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Dogra v. Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. Nevada

September 19, 2017

MELINDA BOOTH DOGRA, as Assignee of Claims of SUSAN HIROKO LILES; JAY DOGRA, as Assignee of the Claims of SUSAN HIROKO LILES, Plaintiffs,


          Gloria M. Navarro, Chief Judge United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company (“Liberty Mutual”). (ECF No. 52). Plaintiffs Melinda Booth Dogra and Jay Dogra (“Plaintiffs”) filed a response, (ECF No. 64), and Liberty Mutual filed a reply, (ECF No. 68).[1] For the reasons discussed below, Liberty Mutual's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises from a series of disputes related to a car accident that took place in Clark County, Nevada on August 22, 2008. (Compl. ¶ 10, ECF No. 1). The accident occurred when Susan Hiroko Liles (“Liles”) drifted from her lane and collided with an adjacent vehicle, causing injury to multiple individuals, including Plaintiffs in the instant action. (Id. ¶ 11). At the time of the accident, Liles was a covered driver on an automobile insurance policy (the “Policy”) provided by Liberty Mutual. (See Policy, Ex. 1 to Def.'s MSJ, ECF No. 25-1). The Policy contained limits of $100, 000 per claim and $300, 000 per accident. (Id.).

         On November 25, 2008, Liberty Mutual filed an Interpleader Complaint in Clark County District Court (“Clark County Court”), asserting its position that Liles' potential liability exceeded the policy limits. (See Interpleader Compl., Ex. 2 to Def.'s MSJ, ECF No. 25-2). On November 17, 2009, Liberty Mutual filed a Motion for Summary Judgment and Disbursement of Funds. (Interpleader MSJ, Ex. 10 to Pls.' Resp., ECF No. 28-10). In that motion, Liberty Mutual proposed a distribution where one of the injured parties would receive $160, 500. (Id.). Multiple claimants opposed the motion for suggesting a distribution in excess of the $100, 000 per claim policy limit. (See Opposition to Interpleader MSJ, Ex. 11 to Pls.' Resp., ECF No. 28-11). The Clark County Court deferred ruling on the motion, as it was unclear at the time whether one of the claimants, Melinda Hespen, should remain a party to the action. (See Interpleader Hearings, Exs. 15, 16 to Pls.' Resp., ECF Nos. 28-15, 28-16).

         On April 13, 2010, Liberty Mutual filed a Motion to Deposit Funds with the Clark County Court and sought to be discharged from further liability. (Mot. to Deposit, Ex. 3 to Def.'s MSJ, ECF No. 25-3). The Clark County Court granted this motion and directed claimants to agree upon a distribution of the policy proceeds. (Order, Ex. 4 to Def.'s MSJ, ECF No. 25-4). The claimants provided the Clark County Court with an agreed upon distribution on January 6, 2011. (See Status Hearing, Ex. 18 to Def.'s Reply, ECF No. 29-18). However, by this time, multiple parties had commenced individual lawsuits against Liles, including Plaintiffs in the instant action. (Id.) Ultimately, Plaintiffs received a jury verdict against Liles for $2, 945, 604.48 in favor of Melinda Booth Dogra and $42, 840.75 in favor of Jay Dogra. (Judgements, Exs. 5, 6 to Def.'s MSJ, ECF Nos. 25-5, 25-6).

         After discussion with her independent counsel, Liles decided against appealing this verdict, purportedly due to a financial inability to post the approximately $2.9 million appeal bond and a desire to “move on.” (See Counsel Email, Ex. 7 to Def.'s MSJ, ECF No. 25-7). On August 4, 2014, Liles assigned all potential rights and claims she had against Liberty Mutual to the Plaintiffs in this action. (Assignment, Ex. 9 to Def.'s MSJ, ECF No. 25-9). Shortly thereafter, Plaintiffs initiated this case in federal court, alleging four causes of action against Liberty Mutual: (1) Breach of Contract; (2) Breach of Duty of Good Faith and Fair Dealing and Fiduciary-like Duties; (3) Breach of Unfair Claims Practices Act; and (4) Punitive Damages. (Compl., ECF No. 1). On September 27, 2017, the Court granted summary judgment on Plaintiffs' breach of contract claim. (ECF No. 44). On October 21, 2016, Liberty Mutual filed the instant Motion seeking summary judgment on Plaintiffs' remaining claims.


         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide for summary adjudication when the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show 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). Material facts are those that may affect the outcome of the case. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute as to a material fact is genuine if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. See Id. “Summary judgment is inappropriate if reasonable jurors, drawing all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor.” Diaz v. Eagle Produce Ltd. P'ship, 521 F.3d 1201, 1207 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing United States v. Shumway, 199 F.3d 1093, 1103-04 (9th Cir. 1999)). A principal purpose of summary judgment is “to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986).

         In determining summary judgment, a court applies a burden-shifting analysis. “When the party moving for summary judgment would bear the burden of proof at trial, it must come forward with evidence which would entitle it to a directed verdict if the evidence went uncontroverted at trial. In such a case, the moving party has the initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of fact on each issue material to its case.” C.A.R. Transp. Brokerage Co. v. Darden Rests., Inc., 213 F.3d 474, 480 (9th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted). In contrast, when the nonmoving party bears the burden of proving the claim or defense, the moving party can meet its burden in two ways: (1) by presenting evidence to negate an essential element of the nonmoving party's case; or (2) by demonstrating that the nonmoving party failed to make a showing sufficient to establish an element essential to that party's case on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323- 24. If the moving party fails to meet its initial burden, summary judgment must be denied and the court need not consider the nonmoving party's evidence. See Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 159-60 (1970).

         If the moving party satisfies its initial burden, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue of material fact exists. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). To establish the existence of a factual dispute, the opposing party need not establish a material issue of fact conclusively in its favor. It is sufficient that “the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial.” T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pac. Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 631 (9th Cir. 1987). In other words, the nonmoving party cannot avoid summary judgment by relying solely on conclusory allegations that are unsupported by factual data. See Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989). Instead, the opposition must go beyond the assertions and allegations of the pleadings and set forth specific facts by producing competent evidence that shows a genuine issue for trial. See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324.

         At summary judgment, a court's function is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. The evidence of the nonmovant is “to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Id. at 255. But if the evidence of the nonmoving party is merely colorable or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted. See Id. at 249-50.


         As a preliminary matter, the Court notes that Liberty Mutual predominantly relies on the argument that the Court's prior findings on the breach of contract claim, (ECF No. 44), are dispositive of the remaining bad faith and unfair settlement practices claims. (See Def.'s MSJ 2:10-28, ECF No. 52). In response, Plaintiffs assert that the remaining claims present different questions of fact, and “[t]he rulings on the breach of contract motion were confined to the four corners of the contract.” (Pls.' Resp. 15:24-27, ECF No. 64). Although the Court recognizes potential overlap between the claims, Plaintiffs are correct that the legal and factual questions presently before the Court are different than ...

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