Slippery PR gets Squeezed in Jurisdictional Crevice

By Doug Chalgian on March 11, 2021

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In Mitan v Farmington Square Condo Association (click on the name to read the case) odd issues and odd facts drive an Oakland County Circuit Court and the Michigan Court of Appeals to draw the finest of distinctions between exclusive probate court jurisdiction and concurrent probate/circuit court jurisdiction.  The opinion is unpublished.

The issue comes up because appellant, a child of a deceased parent, becomes personal representative of said deceased parent’s estate.   Deceased parent left a surviving spouse who is the sole beneficiary of the estate.  PR Child has no beneficial interest at all.

The estate owns a condominium in Farmington.  PR Child sues the condo association and claims that he would be personally entitled to any damages that may be recovered from the suit.  He does not retain counsel.  Defendant Condo Association responds with: (1) you can’t act as a lawyer for the estate, you aren’t licensed, and (2) you’re not a beneficiary of the estate so you can’t be the real party in interest.

But PR Child does not give up.  Rather, he claims that he was assigned the estate’s interest in this particular civil action either in lieu of compensation for his work as PR, or as part of an exempt property allowance.  And he produces written assignments from himself, as PR, to himself, individually.

So, the issue becomes the validity of said assignments.

The circuit court trial judge finds that the assignments are not valid and dismisses PR Child’s case.

And still, the PR Child does not yield.  Rather he appeals the trial judge on the grounds that the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to decide that the assignments were invalid.

The COA affirms the trial court in this curious and contorted opinion.

The COA says that although the circuit court lacks jurisdiction to determine the validity of the assignment, the circuit court was not wrong in dismissing the case based on a finding that the assignment is not valid.

Here’s part of what they say:

We agree with plaintiff that only the probate court could rule on whether the assignments were valid. But we further conclude that absent an order from the probate court approving the assignment of claims from the estate to plaintiff individually, plaintiff lacked standing to pursue the instant lawsuit. If plaintiff were permitted to go forward with the lawsuit on the basis that the trial court lacked jurisdiction to rule on the validity of the assignments, we would effectively be treating the assignments as being valid and allowing plaintiff the opportunity to recover damages on the basis of the assigned claims. This would necessarily result in the trial court’s exercising jurisdiction in violation of the probate court’s jurisdiction and without a ruling by the probate court approving the assignments.

So basically, the trial judge lacks jurisdiction to determine the validity of the assignment, so we will conclude that the assignment is not valid because the probate court has not determined that it is.

Hmmmm. Is it just me?

And all of what is written above has to do with the PR Child’s lawsuit.  The Defendant Condo Association brought a countersuit.  The COA remands that action to the trial court with some equally curious instructions:

The trial court shall direct the estate’s personal representative, plaintiff or any successor, to employ the services of a licensed attorney to represent the estate in defense of the counterclaim. If the personal representative attempts to proceed without counsel, the trial court shall reject any pleadings or motions filed by the personal representative. Should this occur absent retention of counsel, the case shall proceed pursuant to the rules on default. The trial court should also communicate the situation to the probate court presiding over the estate. We have no jurisdiction over the probate court on remand here, but we would hope that the probate court would then communicate to any heirs and beneficiaries the events that transpired in the trial court.

In the end, it’s hard to say that there is anything to be learned or taken from this case.

I don’t even know why I am writing about it.

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mm By: Doug Chalgian
Doug Chalgian

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