Appeals court rules against fired shuttle van driver

By Lee Dryden
BridgeTower Media Newswires

DETROIT-A man who was fired after refusing to drive a shuttle van that would not operate in reverse lost his appeal to a Michigan Court of Appeals panel.

In Bradley v. Prudential Security Inc., the plaintiff alleged that the defendant terminated his employment because he refused to perform an unlawful act - driving the malfunctioning van.

The defendant argued that it was not unlawful to drive a van that could not operate in reverse. The panel affirmed the Wayne County Circuit Court in ruling for the defendant.

The Feb. 12 unpublished per curiam opinion was issued by Judges Kirsten Frank Kelly, Michael J. Riordan and Michael F. Gadola.

The case

Plaintiff James R. Bradley Jr. was employed by defendant Prudential Security Inc. to drive a shuttle van transporting AK Steel employees to and from various work locations and employee parking lots at a plant in Dearborn, according to the appeals court opinion.

"On the day in question, defendant directed plaintiff to drive a van that plaintiff determined would not operate in reverse," the opinion stated. "Plaintiff refused to drive the van, contending that without the ability to drive in reverse, the vehicle was unsafe. Plaintiff thereafter went home; the parties dispute whether he was sent home by his supervisor or left without permission. Plaintiff was fired the following day."

Initially representing himself before the trial court, the plaintiff filed a complaint and an amended complaint alleging wrongful termination. In a second amended complaint, filed after obtaining counsel, the plaintiff alleged he was fired for refusing to drive the van and that the "public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine prohibits an employer from terminating an employee for refusing to perform an unlawful act."

The plaintiff cited "numerous statutes and regulations that he alleges he would have been forced to violate had he followed defendant's directive to drive the malfunctioning van."

The trial court granted summary disposition for the defendant.

COA analysis

The panel stated that the plaintiff used "what might be termed a 'shotgun approach' in his complaint, suggesting a variety of alleged statutory violations, without providing factual support for those theories."

The plaintiff alleged the Michigan Vehicle Code would have been violated had he driven the malfunctioning vehicle, as the first sentence of MCL 257.683(1) prohibits individuals from knowingly driving vehicles on a "highway" that are "in such an unsafe condition as to endanger a person."

"In his complaint, however, plaintiff does not allege facts sufficient to demonstrate that defendant directed him to drive the vehicle on a 'highway,'" the opinion stated. "Before the trial court, plaintiff argued that he believed that portions of his travel on the day in question would have taken him on roads open for public use.

"But plaintiff did not identify the route he would have traveled in his job, whether he was required by defendant to follow a particular route, and what aspects of those roads support the legal conclusion that they meet the statutory definition of highway."

Although the plaintiff alleged that the van would not drive in reverse, his complaint "does not allege facts sufficient to establish that the van was in such an unsafe condition as to endanger a person," the opinion stated.

The panel also ruled that the plaintiff's complaint "does not identify any provision in the Michigan Vehicle Code that provides that a defective transmission or general inability to drive backwards comes under the purview of defective 'equipment' for the purposes of MCL 257.715."

The panel also agreed with the trial court that the plaintiff "failed to state a claim that driving the van would have caused plaintiff to violate either the Motor Carrier Safety Act or the federal regulations plaintiff cited in his complaint."

For example, the opinion stated, "Merely to allege that driving a vehicle that will not operate in reverse 'poses an unreasonable risk or an imminent hazard to the public safety' is a legal conclusion that will not suffice to survive summary disposition."

"Again, it is not sufficient to list statutes and regulations that might have been violated; plaintiff was obligated to set forth the facts of this case that he contends demonstrate the violation alleged."

Attorney comments

Defense counsel Dominic N. Hamden of Milan said he is pleased with the appeals court decision.

"The case presented some unique issues both with the policy arguments and the sheer volume of causes of action that the plaintiff asserted," he said. "This made preparing the matter during litigation much more difficult than most cases."

Hamden believes the opinion could influence future cases.

"The decision basically stood as a warning to plaintiffs who attempt litigation by ambush and assert every cause of action that they think may apply," he said. "The Court of Appeals basically held that plaintiffs need to appropriately tailor their causes of actions to the facts in the case, as opposed to asserting every possible cause of action in the hopes that something might apply."

Plaintiff's counsel Daniel J. Ericson declined to comment on the case.

Published: Tue, Apr 30, 2019

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