Plaintiff appeals of right the trial court's dismissal of plaintiff's case against defendants Hanover Group, Inc. (Hanover), Citizens Insurance Company of America (Citizens), and Tamara Webber (Webber), the trial court's grant of summary disposition to defendant Carole F. Youngblood (Youngblood), and the denial of plaintiff's motion to amend her complaint. We reverse in part and affirm in part.
I. BASIC FACTS
This case presents a storied history of litigation, dating back to initial, related divorce proceedings between plaintiff's parents filed in 1976. We will not attempt to catalogue the history of the litigation, other than to note that (a) it is described in numerous published and unpublished opinions of this Court, the Michigan Supreme Court, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
On March 31, 2010, plaintiff brought suit against Hanover, Citizens, and Webber, stating that plaintiff held an insurance policy with Hanover/Citizens
In addition to suing Hanover, Citizens and Webber in the 2010 litigation, plaintiff also sued Youngblood, alleging that Youngblood had improperly entered several orders in the divorce action in the absence of jurisdiction over the insurance proceeds or over plaintiff, improperly cancelled liens over which she had no jurisdiction, and entered orders libeling and defaming plaintiff. Plaintiff sought declaratory relief to correct the record and hold the allegedly illegal orders void ab initio.
On September 10, 2010, the trial court entered an order dismissing plaintiff's claims against Hanover, Citizens, and Webber, on the ground that a preliminary injunction entered by Youngblood in the divorce action precluded the filing of this suit against Hanover, Citizens, and Webber. The trial court denied those defendants' summary disposition motion to the extent it was premised on statute of limitations grounds, finding that there was insufficient evidence to determine that the claims were barred by the applicable statute(s) of limitations. On September 24, 2010, the trial court also granted summary disposition to Youngblood pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(7) and MCR 2.116(C)(8), finding that Youngblood was entitled to absolute immunity, that plaintiff had failed to state a claim for which relief could be granted, and that amendment of the complaint would be futile. Plaintiff appeals.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
This Court reviews de novo the trial court's ruling on a motion for summary disposition brought pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(7). Fisher Sand & Gravel Co v Neal A Sweebe, Inc, 293 Mich.App. 66, 69; ___ NW2d ___ (2011). This Court "must consider all affidavits, pleadings, and other documentary evidence submitted by the parties." Id. "In reviewing a motion filed under this subrule, [we] accept plaintiffs' well-pleaded factual allegations as true and construe all the documentary evidence in plaintiffs' favor." Peterson Novelties, Inc v City of Berkley, 259 Mich.App. 1, 10 n 8; 672 N.W.2d 351 (2003).
This Court reviews de novo the trial court's grant of summary disposition based upon a failure to state a claim. Adair v State, 470 Mich. 105, 119; 680 N.W.2d 386 (2004). "We review for an abuse of discretion a circuit court's decision to grant or deny leave to amend a pleading; we will only reverse the court's ruling if it occasions an injustice." Boylan v Fifty Eight LLC, 289 Mich.App. 709, 727; 808 N.W.2d 277 (2010). "A court does not abuse its discretion if it selects an outcome falling within the range of reasonable and principled outcomes." Id.
III. HANOVER, CITIZENS, AND WEBBER'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY DISPOSITION
A. PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION
Plaintiff contends that the trial court erred in dismissing her suit against Hanover, Citizens, and Webber because the preliminary injunction entered by Judge Youngblood in the divorce action did not enjoin plaintiff from filing suit against Hanover, Citizens, and Webber. On the record before us, we agree.
At the outset, this Court must note that it does not sanction the filing of frivolous and vexatious lawsuits, and that MCR 2.114 exists in part to address such filings. The Court recognizes that Judge Youngblood made a finding, in the related divorce action, that plaintiff had engaged in a "recognized pattern of repetitive, frivolous and vexatious conduct amounting to an abuse of the judicial process" including "filing numerous lawsuits found to be non-meritorious and over thirty-five appeals," and that such conduct was likely to continue. The Court further recognizes that the trial court below was faced with yet another court filing by plaintiff, including against the judge who had presided over the divorce action.
