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Prince v. Oregon Mutual Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. Idaho

May 31, 2018

OREGON MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, an Oregon corporation, Defendant.


          David C. Nye U.S. District Court Judge

         I. OVERVIEW

         Pending before the Court are cross Motions for Summary Judgment filed by the parties. Dkts. 31, 38. After holding oral argument on the motions, the Court took the matters under advisement. Upon review, the Court now issues the following decision GRANTING Defendant Oregon Mutual Insurance Company's (“Oregon Mutual”) Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 31) and DENING Plaintiff Joseph Prince's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. 38) as moot.

         II. BACKGROUND [1]

         On June 28, 2011, Prince was driving his father's truck northbound on State Route 225 in Elko County, Nevada. Prince had been working in Nevada and was returning to his Idaho residence that he shared with his mother.

         Courtney Spring was driving his truck southbound on State Route 225 at this same time. Unfortunately, Spring was intoxicated. As Spring approached Prince, he drove his truck across the center line and struck Prince head-on. There is no dispute that Prince was a fault-free victim in this circumstance. Prince sustained serious injuries because of the accident, and was flown to St. Alphonus Regional Medical Center in Boise for treatment. Prince incurred $99, 728.32 in medical bills. Furthermore, because of his injuries, Prince could not return to work for approximately 14 months and lost $96, 492.64 in wages. Accordingly, Prince's special or out-of-pocket damages in this matter were $196, 220.96.

         At the time of the accident, Spring had an insurance police with Mid-Century Insurance Company (“Mid-Century”). This policy provided bodily injury liability coverage in the amounts of $100, 000 per individual, and $300, 000 per occurrence.

         Prince's father, Douglas Smith, owned the truck Prince was driving at the time of the accident. Smith had an insurance policy with Farmers Insurance Company of Idaho (“Farmers”). This policy provided underinsured motorist bodily injury (“UIM”) coverage of $100, 000 per person, and $300, 000 per occurrence.[2]

         Prince's mother, Ronetta Smith, had an insurance policy (“the Policy” or “Oregon Mutual Policy”) with Defendant Oregon Mutual. This Policy likewise provided UIM coverage of $100, 000 per person, and $300, 000 per occurrence. The Oregon Mutual Policy delineates that any family member who resides in the household is a covered motorist. Therefore, Prince was an insured and permissive user under the Policy.

         Prince filed a personal injury action against Spring in Nevada state court. Spring's insurance carrier, Mid-Century, settled with Prince by tendering the bodily injury liability limits of Spring's policy in the amount of $100, 000.

         The $100, 000 was inadequate to compensate Prince for his damages. Accordingly, Prince filed the instant suit against Oregon Mutual. The sole cause of action in Prince's Complaint seeks a declaratory judgment that Oregon Mutual is required to pay Prince $100, 000 in UIM coverage under the Policy.


         Summary judgment is proper “if the movant shows that 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). This Court's role at summary judgment is not “to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Zetwick v. Cty. of Yolo, 850 F.3d 436, 441 (9th Cir. 2017) (citation omitted). In considering a motion for summary judgment, this Court must “view[] the facts in the non-moving party's favor.” Id. To defeat a motion for summary judgment, the respondent need only present evidence upon which “a reasonable juror drawing all inferences in favor of the respondent could return a verdict in [his or her] favor.” Id. (citation omitted). Accordingly, this Court must enter summary judgment if a party “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The respondent cannot simply rely on an unsworn affidavit or the pleadings to defeat a motion for summary judgment; rather the respondent must set forth the “specific facts, ” supported by evidence, with “reasonable particularity” that precludes summary judgment. Far Out Prods., Inc. v. Oskar, 247 F.3d 986, 997 (9th Cir. 2001).

         The standard applicable to motions for summary judgment do not generally change if the parties file cross motions. See, e.g., Cady v. Hartford Life & Accidental Ins., 930 F.Supp.2d 1216, 1223 (D. Idaho 2013). However, the Court must evaluate each party's motion on its own merits. Fair Housing Council of Riverside Cty., Inc. v. Riverside Two, 249 F.3d 1132, 1136 (9th Cir. 2001).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         The outcome of the motions for summary judgment in this case is predicated on the Court's determination of two main issues: first, whether Spring is an underinsured motorist as defined under Oregon Mutual's Policy; and second, whether Oregon Mutual's “policy stacking” language is void and unenforceable.

         The parties disagree on where the Court should begin its analysis of these two topics. They disagree for good reason. Depending on where the Court chooses to start determines-to a certain extent-whether it even reaches the other issue.

         Oregon Mutual urges the Court to begin by taking up the underinsured motorist question. It postures that the language in the Policy is clear: Spring is not an underinsured motorist and summary judgment in its favor is appropriate. In light of the clear language, Oregon Mutual claims the Court will not even need to address policy stacking because that discussion only applies under the “Other Insurance” clause within the UIM section of the Policy and that section is only triggered if UIM coverage exists in the first place. In short, Oregon Mutual's position is that Spring is not underinsured by definition, UIM coverage is not available to Prince for this incident, and the “Other Insurance” section and policy stacking are irrelevant issues.

         Prince, on the other hand, urges the Court to begin by determining whether Oregon Mutual's policy stacking language is void. Prince reasons that if the Court makes that determination first, the question of UIM coverage will automatically follow. If the Court allows policy stacking, then the language in the Policy's “Other Insurance” clause within the UIM section is void, coverages can stack, Spring by definition will be an underinsured motorist, and Prince will have UIM coverage.[3] Conversely, if the Court ...

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