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Coronel v. Geico Ins. Agency Inc.

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

June 26, 2013

Katherine Coronel, Plaintiff,
v.
GEICO Ins. Agency Inc., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER

STEPHEN M. McNAMEE, District Judge.

Before the court are Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 59) regarding controlling law as to her uninsured motorist and bad faith claims, and Defendant's Motion for Rule 56(d) Relief (Doc. 67) and request for additional discovery time. The Court makes the following ruling.

BACKGROUND

The matter in question arises from the hit-and-run accident that took place during the early morning hours of October 29, 2007, which left Plaintiff's fiance, Eduardo Mediavilla, dead. (Doc. 59-2 at 4, 9). The accident occurred when Mr. Mediavilla was struck and killed by another motorist while he was attempting to change a flat tire on the shoulder of Interstate 17, north of Phoenix. (Doc. 59-2 at 3, 9). The Plaintiff, Katherine Coronel, as well as their minor children, A.M., A.V., and then unborn E.M. were in the car at the time of the accident. (Doc. 59-2 at 3, 8). It is unclear as to whether the children were asleep or awake and watching when the accident took place. (Doc. 59-2 at 4, 9).[1]

Mr. Mediavilla was driving a 2003 Volkswagen Jetta that was owned by his father Eduardo Mediavilla, Jr., and was insured by Defendant GEICO. (Doc. 59-2 at 3, 9). The policy on the Jetta was entered into in New York by decedent's father and contained uninsured/underinsured policy limits of $100, 000 per person and $300, 000 per occurrence. (Doc. 59-2 at 4, 9). The policy contains a choice-of-law provision, which states that "the policy... [is] to be interpreted pursuant to the laws of the state of New York." (Doc 59-2 at 47). GEICO did pay $100, 000, under the policy, for Mr. Mediavilla's wrongful death, which was split among his parents and fiance. (Doc. 59-2 at 4, 9). However, Plaintiff also sought an additional claim under the policy on behalf of herself and her children for negligent infliction of emotional distress injuries they suffered as a result of the accident. (Doc. 59-2 at 5, 10). The basis of this claim was their presence in the vehicle at the time of the incident. (Doc. 59-2 at 5, 10). GEICO denied coverage for this claim, contending that the policy, subject to the choice-of-law provision, was governed by New York law, which prohibits such recovery. (Doc. 59-2 at 4, 9, and 22-23).

Plaintiff subsequently commenced action against GEICO seeking recovery for her and her minor childrens' injuries as well as for GEICO's breach of duty of good faith. (Doc. 1-1 at 3-5). Plaintiff then moved for partial summary judgment regarding which law, Arizona or New York, governs these claims. (Doc. 59 at 1). Defendant subsequently moved for Rule 56(d) relief from summary judgment, requesting additional time to conduct discovery to help determine the choice of law question. (Doc. 67 at 1-4).

STANDARDS OF REVIEW

I. Partial Summary Judgment

Upon motion at any time, a party defending against a claim may move for "partial summary judgment, " that is, "summary judgment in the party's favor as to... any part thereof." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(b). A court must grant summary judgment if the pleadings and supporting documents, viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Jesinger v. Nevada Fed. Credit Union , 24 F.3d 1127, 1130 (9th Cir. 1994). Substantive law determines which facts are material. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby , 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); see also Jesinger , 24 F.3d at 1130. "Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248. The dispute must also be genuine, that is, the evidence must be "such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id .; see Jesinger , 24 F.3d at 1130.

A principal purpose of summary judgment is "to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims." Celotex , 477 U.S. at 323-24. Summary judgment is appropriate against a party who "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." Id. at 322; see also Citadel Holding Corp. v. Roven , 26 F.3d 960, 964 (9th Cir. 1994). The moving party need not disprove matters on which the opponent has the burden of proof at trial. See Celotex , 477 U.S. at 317. The party opposing summary judgment "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [the party's] pleadings, but... must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); see Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio , 475 U.S. 574, 585-88 (1986); Brinson v. Linda Rose Joint Venture , 53 F.3d 1044, 1049 (9th Cir. 1995).

II. Choice of Law

In diversity actions, federal courts apply the conflict of law rules of the forum state. Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Elec. Mfg. Co. , 313 U.S. 487, 496 (1941); Paulsen v. C.N.F., Inc. , 559 F.3d 1061, 1080 (9th Cir. 2009). In choice-of-law cases, Arizona courts follow the Restatement to determine which state's law applies. Cardon v. Cotton Lane Holdings, Inc. , 173 Ariz. 203, 207, 841 P.2d 198, 202 (1992); Swanson v. The Image Bank, Inc. , 206 Ariz. 264, 266, 77 P.3d 439, 441 (2003). Choice-of-law issues are a matter of law, and so Arizona courts decide them de novo. Garcia v. General Motor Corp., 195 Ariz. 510, 516, 990 P.2d 1075 (App. 1999). The Restatement states that a choice of law provision is enforceable if "the particular issue is one in which the parties could have resolved by an explicit provision in their agreement." Restatement § 187(1). Further, even if the particular issue is not one in which the parties could have resolved, a choice of law provision will be enforced, unless either (1) the chosen state has no substantial relationship to the transaction or parties, or (2) application of the chosen state's law would be contrary to the public policy of a state which has a greater interest in the matter. Restatement § 187(2)(a), (b).

In the event that a choice of law provision is invalid, Arizona courts resolve the conflict under general tort law, using the significant contacts analysis found in §§ 145 and 6 of the Restatement. Relevant factors include, but are not limited to: "(a) the place where the injury occurred, (b) the place where the conduct causing the injury occurred, (c) the domicile [and] residence... of the parties, and (d) the place where the relationship, if any, between the parties is centered." Restatement § 145(2). See Bates ...


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