Zausmer attorney Daniel Jedell recently argued and won an appeal for valued firm clients in a professional liability lawsuit. In a published decision, announcing new law, the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiffs’ complaint and reversed the trial court’s order denying mandatory case evaluation sanctions. Following that victory, Dan secured an order for case evaluation sanctions against the plaintiffs and in favor of his clients.
The case involved pre-employment psychological evaluations of two former deputy sheriffs in the course of their applications for part-time employment with the City of Dearborn Police Department. As part of the application process, the plaintiffs were required to undergo psychological evaluations to assess their mental health. A licensed psychologist supervised the evaluations, which consisted of clinical interviews, cognitive assessments and standardized personality tests. The psychologist’s evaluation reports noted concerns with the plaintiffs’ emotional and physical health, and recommended they each undergo full medical evaluations to rule out conditions that could interfere with their ability to serve as police officers. Thereafter, Dearborn informed the plaintiffs that they did not pass the psychological evaluations and were not eligible for hire.
The plaintiffs took issue with the fact that the evaluation reports identified their ages and ethnicities and contained clerical errors. They then filed a complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights alleging discrimination on the part of Dearborn. In turn, Dearborn offered the plaintiffs psychological evaluations with a new psychologist, but they refused.
After the MDCR dismissed the discrimination charges, the plaintiffs filed a civil lawsuit against the psychologist and his professional corporation for discrimination, gross negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The plaintiffs alleged that Dan’s clients carelessly performed the evaluations and knowingly authored reports containing false information. The plaintiffs claimed they were irreparably harmed and could never work again as police officers, contending they were required to disclose on all future law enforcement applications that they failed psychological evaluations. The plaintiffs demanded more than $1.5 million in damages.
After the close of discovery, Dan filed a motion for summary disposition, arguing that the plaintiffs’ claims sounded in medical malpractice since the applicable standard of care governing psychological evaluations requires expert testimony on issues of medical judgment, and were thus time-barred by the statute of limitations; that the plaintiffs lacked evidence that the psychologist deviated from the standard of care; and that, based on the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision in Dyer v Trachtman, the psychologist and his clinical practice could not be held liable for the substance of the evaluation reports (only for physical injury caused during the evaluations). Further, Dan argued that the plaintiffs could not prove the requisite element of causation because they had rejected offers to undergo new evaluations, and because even if they proceeded in the application process they each would have been required to undergo a medical examination and interview with the police chief before becoming eligible for hire.
After Dan filed the motion for summary disposition, the plaintiffs’ claims were collectively case evaluated for nominal amounts, which they rejected. Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Maceroni later granted the motion for summary disposition, dismissing the plaintiffs’ complaint, which triggered mandatory attorney fees and costs under MCR 2.403(O). However, Judge Maceroni declined to award sanctions “in the interest of justice,” reasoning that the case presented a novel issue of law since Dyer had never been applied in the context of a psychological evaluation. The plaintiffs appealed the dismissal, and Dan appealed the denial of case evaluation sanctions.
Following oral argument, the Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal, concluding this case was based on alleged medical malpractice and was thus time-barred by the statute of limitations. The Court of Appeals also held that the plaintiffs lacked evidence of causation, and confirmed the “common law principle immunizing” practitioners “from liability for conclusions arising from independent medical examinations,” under Dyer. Additionally, the court reversed the trial court’s ruling that attorney fees incurred in the pursuit of case evaluation sanctions cannot be recovered as a matter of law, and remanded the issue to the trial court.
As a result of these favorable rulings, Dan was ultimately able to secure an order requiring the plaintiffs to reimburse attorney fees and costs to his clients.