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Michie v. Great Lakes Steel Division, Nat’l Steel Corp

    Brief Fact Summary. Multiple people filed a complaint against three corporations claiming a nuisance for pollution. There was no assertion of joint action or conspiracy. The corporation filed a motion to dismiss, claiming each appellee individually failed to meet the $10,000 amount in controversy requirement for federal jurisdiction.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Under Michigan law, multiple defendants may be found jointly and severally liable when injuries cannot effectively be apportioned between defendants.

    Facts. The Appellees, thirty-seven people (Appellees), filed a complaint against the Appellants, three corporations (Appellants), claiming that pollutants emitted by Appellants represent a nuisance. Each Appellee individually claims damages ranging from $11,000 to $35,000 from all three corporations jointly and severally. However, there is no assertion of joint action or conspiracy against the Appellants. Appellants appealed a denied motion to dismiss based on the claim that each Appellee individually failed to meet the $10,000 amount in controversy requirement set forth in 28 U.S.C.A Section: 1332 (1970).

    Issue. Under Michigan State law, may multiple defendants be jointly and severally liable to multiple plaintiffs for individual injuries sustained from the action of all defendants when the separate effects of defendants’ actions are impossible to differentiate between.

    Held. Yes. Judgment affirmed.
    * Previous Michigan case law has stated that it is unfair to place the burden on the injured party to prove the specific shares of harm done by each tortfeasor [Maddux v. Donaldson, 362 Mich. 425, 108 N.W.2d 33 (1961)]. This Court believes that Michigan courts would follow the Maddux holding, allowing the trier of fact to determine if liability is joint or several. If the injury is indivisible and it is not practicable to apportion the harm, the entire liability may be imposed on one or several tortfeasors. The tortfeasor or tortfeasors who have liability imposed on them have the right of contribution against other tortfeasors.
    * The present case is one in which there is not concerted action, but the independent acts of multiple actors combine to produce indivisible harmful consequences. If the Appellees are able to prove injury and liability as to the Appellants, Michigan law effectively shifts the burden of proof as to which was responsible and to what degree. Therefore, each Appellees complaint should be read as alleging $11,000 or more in damages against each Appellant.

    Discussion. Compare the decision in this case to that in Bruckman v. Pena, 29 Colo.App. 357, 487 P.2d 566 (Colo.App.1971). These cases represent different approaches to identifying different tortfeasors and apportioning responsibility.


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