We does not pass judgment on Judge Youngblood's determination in the divorce action, nor do we pass judgment on whether plaintiff's filing of this action in the trial court below may have violated MCR 2.114. However, all parties should be cognizant of the rule and the sanctions that may flow from its violation.
That being said, we are constrained on this appeal to assess not whether plaintiff's filing of this lawsuit violated MCR 2.114, but rather whether the filing of this lawsuit violated Judge Youngblood's preliminary injunction in the divorce action. Under the circumstances presented, we are unable to find that it did.
"MCR 2.116(C)(7) allows a trial court to grant summary disposition when a claim is barred by a prior judgment or disposition." 1300 LaFayette East Coop, Inc v Savoy, 284 Mich.App. 522, 524; 773 N.W.2d 57 (2009) (emphasis in orig). The trial court found that the preliminary injunction applied to bar the filing of this lawsuit, given plaintiff's failure to first obtain leave from Judge Youngblood.
As a preliminary matter, we note that preliminary injunctions are, by their very nature, "preliminary." That is, they are preliminary determinations that remain in effect only pending a determination on the merits, and that are subject to later being made permanent, or not. See Pontiac Fire Fighters Union Local 376 v City of Pontiac, 482 Mich. 1, 9; 753 N.W.2d 595, 600 (2008); Psychological Services of Bloomfield, Inc v BCBSM, 144 Mich.App. 182, 184-85; 375 N.W.2d 382, 383-84 (1985). In Pontiac Fire Fighters Union Local 376, our Supreme Court stated that "[g]iven the extraordinary nature of injunctive relief, our court rules contemplate expeditious resolution of the underlying claim or claims once a preliminary injunction issues." 482 Mich at 9. As MCR 3.310(A)(5) states:
The record on appeal does not reflect whether the divorce action is concluded, whether (if the divorce action is concluded) the preliminary injunction continued in effect beyond the final disposition of the divorce action, or whether the preliminary injunction that was the basis for the trial court's summary disposition order was ever dissolved or made permanent. If the divorce action has been concluded, we would expect that the trial court in the divorce action would have either dissolved the preliminary injunction or made it permanent. See Thelen v Ducharme, 151 Mich.App. 441, 451; 390 N.W.2d 264, 268 (1986). This comports with the longstanding principle that "[t]he object of preliminary injunctions is to preserve the status quo, so that upon the final hearing the rights of the parties may be determined without injury to either." Gates v Detroit & M Ry Co, 151 Mich. 548, 551; 115 NW 420 (1908). Regardless, in the absence of a further order continuing the preliminary injunction beyond the disposition of the divorce action (if it has concluded), the proscriptive effects of the preliminary injunction presumably would have ended with the termination of that proceeding. See Niedzialek v Journeymen Barbers, Hairdressers & Cosmetologists' Intern Union of Am, Local No 552 (AFL), 331 Mich. 296, 301-02; 49 N.W.2d 273, 276 (1951), quoting with approval Goldfield Consol Mines Co v Goldfield Miners' Union Co 220, 159 F 500, 511 (D Nev 1908) ("`An injunction pendente lite should not usurp the place of a final decree neither should it reach out any further than is absolutely necessary to protect the rights and property of the petitioner from injuries which are not only irreparable, but which must be expected before the suit can be heard on its merits.'"). Consequently, and irrespective of the scope of the preliminary injunction order (see discussion infra), we are unable to determine from the record before us whether the preliminary injunction continued to be in effect so as to preclude the filing of this suit.
In addition, and even assuming that the preliminary injunction were still effective, we cannot on the record before us read it so broadly as to preclude the filing of this particular lawsuit. We do not pass judgment on whether a broader or more permanent injunction would be proper, but we are unable to find on the existing record that the particular injunction that was entered by Judge Youngblood in the divorce action, by its terms, precludes the filing of this lawsuit.
MCR 3.310(C) governs the scope of preliminary injunctions, and provides:
A preliminary injunction "must be specific and narrowly construed." Matter of Estate of Prichard, 169 Mich.App. 140, 148; 425 N.W.2d 744 (1988), citing Walters v Norlin, 123 Mich.App. 435, 440; 332 N.W.2d 569 (1983). Here, the preliminary injunction at issue was entered by Judge Youngblood on January 20, 2006, in plaintiff's parents' divorce action.
