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The post below was published on Friday, December 24th, 2010 at 1:38 PM.

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Fourth District: Harsh Example of Second-Tier Certiorari’s Limits

All around, this may be one of the year’s most dissatisfying opinions. But it’s a great one to examine.

An insurer determined that a chiropractic center no longer needed to treat a person entitled to PIP coverage. The insurer notified the center of its determination and sent a check for outstanding payments. The check included a clear notation that it was tendered in full and final payment for all benefits due the person. The center deposited the check, continued to provide the person with treatments, and then sued the insurer for additional payments.

The insurer defended based on accord and satisfaction, but a county court entered a summary judgment for the center. The insurer appealed to the local circuit court, which affirmed. The insurer then sought second-tier certiorari review from the Fourth District.

The Fourth District explained that the circuit court (and, by extension, the county court) misapplied the law. The insurer correctly relied on the earlier check and an accord and satisfaction defense. However, on second-tier certiorari review, mere legal error is not a sufficient basis to grant relief. The circuit court must have failed to afford due process or failed to apply the correct law — the latter not being the same as applying the correct law incorrectly. Here, the circuit court misapplied the law but did not depart from the essential requirements of law, amounting to a miscarriage of justice, by failing to afford due process or applying the wrong law.

The district court acknowledged that the insurer had suffered an erroneous monetary judgment, but the court explained that “something more is required for there to be a miscarriage of justice.”

So the county court’s judgment was affirmed by the circuit court, and the circuit court’s judgment was left undisturbed, but both courts misapplied the law and gave the victory to the wrong party.

The chiropractic center won, but it did so only by two courts failing to follow the law correctly.

The insurer was vindicated that it was correct all along, but the vindication came only in principle. The insurer still lost.

The district court deserves credit for explaining its analysis.

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