Sedgwick Ins. v. F.A.B.E. Custom Downstream Sys. Inc.

Decision Date17 September 2014
Docket NumberCase No. 13–10485.
Citation47 F.Supp.3d 536
PartiesSEDGWICK INSURANCE and Angela Sarazin, Plaintiffs, v. F.A.B.E. CUSTOM DOWNSTREAM SYSTEMS, INC., Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Michigan

Gary S. Fields, Johnson Law, PLC, Detroit, MI, Alexander H. Benson, Eisenberg, Benson, Matthew L. Turner, Sommers Schwartz, P.C., Southfield, MI, for Plaintiffs.

Robert S. Abramson, Kopka, Pinkus, Dolin & Eads, P.L.C., Farmington Hills, MI, for Defendant.

ORDER: (1) DENYING PLAINTIFF ANGELA SARAZIN'S OBJECTIONS TO MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S MARCH 25, 2014 ORDER (ECF NO. 42), AND (2) AFFIRMING THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S MARCH 25, 2014 ORDER (ECF NO. 41)

PAUL D. BORMAN, District Judge.

Now before the Court is Plaintiff Angela Sarazin's Objection to Magistrate Judge David R. Grand's March 24, 2014 Order Denying Plaintiff's Motion to Dismiss and/or to Strike Defendant F.A.B.E. Custom Downstream System, Inc's Notice of Non-party Fault. (Pl.'s Obj., ECF No. 42). Defendant F.A.B.E. Custom Downstream System, Inc. (CDS) filed a response (ECF No. 43) and Plaintiff Sarazin then filed a reply (ECF No. 44).1

For the reasons that follow, the Court AFFIRMS the Magistrate Judge's Order (ECF No. 41) and DENIES Plaintiff Sarazin's Objection (ECF No. 42).

I. BACKGROUND

Magistrate Judge Grand's Order adequately sets forth the relevant factual background in this matter and the Court adopts that section of the Order here. (ECF No. 41 at 543–45).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When a party objects to a magistrate judge's ruling on a non-dispositive matter, a district court may “modify or set aside any part of the order that is clearly erroneous or is contrary to law.” FED. R. CIV. P. 72(a). The United States Supreme Court and the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit have both held that “a finding is ‘clearly erroneous' when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.” United States v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395, 68 S.Ct. 525, 92 L.Ed. 746 (1948) (explaining the clearly erroneous standard under Rule 52(a)); United States v. Mabry, 518 F.3d 442, 449 (6th Cir.2008) (quoting U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. at 395, 68 S.Ct. 525 ). The Court notes that this standard does not allow a reviewing court to reverse a magistrate judge's finding merely because it would have decided the matter differently. See Anderson v. City of Bessemer City, N.C., 470 U.S. 564, 573, 105 S.Ct. 1504, 84 L.Ed.2d 518 (1985) (interpreting the clearly erroneous standard in Rule 52(a)).

“The ‘clearly erroneous' standard applies only to the magistrate judge's factual findings; his legal conclusions are reviewed under the plenary ‘contrary to law’ standard.” Haworth, Inc. v. Herman Miller, Inc., 162 F.R.D. 289, 291 (W.D.Mich.1995) (citing Gandee v. Glaser, 785 F.Supp. 684, 686 (S.D.Ohio 1992), aff'd 19 F.3d 1432 (6th Cir.1994) (Table)). The “contrary to law” standard requires the district court employ “independent judgment” in determining whether the magistrate judge's legal conclusions “contradict or ignore applicable precepts of law, as found in the Constitution, statutes, or case precedent.” Glaser, 785 F.Supp. at 686 (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).

III. ANALYSIS

In the March 25, 2014 Order, the Magistrate Judge denied Plaintiff Sarazin's motion to dismiss and/or strike Defendant CDS's notice of non-party fault. The Magistrate Judge found that Defendant CDS had properly named Plaintiff Sarazin's employer and co-employee in the Notice and also that the Notice was timely and sufficient. Plaintiff Sarazin now raises one objection to the Magistrate Judge's Order, arguing that the Magistrate Judge's conclusion that an employer and co-employee subject to Worker's Disability Compensation Act's (“WDCA”) exclusive remedy provision may be named as a non-party at fault, was contrary to Michigan law. See Mich. Comp. Laws § 418.131. Particularly, Plaintiff Sarazin contends that the Magistrate Judge erred in his analysis of this legal issue because he relied upon unpublished and, therefore, not binding case law. Plaintiff Sarazin also appears to argue that the Magistrate Judge erred in finding that an employer owes a duty to its workers to maintain a reasonably safe workplace. (See Pl.'s Obj. at 9).

