Yono v. Dep't of Transp., Docket No. 150364.

Citation885 N.W.2d 445,499 Mich. 636
Decision Date27 July 2016
Docket NumberDocket No. 150364.,Calendar No. 3.
Parties YONO v. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION.
CourtSupreme Court of Michigan

499 Mich. 636
885 N.W.2d 445

YONO
v.
DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION.

Docket No. 150364.
Calendar No. 3.

Supreme Court of Michigan.

Argued Dec. 9, 2015.
Decided July 27, 2016.


885 N.W.2d 446

Smith & Johnson, Attorneys, PC, Traverse City (by L. Page Graves ), for Helen Yono.

Bill Schuette, Attorney General, Aaron D. Lindstrom, Solicitor General, and Kathleen A. Gleeson and Michael J. Dittenber, Assistant Attorneys General, for the Department of Transportation.

Warner Norcross & Judd LLP, Grand Rapids (by Gaëtan Gerville–Réache and John J. Bursch ) for the Michigan County Road Commission Self–Insurance Pool and the County Road Association of Michigan.

Cummings, McClorey, Davis & Acho, PLC, Livonia (by Karen M. Daley ), for the Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority.

Briggs Colegrove PC, Detroit (by Sarah W. Colegrove ) for the League of Michigan Bicyclists.

885 N.W.2d 447

Speaker Law Firm, PLLC, Lansing (by Steven A. Hicks ), for the Michigan Association for Justice.

Carson J. Tucker, Farmington Hills, for the Michigan Municipal League and the Michigan Townships Association.

LARSEN, J.

499 Mich. 641

This is a line-drawing case, both literally and figuratively. We are asked to decide whether a parallel-parking lane, designated exclusively as such by painted lines on the highway, is “designed for vehicular travel” within the meaning of the highway exception1 to the governmental tort liability act (GTLA).2 Guided by our precedent and by the admonition that we are to narrowly construe exceptions to governmental immunity,3 we conclude that it is not. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals, which held otherwise, and remand this case to the Court of Claims for entry of summary disposition on behalf of defendant.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In 2011, plaintiff, Helen Yono, visited the village of Suttons Bay and parked in a space specifically designated for parallel parking along the northbound side of M–22, a highway under the jurisdiction of defendant, the Michigan Department of Transportation (the Department). When returning to her car, she stepped into a depression in the area designated as a parallel-parking space, fell, and suffered injuries. She filed suit in the Court of Claims, alleging that the Department

499 Mich. 642

had breached its duty to maintain the improved portion of M–22 in a condition “reasonably safe and convenient for public travel.”4

The Department moved for summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(7), claiming that it was entitled to governmental immunity. The Department acknowledged its duty, set forth in MCL 691.1402(1), to maintain the “improved portion of” M–22 that is “designed for vehicular travel,” but argued that Yono's injury had not occurred on that portion of the highway because the parking lane was not designed for vehicular travel. Plaintiff countered that the entire roadbed, from one curb to the other, was designed for vehicular travel; as a result, she claimed that she had pleaded in avoidance of governmental immunity. For the court's review of defendant's motion, each party submitted an affidavit from an expert who was a highway engineer.5

The Court of Claims denied the Department's motion for summary disposition. The court reasoned that plaintiff had alleged an injury that occurred “in the portion of the road ... designed for vehicular travel because [a] vehicle would have to travel to get to the parking spot....”

A divided Court of Appeals affirmed.6 The majority observed that “the highway

885 N.W.2d 448

—including that portion

499 Mich. 643

designated for parallel parking—is a contiguous whole; the portion where parallel parking is permitted is not physically separated from the center of the highway by a median, driveway, or other barrier.”7 The majority agreed with the Court of Claims that “the lanes designated for parking were designed to permit vehicles to merge both from the center lanes to the parking lanes and from the parking lanes to the center lanes.”8 Moreover, the majority surmised that “the parallel parking lanes were designed to be used (when unoccupied) to travel around stopped or slow vehicles that are in the center lanes and for turns.”9 Indeed, the majority observed that “[a]bsent the painted markings, the area for parallel parking would be indistinguishable from the remainder of the highway.”10 For all these reasons, the majority concluded that the parallel-parking lanes were “designed for vehicular travel.”

