Salyer v. Walker

Decision Date20 April 2023
Docket Number361590
PartiesSILAS SALYER a/k/a SILAS SALYERS, Plaintiff/Counter-Defendant-Appellant, v. CLIFFORD B. WALKER as personal representative of ESTATE OF EVELYN WALKER, Defendant/Counter-Plaintiff-Appellee, v. NOUD & NOUD PLC and WILLIAM H. NOUD JR, Defendants.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan — District of US

UNPUBLISHED

Ingham Circuit Court LC No. 20-000162-CH

Before: Gadola, P.J., and Patel and Maldonado, JJ.

PER CURIAM.

Silas Salyer appeals by right the trial court's order granting summary disposition in favor of Clifford Walker pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(10) (no genuine issue of material fact). We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

Silas Salyer and his now-deceased wife lived on an 80-acre property in Ingham County, and more than 25 years ago they severed a one-acre parcel from the rest of the property. They continued living on the large parcel and built a residential duplex on the small parcel. Over the years, Evelyn Walker-Salyer's sister-provided Salyer with substantial financial support to assist with medical expenses along with other bills. On June 25, 2015, Salyer and Evelyn met with attorney William H Noud, Jr., to execute a quitclaim deed transferring ownership of a portion of Salyer's property to Evelyn. According to Salyer, his intent was that Evelyn would take ownership of the small parcel as compensation for financial support with the understanding that, at some undefined point in the future, she would pass it to Salyer's then-incarcerated son. However unbeknownst to them, the quitclaim deed provided the tax identification number for the small parcel but the legal description of the large parcel.

Evelyn Walker died in 2019, and it then came to Salyer's and Noud's attention that the quitclaim deed had misidentified the property. Noud contacted Clifford Walker, Evelyn's husband and the personal representative of her estate, and explained the situation to him. Noud requested that Clifford Walker, as representative of Evelyn's estate, reconvey the 79-acre parcel to Salyer, but Walker's legal representation informed Noud that Walker did not intend to cooperate. Noud withdrew as Salyer's attorney, and Salyer, with new representation, brought suit against the estate seeking reformation of the 2015 quitclaim deed and to quiet title to the 79-acre parcel.[1] Walker responded by filing a counter-complaint against Salyer seeking to quiet title and an award of attorney fees based on an allegation of slander of title.

Salyer and his legal representation were largely uncooperative during the discovery process. For example, they failed to respond to or otherwise acknowledge multiple sets of interrogatories and requests for admissions. Most consequential among these was Salyer's silence in response to Walker's second request for admissions, the third item of which provided:

Please admit that the Plaintiff, Silas Salyers, as a result of having numerous medical conditions, and owing Evelyn Walker a significant amount of money for loans and advances to pay various bills and medical expenses, and wanting to make himself eligible for government assistance, deeded the 79-acre farm to Evelyn Walker on June 22, 2015 via a Quit Claim Deed.

Following Salyer's failure to respond to this request for admissions, Walker filed a motion seeking summary disposition pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(8) (failure to state a claim) and (10) (no genuine issue of material fact) based primarily on what was described as repeated "discovery abuses." In particular, Walker argued that his requests for admissions, pursuant to MCR 2.312(C)(1), were deemed admitted by means of Salyer's noncompliance. The trial court agreed, and in addition to admonishing Salyer's attorney for his failure to cooperate during the discovery process, it granted summary disposition in favor of Walker, dismissing Salyer's claims with prejudice.

Salyer filed a motion for reconsideration, which was denied, and this appeal followed.

II. STANDARDS OF REVIEW

This Court reviews de novo a trial court's decision to grant or deny a motion for summary disposition, and the evidence is viewed in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. West v Gen Motors Corp, 469 Mich. 177, 183; 665 N.W.2d 468 (2003). Summary disposition should be granted under MCR 2.116(C)(10) when the evidence reveals no genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 183. "A genuine issue of material fact exists when the record, giving the benefit of reasonable doubt to the opposing party, leaves open an issue upon which reasonable minds might differ." Id.

"This Court reviews for an abuse of discretion a trial court's decision on a party's motion to amend its admissions under MCR 2.312(D)(1). A trial court abuses its discretion when it selects an outcome that falls outside the range of principled outcomes." Bailey v Schaaf, 293 Mich.App. 611, 620; 810 N.W.2d 641 (2011), remanded in part on other grounds 494 Mich. 595 (2013).