The enjoining court further found that plaintiff was likely to continue this pattern of conduct with further vexatious litigation.
These findings are not clearly erroneous, Internat'l Union, UAW v State, 231 Mich.App. 549, 551; 587 N.W.2d 821 (1998), and in fact they may have supported the grant of an injunction precluding plaintiff from filing any lawsuits relating to or arising out of the subject property without first obtaining leave of the court.
However, and although the enjoining court did refer to the subject property in its findings, and as noted the findings may have supported a broader injunction, the injunction as entered specifically proscribes plaintiff, absent leave, only from filing suit against certain named parties, specifically, "David Findling, Eric Braverman, Alpha Title, Inc., and MRP Real Estate Investments, Inc., or any of their heirs, assignees, officers, agents, servants, employees, or attorneys."
Based on the record before us, we therefore must conclude that the trial court erred in finding that the preliminary injunction applied to the instant lawsuit against Hanover, Citizens, and Webber. Plaintiff's lawsuit should not have been dismissed on this ground.
B. STATUTES OF LIMITATION
Defendants Hanover, Citizens, and Webber also contend that plaintiff's claims against them were barred by the applicable statutes of limitations. The trial court found insufficient evidence to determine whether the statute of limitations had been tolled, and denied without prejudice these defendants' motion for summary disposition on that ground. Plaintiff argues that Hanover, Citizens and Webber did not file a cross appeal. However, "[a] cross appeal [is] not necessary to urge an `alternative ground for affirmance.'" Middlebrooks v Wayne Co, 446 Mich. 151, 166 n 41; 521 N.W.2d 774 (1994).
"Absent a disputed question of fact, the determination whether a cause of action is barred by the statute of limitations is a question of law reviewed de novo." Fisher Sand & Gravel Co, 293 Mich App at 69. Plaintiff brought claims for breach of contract, insurance fraud, and conspiracy. The statute of limitations for "actions to recover damages or sums due for breach of contract" is six years. MCL 600.5807(8). When a complaint alleges all the necessary elements of fraud, the statute of limitations of six years governs fraud actions. See Kuebler v Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, 219 Mich.App. 1, 6; 555 N.W.2d 496 (1996) (finding six year statute of limitations, found in MCL 600.5813, applied to fraud count).
Hanover, Citizens, and Webber claim that the alleged conduct occurred in 2003. Plaintiff claims that the breach of contract occurred on October 26, 2004, but that she did not become aware of it until 2005. Accepting at this juncture, as we must, plaintiff's "well-pleaded factual allegations as true," Peterson Novelties, Inc, 259 Mich App at 108, the first instance of wrong-doing by defendants occurred in "the summer of 2004," when Hanover/Citizens refused to pay plaintiff's contractor. "[A] claim accrues when the wrong is done." Boyle v General Motors Corp, 468 Mich. 226, 231; 661 N.W.2d 557 (2003). "In the absence of disputed facts" the question of whether a claim is barred by the statute of limitations is a question of law for the trial judge; however, the facts are not undisputed or uncontroverted in this case. Moll v Abbott Laboratories, 444 Mich. 1, 26; 506 N.W.2d 816 (1993). We conclude, as the trial court did, that the record is insufficient for us to state with confidence whether some or all of plaintiff's claims are barred by the applicable statutes of limitations, or whether any of the statutes of limitations were tolled by her filing of a lawsuit in federal court. Accordingly, in light of the sparseness of the record before it and the presence of disputed facts, we find no error in the trial court's denial of summary disposition to defendants on statute of limitations grounds. We remand for further consideration of that issue.
IV. YOUNGBLOOD'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY DISPOSITION
Plaintiff contends that the trial court erred in granting summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(7) because her well-pleaded facts showed that the exceptions to immunity applied. We disagree.
