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Bryntesen v. Camp Automotive, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Idaho

June 9, 2015

CASEY BRYNTESEN, et. al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CAMP AUTOMOTIVE, INC., et. al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

B. LYNN WINMILL, Chief District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

The Court has before it BMW of North America's Motion for Summary Judgment of Dismissal (Dkt. 130) and Camp Automotive, et. al. 's, Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Dkt. 140). At the hearing on May 12, 2015, the Court orally granted BMW of North America's motion, granted Camp Automotive's motion with regard to the Bryntesen's intentional infliction of emotional distress claim), but denied Camp Automotive's motion with regard to the Bryntesen's breach of contract claim. The Court reserved ruling on the remaining claims against Camp Automotive, but indicated its inclination to dismiss those claims as well. Upon further consideration, the Court has determined that it will, in fact, grant Camp Automotive's motion as to all claims except the breach of contract claim. This Memorandum Decision explains the Court's reasoning.

BACKGROUND

The underlying claims of this case stem from the detention of the Bryntesen family while driving a Camp BMW loaner vehicle that was incorrectly reported as stolen. Steve Wilson is the used car manager at Camp BMW, a Lithia Motors dealership. On June 17, 2013, Wilson noticed that a 2011 BMW 328ix sedan was missing during a monthly inventory. After an unsuccessful search for the vehicle, Wilson requested that BMW of North America ("BMW") perform a GPS locate on the vehicle, but was informed that he must first file a police report. After an unsuccessful renewed attempt to locate the vehicle, Wilson reported it as stolen. However, the vehicle had actually been loaned to the Bryntesens while their vehicle was being repaired. Matthew Rydman, a service department employee, had loaned the vehicle to the Bryntesens a month earlier and misfiled the loaner agreement.

After reporting the vehicle as stolen, Wilson supplied the police report to BMW, which coordinated with the Sheriff's Office to locate the vehicle. The next day, Camp BMW informed the Bryntesens that the repairs to their vehicle would be completed on June 19 or 20. However, on the evening of June 19, police stopped and detained the Bryntesens for possession of a stolen vehicle.

STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Summary judgment is appropriate where a party can show that, as to any claim or defense, "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). One of the principal purposes of the summary judgment "is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims...." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). It is "not a disfavored procedural shortcut, " but is instead the "principal tool[] by which factually insufficient claims or defenses [can] be isolated and prevented from going to trial with the attendant unwarranted consumption of public and private resources." Id. at 327. "[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). There must be a genuine dispute as to any material fact - a fact "that may affect the outcome of the case." Id. at 248.

The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and the Court must not make credibility findings. Id. at 255. Direct testimony of the non-movant must be believed, however implausible. Leslie v. Grupo ICA, 198 F.3d 1152, 1159 (9th Cir. 1999). On the other hand, the Court is not required to adopt unreasonable inferences from circumstantial evidence. McLaughlin v. Liu, 849 F.2d 1205, 1208 (9th Cir. 1988).

The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute as to material fact. Devereaux v. Abbey, 263 F.3d 1070, 1076 (9th Cir. 2001)(en banc). To carry this burden, the moving party need not introduce any affirmative evidence (such as affidavits or deposition excerpts) but may simply point out the absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Fairbank v. Wunderman Cato Johnson, 212 F.3d 528, 532 (9th Cir.2000).

This shifts the burden to the non-moving party to produce evidence sufficient to support a jury verdict in her favor. Deveraux, 263 F.3d at 1076. The non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and show "by her [] affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions on file" that a genuine dispute of material fact exists. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324.

ANALYSIS

Plaintiffs allege four claims against BMW: 1) Count Three: Negligence of BMW Relating to Agency Liability; 2) Count Four: Negligence of BMW in Operating Its Telematics Tracking Systems in BMW Vehicles, 3) Count Nine: False Arrest and Imprisonment; and 4) Count Ten: Loss of Consortium. BMW seeks summary judgment on each of these claims. Defendants Camp Automotive, Inc. (dba Camp BMW), Lithia Motors, Inc., Scott Grumbly, Matthew Rydman, and Steve Wilson (collectively "Defendants") have also moved for summary judgment on the following claims: 1) Count One: Breach of Contract; 2) Count Five: Defamation; 3) Count Seven: Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress; 4) Count Eight: Violation of the Idaho Consumer Protection Act; and 5) Count Nine: False Arrest and Imprisonment. The Court will address each claim below.

A. Count Three: Negligence of BMW Relating to Agency Liability

Plaintiffs sought recovery against BMW based upon the negligence of its alleged agents. See Am. Compl. at ΒΆ53, Dkt. 1-4. However, Plaintiffs indicate in their briefing that they "do[] not oppose dismissal of Count Three as against BMW." Pl.'s Opp'n to BMW's Mot. for Summ. J. at 19, Dkt. 149. Accordingly, the Court will dismiss Count Three of Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint with respect to BMW.

