These consolidated cases arise from a hayride accident at "Camp Dearborn" in Milford Township. In Docket Nos. 330998, 331137, 331139, 331144, 331147, and 331149, defendant, the City of Dearborn ("the City"), appeals as of right the trial court's opinion and order denying its motion for summary disposition pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(7). The City argues that the trial court erred by concluding that the motor vehicle exception, MCL 691.1405, to governmental immunity under the Governmental Tort Liability Act ("GTLA"), MCL 691.1401 et seq., applied. In Docket No. 331630, the City appeals by leave granted the trial court's opinion and order dismissing the City's third-party complaint against Henry Ford Community College Support Staff Association ("the Association") pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(10). Yoches v City of Dearborn, unpublished order of the Court of Appeals entered on July 27, 2016 (Docket No. 331630). The City argues that the trial court erred by concluding that a "hold harmless agreement" was unenforceable as a matter of law due to a lack of consideration. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.
The City owns and operates Camp Dearborn, a recreational facility located in Milford Township. The Association is a labor organization representing employees of Henry Ford Community College. Plaintiffs are members of the Association. Plaintiff Cynthia Cialone is a volunteer member of the Association's social committee. Cialone acted as liaison in coordinating the "Fall Festival," an event to be held for the Association's members and their families at Camp Dearborn on October 27th, 2013. As liaison, Cialone reserved a chalet at the facility, contracted with vendors to provide goods and services during the festival, and reserved two wagons for hayrides. Immediately before the hayrides were to begin on October 27, Scott Schier, the City's employee who drove one of the tractors pulling the hay wagons, approached the group and asked who was "in charge." Cialone identified herself as that person. At Schier's request, Cialone signed what was referred to as a hold harmless agreement apparently on behalf of the Association. The agreement provided, in relevant part, as follows:
Below these paragraphs, the agreement warned as follows: "THIS IS A RELEASE READ BEFORE SIGNING." In a section of the form designated for the organization's name, Cialone signed her name and then wrote the Association's address and phone number. In a section for the "[a]uthorized signor's name, address, and telephone number," Cialone signed her name and printed her name and home address.
After Cialone completed the agreement, the hayrides began. During the rides, one of the hay wagons tipped over, and several participants were injured as a result. According to plaintiffs, defendant Adam Forehand, the City's employee who drove the tractor that pulled the hay wagon that tipped over, was intoxicated and driving recklessly at the time of the accident. Consequently, plaintiffs brought a series of lawsuits against the City and Forehand. Plaintiffs' lawsuits alleged claims for negligence, gross negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiffs also alleged that the City was vicariously liable for Forehand's negligence. In response to plaintiffs' lawsuit, the City moved for summary disposition on the ground that governmental immunity under the GTLA barred plaintiffs' claims. The City also filed a third-party complaint and counter-complaint against the Association and Cialone, claiming that the Association was bound by the hold harmless agreement discussed above. Alternatively, the City argued that, in the event the Association was not bound by the agreement, the agreement was nevertheless binding against Cialone in her individual capacity. The City and the Association also filed cross-motions for summary disposition regarding enforcement of the hold harmless agreement. With respect to the City's motion for summary disposition on plaintiffs' claims, the trial court concluded that the tractor that pulled the hay wagon constituted a motor vehicle for purposes of the motor vehicle exception to governmental immunity. It therefore denied the City's motion for summary disposition on plaintiffs' claims. With respect to the City's and the Association's cross-motions for summary disposition regarding enforcement of the hold harmless agreement, the trial court concluded that the agreement was unenforceable as a matter of law due to a lack of consideration. It therefore denied the City's motion for summary disposition and granted the Association's motion for summary disposition. As indicated above, the City challenges both orders on appeal.
In Docket Nos. 330998, 331137, 331139, 331144, 331147, and 331149, the City argues that the trial court erred by concluding that the tractor that pulled the hay wagon was a motor vehicle for purposes of the motor vehicle exception to governmental immunity. We disagree.