III. CONVEYANCE OF ESTATE

Salyer argues that the trial court erred by granting summary disposition in favor of Walker because of the deemed admissions. We disagree.

Pursuant to MCR 2.312(A), a party may "serve on another party a written request for the admission of the truth of a matter," and pursuant to MCR 2.312(B)(1), the matter is "deemed admitted" if the party does not respond within 28 days. Once a matter is admitted, it is "conclusively established unless the court on motion permits withdrawal or amendment of an admission." MCR 2.312(D)(1). Our Supreme Court has expanded on the impact such an admission has on the litigation:

Admissions under MCR 2.312 are "judicial" admissions. In contrast to "evidentiary" admissions, i.e., admissions of a party opponent under MRE 801(d)(2), judicial admissions are not really "evidence" at all: Rather, they are formal concessions in the pleadings in the case or stipulations by a party or its counsel that have the effect of withdrawing a fact from issue and dispensing wholly with the need for proof of the fact.
In essence, admissions under MCR 2.312 are more a matter of civil procedure than of evidence law. The party who makes such an admission has conclusively (or 'judicially') admitted such facts and the opposing side need not introduce evidence to prove the facts.
A judicial admission differs dramatically from an evidentiary admission with respect to the effect of the admission. Although both judicial and evidentiary admissions are subject to all pertinent objections to admissibility that might be interposed at trial, the judicial admission, unless allowed by the court to be withdrawn, is conclusive in the case, whereas the evidentiary admission is not conclusive but is always subject to contradiction or explanation. [Radtke v Miller, Canfield, Paddock & Stone, 453 Mich. 413, 420-421; 551 N.W.2d 698 (1996) (quotation marks, citations, and alterations omitted; emphasis added).]

"Further, the admissions resulting from a failure to answer a request for admissions may form the basis for summary disposition." Medbury v Walsh, 190 Mich.App. 554, 556; 476 N.W.2d 470 (1991).

This action stems from Salyer's assertion that he intended to convey to his sister, Evelyn Walker, the 1-acre parcel, but the 79-acre parcel was conveyed as a result of a scrivener's error. However, on September 15, 2021, Walker submitted his second set of requests for admissions, the third of which requested an admission that Salyer intentionally conveyed the 79-acre parcel to his sister. It is undisputed that Salyer never responded to Walker's requests for admissions, so this statement was properly deemed admitted. MCR 2.312(B)(1). Salyer argues that the trial court gave this "deemed admission" undue weight in light of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. However, once a matter is admitted pursuant to MCR 2.312, the matter is "conclusively established." MCR 2.312(D)(1). This means that the admission is not "subject to contradiction or explanation" because it was a judicial admission. Radtke, 453 Mich. at 420-421. "[P]arties may attempt to explain or disprove an evidentiary admission, while a judicial admission is beyond challenge." Hilgendorg v St. John Hosp and Med Ctr Corp, 245 Mich.App. 670, 690; 630 N.W.2d 356 (2001).

The only way the admission in this case would not require summary disposition in Walker's favor would be if the trial court had granted a motion to withdraw or amend the admission. MCR 2.312(D)(1). Salyer never made such a motion. His attorney did, however, ask the court's permission at the motion hearing to submit the admissions late. Even if this request were treated like a proper motion made pursuant to MCR 2.312(D)(1) to withdraw the admissions, the trial court still did not abuse its discretion by refusing this request. MCR 2.312(D)(1) provides that such a motion may be granted "[f]or good cause." Aside from comments from his attorney about how Salyer was an unsophisticated, elderly man with health problems, who at some point apparently had his phone disconnected, the trial court was not presented with an explanation for why the admissions were never completed. Salyer's attorney stated repeatedly at the hearing that he did not know exactly why the admissions were never completed, but this was a perplexing assertion given that Salyer was present at the hearing; presumably, Salyer and his attorney could have discussed the matter. Regardless, any attempt to explain the matter would be unpersuasive in light of the fact that Salyer and his attorney were both present at Salyer's deposition. While Salyer, both in this Court and the trial court, has repeatedly emphasized that the admissions and interrogatories were implicitly answered by his answers at the deposition, it has never been explained why Salyer and his attorney could not have completed the admission...

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