B. Count Four: Negligence of BMW in Operating Its Telematics Tracking Systems in BMW Vehicles

A cause of action for common law negligence in Idaho has four elements: "(1) a duty, recognized by law, requiring the defendant to conform to a certain standard of conduct; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) a causal connection between the defendant's conduct and the resulting injury; and (4) actual loss or damage." Nation v. State, Dep't of Corr., 158 P.3d 953, 965 (Idaho 2007) (citations omitted).

Plaintiffs contend that BMW's duty "is the same duty that every actor owes to society at large-to use reasonable care to avoid injury to the other person in any situation in which it could be reasonably anticipated or foreseen that a failure to use such care might result in such injury." Pl.'s Opp'n to BMW's Mot. for Summ. J. at 2, Dkt. 149 (citing to Alegria v. Payonk, 619 P.2d 135, 137 (Idaho 1980)). "This is the common law duty rule." Hunter v. State, Dep't of Corr., Div. of Prob. & Parole, 57 P.3d 755, 761 (Idaho 2002). However, Idaho "does not impose an affirmative duty on everyone to prevent foreseeable injury to everyone else." Beers v. Corp. of President of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 316 P.3d 92, 97 (Idaho 2013).

Generally, the question whether a duty exists is a question of law. Coghlan v. Beta Theta Pi Fraternity, 987 P.2d 300, 312 (Idaho 1999). There is ordinarily "no affirmative duty to act to assist or protect another absent unusual circumstances, which justify imposing such an affirmative responsibility." Id. at 311. Such an affirmative duty "arises only when a special relationship exists between the parties." Beers, 316 P.3d at 98. Whether a special relationship exists is determined by evaluating "the sum total of those considerations of policy which lead the law to say that a particular plaintiff is entitled to protection." Coghlan, 987 P.2d at 311. In determining whether a duty is owed in a particular context, Idaho courts employ the "balancing of the harm" analysis. Beers, 316 P.3d at 97. This is an analysis that the Court employs "in those rare situations when we are called upon to extend a duty beyond the scope previously imposed, or when a duty has not previously been recognized." Rife v. Long, 908 P.2d 143, 148 (Idaho 1996). If such a duty exists, then the duty is to "use reasonable care to avoid injury to the other person in any situation in which it could be reasonably anticipated or foreseen that a failure to use such care might result in such injury." Coghlan, 987 P.2d at 311 (citations omitted).

However, "[e]ven when an affirmative duty generally is not present, a legal duty may arise if one voluntarily undertakes to perform an act, having no prior duty to do so." Baccus v. Ameripride Servs., Inc., 179 P.3d 309, 313 (Idaho 2008) (internal quotation omitted). In such a case, the acting party has a duty to perform that act in a non-negligent manner. Udy v. Custer Cnty., 34 P.3d 1069, 1072 (Idaho 2001). "Liability for an assumed duty, however, can only come into being to the extent that there is in fact an undertaking." Beers, 316 P.3d at 100 (citing Udy, 34 P.3d at 1072). Additionally, "[w]hen a party assumes a duty by voluntarily performing an act that the party had no duty to perform, the duty that arises is limited to the duty actually assumed." Martin v. Twin Falls Sch. Dist. No. 411, 59 P.3d 317, 321 (Idaho 2002).

Plaintiffs contend that BMW's arguments regarding a special relationship and assumed duty are inapplicable because this is not a "failure to act" case. See Pl.'s Opp'n to BMW's Mot. for Summ. J. at 3, Dkt. 149. However, Plaintiffs' characterization of BMW's duty is confusing at best. Although, they claim BMW's argument about a special relationship is inapplicable, they nevertheless contend that BMW's duty "to the users of its vehicles equipped with GPS location technology, " is to "prevent unreasonable, foreseeable risk of harm to others." Id at 5. By suggesting that BMW's duty is to "prevent" harm to others, Plaintiffs imply that a special relationship exists between BMW and drivers of their vehicles. Because there is ordinarily no general duty to assist or protect another, BMW would have no duty to "prevent" unreasonable, foreseeable risk of harm to Plaintiffs in the absence of a special relationship.

Plaintiffs also claim BMW's argument about an assumed duty is inapplicable, but then contend that "[b]y voluntarily undertaking to utilize GPS technology in BMW vehicles to determine the location of said vehicles, BMW has a duty to perform these locates in a non-negligent manner." Id. Essentially, Plaintiffs contend that BMW assumed a duty when it offered the BMW Assist service for subscribers. BMW's duty, therefore, would be to operate this service and perform locates in a non-negligent manner. BMW's alleged negligence was requiring that a police report be filed before performing a locate and not providing that information to Camp BMW, who may have located the vehicle without the aid of law enforcement.

(1) BMW did not have a special relationship with Plaintiffs.

In determining whether a duty is owed in a particular context, Idaho courts employ the "balancing of the harm" analysis. Beers, 316 P.3d at 97. This analysis considers policy and weighs several factors including:

[T]he foreseeability of harm to the plaintiff, the degree of certainty that the plaintiff suffered injury, the closeness of the connection between the defendant's conduct and the injury suffered, the moral blame attached to the defendant's conduct, the policy of preventing future harm, the extent of the burden to the defendant and consequences to the community of imposing a duty to exercise care with ...

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