MCL 691.1407 provides for "[g]overnmental immunity from tort liability." MCL 691.1407(5) provides: "A judge, a legislator, and the elective or highest appointive executive official of all levels of government are immune from tort liability for injuries to persons or damages to property if he or she is acting within the scope of his or her judicial, legislative, or executive authority." In Odom v Wayne Co, 482 Mich. 459, 479; 760 N.W.2d 217 (2008), the Michigan Supreme Court summarized the steps used "when a defendant raises the affirmative defense of individual governmental immunity." A court must:
Under this analysis, judges are entitled to "absolute immunity" for acts within their judicial authority See Id. at 479. Plaintiff's argument that Youngblood's acts were not within the scope of her authority is without merit. When determining whether an action was taken a judge's judicial capacity, the relevant inquiry is not the act itself, but the "nature" and "function" of the act. Mireles v Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 12; 112 S.Ct. 286; 116 L Ed 2d 9 (1991), quoting Stump v Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 362; 98 S.Ct. 1099, 1108; 55 L Ed 2d 331 (1978). The entry of orders is a function performed by a judge, and plaintiff encountered Youngblood in her judicial capacity. Although plaintiff argues that she was erroneously added as a party to her parents' divorce, a judge "will not be deprived of immunity because the action he took was in error . . . or was in excess of his authority." Stump, 435 US at 362; 98 S Ct at 1108.
Youngblood also claims she was entitled to immunity under MCL 691.1407(2). However, the analysis in Odom suggests that when the defendant is a judge, the analysis need not go any further than step one. See also McLean v McElhaney, 289 Mich.App. 592, 604 n 10; 798 N.W.2d 29 (2010). Similarly, because we find that the trial court correctly determined that Youngblood was entitled to absolute immunity, we need not address her assertion that plaintiff's claims against her were barred by applicable statutes of limitations.
B. FAILURE TO STATE A CLAIM AND RIGHT TO AMEND COMPLAINT
Plaintiff contends that the trial court erred in finding that plaintiff failed to state a claim and that she was not entitled to amend her complaint. We disagree.
This Court has stated that "summary disposition for failure to state a claim is appropriate where a plaintiff attempts to state a cause of action against a governmental entity entitled to immunity." Richardson v Warren Consol Sch Dist, 197 Mich.App. 697, 698 n 1, 698; 496 N.W.2d 380 (1992). Because Youngblood was entitled to absolute immunity, summary disposition pursuant to MCR 2.116(C)(8) was proper. See Richardson, 197 Mich App at 698 n 1.
MCR 2.116(I)(5) provides: "If the grounds asserted are based on subrule (C)(8), (9), or (10), the court shall give the parties an opportunity to amend their pleadings as provided by MCR 2.118, unless the evidence then before the court shows that amendment would not be justified." "An amendment, however, would not be justified if it would be futile." Ormsby v Capital Welding, Inc, 471 Mich. 45, 53; 684 N.W.2d 320 (2004). This Court has explained:
Youngblood's motion was based, in part, on MCR 2.116(C)(8). Therefore, plaintiff was entitled to amend her complaint unless amendment was not justified. See MCR 2.116(I)(5). The trial court did not allow plaintiff to amend her complaint because it found there was no way she could state a claim and, therefore, amendment would be futile. Additionally, the trial court stated that it would not grant leave to amend because Youngblood was entitled to immunity. Because Youngblood was entitled to immunity, amendment would have been futile. Therefore, amendment was not justified. See Ormsby, 471 Mich at 53. Accordingly, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying leave to amend. See Boylan, 289 Mich App at 727.
Plaintiff also claims that the trial court erred in denying her leave to amend her complaint because she was acting in propria persona. Plaintiff argues that "it is the courts [sic] duty to draft a short explanation of the deficiencies and allow the Appellant to amend her [c]omplaint before dismissing it." However, the United States Supreme Court decision cited by plaintiff, Haines v Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520; 92 S.Ct. 594; 30 L Ed 2d 652 (1972), merely provides that "allegations of [a] pro se complaint" are held "to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Although plaintiff's complaint may have been held to "less stringent standards," id., the trial court was not required to grant leave to amend even where it determined that amendment would be futile.
Reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. We do not retain jurisdiction.