The application of governmental immunity is a question of law subject to de novo review. Seldon v Suburban Mobility Auth for Regional Transp, 297 Mich.App. 427, 433; 824 N.W.2d 318 (2012). A court may grant summary disposition pursuant MCR 2.116(C)(7) if the moving party is entitled to "immunity granted by law." Odom v Wayne Co, 482 Mich. 459, 466; 760 N.W.2d 217 (2008). "When reviewing a motion under MCR 2.116(C)(7), this Court must accept all well-pleaded allegations as true and construe them in favor of the plaintiff, unless other evidence contradicts them." Dextrom v Wexford Co, 287 Mich.App. 406, 428; 789 N.W.2d 211 (2010). "If any affidavits, depositions, admissions, or other documentary evidence are submitted, the court must consider them to determine whether there is a genuine issue of material fact." Id. at 429. "If no facts are in dispute, and if reasonable minds could not differ regarding the legal effect of those facts, the question of whether the claim is barred is an issue of law for the court." Id. "[I]f a question of fact exists to the extent that factual development could provide a basis for recovery, dismissal is inappropriate." Id. This issue also involves the interpretation and application of a statute. "Issues concerning the proper interpretation of statutes are questions of law that we review de novo." Dressel v Ameribank, 468 Mich. 557, 561; 664 N.W.2d 151 (2003). "It is the cardinal principle of statutory construction that courts must give effect to legislative intent. When reviewing a statute, courts must first examine the language of the statute. If the intent of the Legislature is clearly expressed by the language, no further construction is warranted." Id. at 562.
Generally, "a governmental agency is immune from tort liability if the governmental agency is engaged in the exercise or discharge of a governmental function." MCL 691.1407(1). There are, however, exceptions to this general rule. Specifically, the trial court held that the motor vehicle exception set forth in MCL 691.1405 applied in this case. That statutory provision provides as follows:
The term "motor vehicle" is not statutorily defined for purposes of this provision. When a statutory term is not statutorily defined, this Court turns to its dictionary definition to determine the term's plain and ordinary meaning. See Weaver v Giffels, 317 Mich.App. 671, ___; ___ NW2d ___ (2016) (Docket No. 327844); slip op at 4. With respect to the term "motor vehicle," this Court and our Supreme Court have done precisely that on several occasions.
For example, in Stanton v City of Battle Creek, 466 Mich. 611, 613; 647 N.W.2d 508 (2002), the plaintiff truck driver delivered hardware to a location owned by the defendant city. A city employee used a forklift owned by the city to unload the truck. Id. The plaintiff was injured when the forklift's brakes failed, causing the forklift to roll forward and strike the plaintiff. Id. The defendant argued that the motor vehicle exception to governmental immunity did not apply because a forklift is not a motor vehicle within the meaning of the statute. Id. To begin its analysis, the Supreme Court first clarified that the definitional phrase in MCL 691.1405 "sends the reader to the Michigan Vehicle Code only for the definition of `owner,'" "not `motor vehicle,' and nothing in the statute demands a different interpretation." Stanton, 466 Mich at 616. Consequently, because the term "motor vehicle" was not statutorily defined, the Supreme Court turned to the term's dictionary definition. Id. at 617. It explained as follows:
Then, in Regan v Washtenaw County Rd Comm'rs (On Remand), 257 Mich.App. 39, 42-43; 667 N.W.2d 57 (2003), this Court reconsidered its decision in Regan v Washtenaw County Bd of Comm'rs, 249 Mich.App. 153, 155-156; 641 N.W.2d 285 (2002), on order from the Supreme Court, Regan v Washtenaw County Rd Comm'rs, 468 Mich. 851; 658 N.W.2d 490 (2003), in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Stanton as well as another somewhat related matter, Chandler v Muskegon County, 467 Mich. 315; 652 N.W.2d 224 (2002). Regan involved two cases, "the Regan case" and "the Zelanko case." In the Regan case, the plaintiff was driving a van when she collided with a city-owned and city-employee-operated boom tractor. Regan (On Remand), 257 Mich App at 42. In the Zelanko case, the plaintiff's tractor-trailer rig was struck in the windshield by a piece of tire tread propelled by a mower operated by a city employee. Id. at 43. This Court, applying, in relevant part, the Supreme Court's interpretation and application of the term "motor vehicle" for purposes of the motor vehicle exception to governmental immunity in Stanton, concluded that the broom tractor and the tractor mower were both motor vehicles for purposes of MCL 691.1405:
Finally, in Wesche v Mecosta Co Rd Comm, 267 Mich.App. 274, 275-276; 705 N.W.2d 136 (2005), this Court addressed whether a Gradall hydraulic excavator driven by a city employee constituted a motor vehicle for purposes of MCL 691.1405 when it struck a stopped vehicle at a traffic light. This Court, relying, in relevant part, on the Stanton and Regan (On Remand) decisions discussed above, held that the Gradall was a motor vehicle for purposes of the statute:
In light of this binding caselaw, MCR 7.215(J)(1), it is our conclusion that the trial court correctly concluded that the tractor and hay wagon at issue in this case was a motor vehicle for purposes of the motor vehicle exception to governmental immunity. We are of the view that the tractor and hay wagon at issue in this case are more comparable to the broom tractor and the tractor mower at issue in Regan than the forklift at issue in Stanton. In fact, the record reflects that the tractor and hay wagon were being utilized to carry numerous passengers on a roadway used by campers and patrolled by law enforcement, which, unlike equipment such as a forklift, renders the tractor and hay wagon invariably connected to the roadway itself. See Wesche, 267 Mich App at 278, citing Regan, 257 Mich App at 48. While we agree with defendants that, generally, tractors can be used for purposes such as farming, binding caselaw is quite clear in that the "primary function" of a vehicle does not control the analysis at issue in this case. See id. at 277. Accordingly, we conclude that the trial court correctly concluded that the tractor and hay wagon at issue in this case was a motor vehicle for purposes of the motor vehicle exception to governmental immunity. Consequently, its decision to deny defendants' motion for summary disposition on that ground was correct.