The dissent would have held that any vehicular travel in the parallel-parking lane “is merely ‘momentary’ and under limited circumstances” and that this momentary use does not “transform the purpose of its design” into vehicular travel.11 The dissent disputed the majority's contention “that the parallel parking lane at issue was designed to be used, when unoccupied, to travel around stopped or slow vehicles in the travel lane or as a thoroughfare because those contentions are not supported by the record” and

499 Mich. 644

“MCL 257.637... states in pertinent part that ‘[t]he driver of a vehicle shall not overtake and pass another vehicle upon the right by driving off the ... main-traveled portion of the roadway.’ ”12 And even if drivers did so use the parking lane, that would “not establish that the lane was designed for such.”13

This Court ordered oral argument on the Department's application for leave to appeal.14 Following argument, we remanded the case to the Court of Appeals to consider “what standard a court should apply in determining as a matter of law whether a portion of highway was ‘designed for vehicular travel,’ as used in MCL 691.1402(1),” and “whether the plaintiff has pled sufficient facts to create a genuine issue of material fact under this standard.”15

On remand, the Court of Appeals again affirmed the Court of Claims and concluded that plaintiff had pleaded in avoidance of governmental immunity.16 The panel determined that defendant's duty is “to maintain in reasonable repair any part of

885 N.W.2d 449

the highway that was specifically designed—that is, planned, purposed, or intended—to support travel by vehicles ..., even if the lanes were designed as ‘specialized, dual-purpose, or limited-access travel lanes.’ ”17 The panel discounted the relevance of the defense expert's affidavit because the expert “never averred that he participated in or otherwise had knowledge of the actual design of the particular

499 Mich. 645

section of M–22 at issue in this case....”18 The panel “reject[ed] the Department's repeated contention that the paint markings used on a highway permit an inference concerning a highway's actual design” because a “governmental entity's decision to paint markings on the highway does not alter the fact that the highway was actually designed for vehicular travel over its full width.”19 Because “vehicles must travel into and out of parallel parking lanes in order for those lanes to serve their purpose,” and because “the designers of M–22, at minimum, must have designed the parallel parking lanes at issue to support limited, albeit regular, vehicular travel beyond that which accompanies the use of the lanes for parking,” the panel concluded that the portion of M–22 at issue in this case fell within the duty outlined in the highway exception.20

This Court granted the Department's application for leave to appeal.21

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

We review de novo the question whether the Department is entitled to summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(7) on the basis of governmental immunity.22 We similarly review de novo the underlying questions of statutory interpretation.23

III. ANALYSIS

In 1964, the Legislature enacted GTLA “to make uniform the liability of municipal corporations, political

499 Mich. 646

subdivisions, and the state, its agencies and departments, when engaged in a governmental function....”24 Under MCL 691.1407(1), “[e]xcept as otherwise provided in [GTLA], a governmental agency is immune from tort liability if the governmental agency is engaged in the exercise or discharge of a governmental function.”25 This immunity “is expressed in the broadest possible language—it extends immunity to all governmental agencies for

885 N.W.2d 450

all tort liability whenever they are engaged in the exercise or discharge of a governmental function.”26 The Legislature has provided six exceptions to this broad grant of immunity, which courts must “narrowly construe [ ].”27 One of these, the highway exception, exposes the Department to tort liability for failing to maintain in reasonable repair the highways within its jurisdiction.28 The Legislature

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12 cases
  • Buhl v. City of Oak Park
    • United States
    • Michigan Supreme Court
    • June 9, 2021
    ...they are engaged in governmental functions, unless a statutory exception applies to limit this immunity. Yono v. Dep't of Transp. , 499 Mich. 636, 645-646, 885 N.W.2d 445 (2016). A governmental function is an "activity that is expressly or impliedly mandated or authorized by constitution, s......
  • Ray v. Swager
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    • Michigan Supreme Court
    • July 31, 2017
    ...comports with our well-established duty to construe exceptions to governmental immunity narrowly. See Yono v. Dep't of Transp., 499 Mich. 636, 641, 885 N.W.2d 445 (2016) ("[W]e are to narrowly construe exceptions to governmental immunity. ..."); Beals, 497 Mich. at 370, 871 N.W.2d 5 (noting......
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    ...court's decision to grant summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(7) on the basis of governmental immunity. Yono v. Dep't of Transp , 499 Mich. 636, 645, 885 N.W.2d 445 (2016). "When a motion is filed under this subrule, the court must consider not only the pleadings, but also any affidavits......
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    ...subdivisions, and the state, its agencies and departments, when engaged in a governmental function.’ " Yono v. Dep't of Transp. , 499 Mich. 636, 645-646, 885 N.W.2d 445 (2016), quoting 1964 PA 170, title. MCL 691.1407(1) of the GTLA provides as follows:Except as otherwise provided in this a......
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