In Null v. Auto-Owners Insurance Company, the Court of Appeals concluded that an insurer properly denied coverage based on the insured’s violation of a residence requirement, even though evidence suggested that the insurer knew the named insured had changed his address.
The plaintiff and her late husband were buying a home from the plaintiff’s brother-in-law, Lonnie, on a land contract. Lonnie was the named insured but the plaintiff had been making mortgage and insurance premium payments. In 2009, a fire destroyed the home. At that time, Lonnie had not lived in the home for several years. When the plaintiff sought insurance coverage, the defendant-insurer denied her claim because Lonnie—the named insured—did not reside in the home. The plaintiff sued for breach of contract, and the trial court granted summary disposition in the insurer’s favor. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision, with a dissent from Judge Shapiro.
The majority concluded that controlling Michigan case law (Hesiner and McGrath) established that the defendant had properly denied coverage based on the residence requirement. The majority also rejected the plaintiff’s argument that a change in Lonnie’s mailing address placed the insurance company on notice of a potential change in occupancy status, reasoning that a billing address could be charged for reasons that would involve a change of residence.
The plaintiff argued that Hesiner and McGrath were distinguishable because the defendant had paid at least two property damage claims before the fire. But the majority rejected this argument, holding that, to support a waiver theory, the plaintiff had to show that the insurer intentionally abandoned a known right. Additionally, the policy at issue precluded an implied waiver. Finally, the majority concluded that the plaintiff had not established that the elements of equitable estoppel applied.
In dissent, Judge Shapiro opined that an issue of fact remained on the plaintiff’s equitable estoppel claim, relying on evidence suggesting that Lonnie’s mother told an insured agent that Lonnie’s residence had changed. The dissent also addressed policy concerns underlying the residence requirement, arguing that they were not implicated in this case.