On appeal, the City raises two other arguments with respect to the application of governmental immunity in this case. To the extent the City argues that the proprietary function exception to governmental immunity, MCL 691.1413, does not apply, we decline to address the merits of such an argument in light of our conclusion above. We do, however, choose to briefly address the City's arguments with respect to its vicarious liability for Forehand's conduct under the facts and circumstances of this case. Under the doctrine of vicarious liability, an employer is generally liable for the torts its employees commit so long as those torts are within the scope of their employment. Stephens v Worden Ins Agency, LLC, 307 Mich.App. 220, 239; 859 N.W.2d 723 (2014). The trial court concluded that the City was not entitled to summary disposition on plaintiffs' vicarious liability claims because the motor vehicle exception applied. The trial court additionally stated, however, that gross negligence "defeats governmental immunity." The City does not challenge the trial court's initial statement, i.e., that it can be held vicariously liable for Forehand's negligence if the motor vehicle exception to governmental immunity applies. However, the City does take issue with the trial court's suggestion that any gross negligence by Forehand would, by itself, prohibit it from asserting governmental immunity. We agree with the City in that regard.
The relevant statutory provision is MCL 691.1407, which provides, in relevant part, as follows:
This statutory language is unambiguous. MCL 691.1407(1) provides immunity to a governmental agency without regard to an employee's gross negligence. MCL 691.1407(2) provides immunity for governmental employees, but MCL 691.1407(2)(c) provides an exception to that immunity where the employee's conduct constitutes gross negligence. Although subsection (2)(c) establishes an exception to the grant of immunity to an officer or employee of a governmental agency, it does not provide that a governmental agency otherwise entitled to immunity can be vicariously liable for the officer's or employee's gross negligence. Consequently, if governmental immunity does not apply "as otherwise provided in this act," e.g., pursuant to the motor vehicle exception, the City would not be vicariously liable for Forehand's negligence, regardless of whether it rises to the level of gross negligence. See, e.g., Hobrla v Glass, 143 Mich.App. 616, 624; 372 N.W.2d 630 (1985) (providing that, under MCL 691.1407(1), "[t]he department's immunity extends to allegations of vicarious liability, since the individual defendants, even if they acted negligently, were also engaged at the time the tort was committed [in] the exercise or discharge of a governmental function").
Contrary to plaintiffs' argument on appeal, MCL 691.1408 does not require imposition of vicarious liability against a governmental agency for an employee's gross negligence. MCL 691.1408 provides the following in that regard:
The use of the word "may" in subsections (1) and (2) indicates that a governmental employer's decision to indemnify an employee for liability or to cover the cost of the employee's legal defense is a discretionary, not mandatory, decision. See Detroit Edison Co v Stenman, 311 Mich.App. 367, 384 n 8; 875 N.W.2d 767 (2015). Moreover, 691.1408(3) makes clear that this section "does not impose liability on a governmental agency." Therefore, 691.1408 does not provide a basis for imposing vicarious liability on a governmental agency for its employee's gross negligence.
In Docket No. 331630, the City argues that the trial court erred by concluding that the hold harmless agreement was unenforceable as a matter of law. We agree with the trial court's decision in this regard.
