

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on Magistrate Miller's determination that Adam was, in fact, dependent on his father at the time of the 1991 work-related injury, defendant argued that Magistrate Sloss had erred by failing to address the extent of Adam's dependency. Specifically, defendant asserted that under this Court's decision in Runnion v. Speidel, 270 Mich. 18, 257 N.W. 926 (1934), the magistrate was required to make a factual determination regarding whether Adam was wholly or partially dependent on his father at the time of the 1991 work-related injury and, because Magistrate Sloss did not do so, and no evidence of whole or partial dependency existed in the record, the correct weekly compensation amount could not be calculated. The WCAC, however, rejected defendant's assertion that Runnion required such a factual determination of dependency and, instead, relied on Murphy v. Ameritech, 221 Mich.App. 591, 561 N.W.2d 875 (1997), for the proposition that Adam was entitled to the conclusive presumption set forth in MCL 418.331(b) that he was wholly dependent because he had been under the age of 16 at the time of his father's work-related heart attack in 1991.

Defendant applied for leave to appeal the WCAC's ruling in the Court of Appeals, again raising the proximate causation and dependency issues. The Court of Appeals, however, denied defendant's application for leave to appeal for lack of merit in the grounds presented. Unpublished order of the Court of Appeals, entered January 10, 2005 (Docket No. 256451). Defendant then applied for leave to appeal in this Court. We scheduled oral argument on whether to grant defendant's application or take other peremptory action permitted by MCR 7.302(G)(1), and directed the parties to address whether Robinson overruled Hagerman, and whether the WCAC erred by failing to follow Runnion and make a factual determination of the extent of Adam's dependency on his father at the time of his father's injury. 474 Mich. 862, 703 N.W.2d 800 (2005).


Resolution of the issues in this case involves the interpretation of provisions of the WDCA. Statutory interpretation is a question of law that we review de novo. Reed v. Yackell, 473 Mich. 520, 528, 703 N.W.2d 1 (2005). As we stated in Reed, supra at 528-529, 703 N.W.2d 1:

Our fundamental obligation when interpreting statutes is "to ascertain the legislative intent that may reasonably be inferred from the words expressed in the statute." Koontz v. Ameritech Services, Inc., 466 Mich. 304, 312, 645 N.W.2d 34 (2002). If the statute is unambiguous, judicial construction is neither required nor permitted. In other words, "[b]ecause the proper role of the judiciary is to interpret and not write the law, courts simply lack authority to venture beyond the unambiguous text of a statute." Id...

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