The Michigan comparative fault statutes provide that in a tort action for personal injury the liability of each person is allocated by the trier of fact “in direct proportion to the person's percentage of fault.” Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.2957(1) ; see Jones v. Enertel, Inc., 254 Mich.App. 432, 434, 656 N.W.2d 870 (2002) (“As a result of the Legislature's ‘fair share liability’ system, each tortfeasor is responsible for a portion of the total damage award according to their percentage of fault.”) (citation omitted). In assessing percentages of fault, “the trier of fact shall consider the fault of each person, regardless of whether the person is, or could have been, named as a party to the action.” Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.2957(1). Section 600.2957(3) also explicitly recognizes that the comparative fault statutes:

... do not eliminate or diminish a defense or immunity that currently exists, except as expressly provided in those sections. Assessments of percentages of fault for nonparties are used only to accurately determine the fault of named parties. If fault is assessed against a nonparty, a finding of fault does not subject the nonparty to liability in that action and shall not be introduced as evidence of liability in another action.

Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.2957(3).

Further, the comparative fault statutes provide that in “personal injury actions involving the fault of more than one person, the trier of fact must specifically determine the plaintiff's total damages and the percentage of fault attributed to all persons involved ‘regardless of whether the person was or could have been named as a party to the action.’ Jones, 254 Mich.App. at 436, 656 N.W.2d 870 (quoting Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.6304(1)(b) ). The term “fault” is then defined in the statute as “an act, an omission, conduct, including intentional conduct, a breach of warranty, or a breach of a legal duty, or any conduct that could give rise to the imposition of strict liability, that is a proximate cause of damage sustained by a party.” Mich. Comp. Laws § 600.6304(8). The Michigan Supreme Court has held that “proof of a duty is required ‘before fault can be apportioned and liability allocated’ under the comparative fault statutes, MCL 600.2957 and MCL 600.6304.” Romain v. Frankenmuth Mut. Ins. Co., 483 Mich. 18, 20, 762 N.W.2d 911 (2009) (per curiam) (emphasis in original).

While these legal principles are not in dispute, Plaintiff Sarazin argues that her employer, Fagerdala USA–Marysville, Inc. (“Fagerdala”) and John Doe, the plant manager”, Plaintiff's co-employee, fall under the WDCA's exclusive remedy provision and therefore cannot be properly listed as nonparties at fault by Defendant CDS.2 Plaintiff Sarazin relies upon two cases for her theory, Romain v. Frankenmuth Mutual Ins., 483 Mich. 18, 762 N.W.2d 911 (2009) (per curiam) and Kopp v. Zigich, 268 Mich.App. 258, 707 N.W.2d 601 (2005) (overruled in part by Romain, 483 Mich. at 20, 762 N.W.2d 911 ).

The Magistrate Judge accurately and succinctly summarized the Kopp decision:

In Kopp, the plaintiff was injured while delivering a hot tub for his employer. He sued the owners of the residence based on premises liability, alleging negligence in maintaining their residence and in not warning him of known dangers. The defendant filed a notice, identifying the plaintiff's employer as a nonparty at fault and alleging that the employer had failed to properly train the plaintiff in the delivery of hot tubs. The plaintiff moved to strike the notice, and the trial court granted the motion, reasoning that a duty must exist before fault can be apportioned under the comparative fault statutes, and finding that plaintiff's employer did not owe him a duty because plaintiff's exclusive remedy against his employer was under the WDCA.
The Court of Appeals disagreed, holding that under a plain reading of the comparative fault statutes, a court is required to award damages based on a proportional determination of a defendant's fault in relation to the plaintiff's total damages caused by all persons who contributed to the injury. Kopp, 268 Mich.App. at 260, 707 N.W.2d 601. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals held that the defendant “must have the opportunity to name [the plaintiff's employer] as a potential nonparty at fault and present evidence that [the employer] contributed to plaintiff's injuries.” Id. The Court of Appeals then stated that “a plain reading of the comparative fault statutes does not require proof of a duty before fault can be apportioned and liability allocated.” Id.

(ECF No. 41, Order at 548).

In Romain, the Michigan Supreme Court partially overruled Kopp, stating: “Specifically, we overrule the statement in Kopp v. Zigich that ‘a plain reading of the comparative fault statutes does not require proof of a duty before fault can be apportioned and liability allocated.’ Romain, 483 Mich. at 20, 762 N.W.2d 911. The Michigan Supreme Court clarified that “proof of duty is required ‘before fault can be apportioned and liability allocated’ under the comparative fault statutes ...” Id. at 21, 762 N.W.2d 911.

Plaintiff Sarazin argues in her objection, just as she did in her motion, that [t]he proposition that an employer cannot be named as a non-party at fault is implicit within the Court's rulings in Romain and Kopp. (Obj. at 7). Plaintiff Sarazin reasons that the Supreme Court's decision in Romain only overruled the determination that a duty was not required and “essentially leaves the [trial court's] holding that an employer cannot be named as a non-party at fault as the only remaining viable principle that can be derived from Kopp....

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