The parties filed cross-motions for summary disposition pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(10) with respect to this issue. The trial court granted the Association's motion and denied the City's motion pursuant to that subrule, which provides for summary disposition when "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment . . . as a matter of law." In deciding a motion for summary disposition pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(10) and reviewing that decision on appeal, courts must consider any evidence submitted by the parties in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party to determine whether a genuine issue of material fact exists. Maiden v Rozwood, 461 Mich. 109, 118-120; 597 N.W.2d 817 (1999). A genuine issue of material fact exists when the record leaves open "an issue upon which reasonable minds might differ." Debano-Griffin v Lake Co, 493 Mich. 167, 175; 828 N.W.2d 634 (2013). A trial court's decision to grant a party's motion for summary disposition is reviewed de novo. Maiden, 461 Mich at 118. This Court also reviews a trial court's interpretation and application of a contract de novo. Rossow v Brentwood Farms Dev, Inc, 251 Mich.App. 652, 658; 651 N.W.2d 458 (2002). "The goal of contract construction is to determine and enforce the parties' intent on the basis of the plain language of the contract itself." St Clair Med, PC v Borgiel, 270 Mich.App. 260, 264; 715 N.W.2d 914 (2006).
At issue in this case is a hold harmless agreement. A hold harmless agreement is an indemnity contract, which is, in essence, a release of liability. Hecht v National Heritage Academies, Inc, 499 Mich. 586, 627 n 88; 886 N.W.2d 135 (2016). "An indemnity contract creates a direct, primary liability between the indemnitor and the indemnitee that is original and independent of any other obligation." Miller-Davis Co v Ahrens Constr, Inc, 495 Mich. 161, 173; 848 N.W.2d 95 (2014). "Before a contract can be completed, there must be an offer and acceptance." Kloian v Domino's Pizza LLC, 273 Mich.App. 449, 452; 733 N.W.2d 766 (2006) (citation omitted). "[A] contract requires mutual assent or a meeting of the minds on all the essential terms." Id. Legal consideration also is required for a binding contract. Yerkovich v AAA, 461 Mich. 732, 740-741; 610 N.W.2d 542, 546 (2000). Consideration is "[s]ome right, interest, profit, or benefit accruing to one party, or some forbearance, detriment, loss, or responsibility, given, suffered or undertaken by the other." Sands Appliance Servs, Inc v Wilson, 463 Mich. 231, 615 N.W.2d 241 (2000), quoting Black's Law Dictionary (6th ed), p 306. Consideration exists when there is "a benefit on one side, or a detriment suffered, or service done on the other." Id. at 242. In this case, the trial court determined that there was no new consideration for the hold harmless agreement because the City was already contractually obligated to provide the hay rides at the time the hold harmless agreement was signed. That is, the trial court determined that the City had a preexisting duty to provide the hayrides. "Under the preexisting duty rule, it is well settled that doing what one is legally bound to do is not consideration for a new promise." Yerkovich, 461 Mich at 740-741.
In this case, the hold harmless agreement purported to "release and forever discharge" the City from "any and all claims . . . resulting from the use of any City property or in any connection with the hayrides at Camp Dearborn." It additionally required the Association "to defend, indemnify, and hold harmless" the City and its employees "from and against any and all claims and causes of action of any kind arising out of or in connection with the organization's or any of the organization's participants' involvement in the hayrides at Camp Dearborn." The City relies, in part, on this Court's decision in Rowady v K Mart Corp, 170 Mich.App. 54, 59; 428 N.W.2d 22 (1988), where a panel of this Court, relying on 1 Restatement Contracts, 2d, § 80, stated as follows with respect to the interplay between releases and consideration in circumstances such as this:
Stated simply, "all consideration paid by [a] defendant in exchange for [a] plaintiff's multiple promises must be viewed as consideration as to each promise . . . ." Id.
While we agree with the Rowady panel's statement in this regard, we cannot agree that it is dispositive in this matter. The record includes multiple "RENTAL SALES RECEIPT[s]," and each of those receipts repeatedly refers to a flyer for the applicable rules and regulations. Specifically, the receipts instruct readers to "SEE FLYER FOR DETAIL OF RULES & REGULATION" or to "SEE FLYER FOR DETAILED RULES AND REGULATIONS." They do not, however, mention the necessity of a hold harmless agreement. Similarly, the necessity of a hold harmless agreement is not mentioned in the flyer either. While the flyer, which is entitled "Fall Hayrides at Camp Dearborn," does set forth various specific rules regarding reservations, the maximum capacity for hayrides, opening and closing hours, rental fees and damage deposits, the facility's hours of operation, rules providing "
We discern no error with the trial court's conclusion in this regard.
Affirmed. Plaintiffs, as the prevailing parties, may tax costs pursuant to MCR 7.219.