Split Court of Appeals Disagrees Over “Good Cause” Requirement to Compel Independent Medical Examinations and Articulates Scope of Trial Court’s “Discretion” to Deny IME Requests

In this published 2-1 opinion (Murray, Boonstra, JJ, majority; M.J. Kelly, dissenting), the Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s denial of the defendant’s request to compel plaintiff to submit to several new “independent medical examinations” (a/k/a “IME’s”)  in her no-fault automobile suit against them.  The opinion contains much commentary on the accepted practice of the bar in noticing up “IME’s”  without seeking leave of court or, even requesting permission from the plaintiff’s counsel.

However, the Court’s legal opinion provides crucial analysis and guidance to trial courts for assessing the necessity of IME’s and whether and to what extent “good cause” will be shown to allow such examinations.  The Court provides a definition of “good cause” to mean “simply…satisfactory, sound or valid reason.”

At first glance, it may appear, and the dissent suggests as much, that the “discretion” given to trial courts to allow or deny a request for IME’s is not truly discretion at all given the facts of this case and the manner in which the majority interprets MCR 2.311(A).  Thus, the “abuse of discretion” standard, which is ordinarily a high standard of review to overcome, is lowered by the majority’s restricting the trial court’s discretion and turning it into more of a structured analytical requirement to determine, in each case, whether there is “good cause” shown under this majority panel’s seemingly lowered definition of this latter phrase.

The plaintiff argued that defendants had her medical records and had previously conducted several IME’s upon her in the past in relation to other auto accident cases.  The plaintiff asserted that the requests for any new IME’s would result only in duplicative discovery efforts and were an attempt to unnecessarily burden and/or harass her.  The trial court agreed and denied the defendants’ request to conduct the IME’s.

However, the majority points out that the plaintiff’s mental and physical condition was placed squarely at issue in the case based on her allegations of injury.  To the extent defendants had prior IME’s on the same plaintiff related to other automobile accident lawsuits she filed, these were only marginally helpful in assessing whether she suffered the requisite “serious impairment” injuries in this particular accident, which would then entitle her to bring a tort claim under the No-Fault Act.

The majority also articulates the definition of “good cause” within the meaning of the court rule and uses federal court case analogues to go through a principled analysis of the issue.

This is a published opinion with a dissenting judge, so it is likely to garner some additional attention and may be subject to further appeal.  Moreover, it provides very useful guidance to the bench and bar on this ongoing issue of the use and propriety of IME’s.

Read the opinion here:  Burris v. K.A.M. Transport, et al.COA.Opinion.06.25.2013

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