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Byars v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

January 12, 2015

JOHN BYARS,
v.
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY

MEMORANDUM

STEWART DALZELL, District Judge.

I. Introduction

We consider here defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company's ("State Farm") partial motion for summary judgment, plaintiff John Byars's motion for summary judgment, and plaintiff's motion to amend his complaint.

State Farm moves for partial summary judgment to limit plaintiff's damages to $50, 000, arguing that a prior state court judgment collaterally estops him from recovering more. Plaintiff moves for summary judgment, arguing that the state court's findings, and principles of res judicata, entitle him to uninsured motorist coverage from State Farm as a matter of law. Plaintiff further seeks to amend his complaint to assert a cause of action for bad faith against State Farm.

We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 1332.

II. Standards for Summary Judgment

Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a) provides:

A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense - or the part of each claim or defense - on which summary judgment is sought. The court shall grant summary judgment 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. The court should state on the record the reasons for granting or denying the motion.

We treat cross-motions for summary judgment as if they were two distinct, independent motions. Arnold Pontiac-GMC, Inc. v. General Motors Corp., 700 F.Supp. 838, 840 (W.D. Pa. 1988). In evaluating each motion, we must consider the facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Marzano v. Computer Science Corp. Inc., 91 F.3d 497, 501 (3d Cir. 1996).

A party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of informing the district court of the basis for its argument that there is no genuine issue of material fact by "identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (internal quotations omitted). If the moving party meets this initial burden, Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 then obliges the non-moving party to show, via submissions beyond the pleadings, that there are genuine factual issues for trial. Id. at 324.

There is a genuine issue of material fact only when there is sufficient evidence such that a reasonable juror could find for the party opposing the motion. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986) (explaining further that a mere scintilla of evidence is insufficient). Material facts are those that would affect the outcome of the case under the governing law. Id. at 248. We may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence, and we must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000); Amour v. County of Beaver, PA, 271 F.3d 417, 420 (3d Cir. 2001). Our function is to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial, and we may not prevent a case from reaching a jury simply because we favor one of several reasonable views of the evidence. Abraham v. Raso, 183 F.3d 279, 287 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249).

We recount the materially undisputed facts pertinent to resolving the motions before us.

III. Factual Background

This case arises from a motor vehicle accident on October 3, 2009. Def. Brief at 2; Pl. Brief at 2. Alexander Funtow, a third party not before this Court, hit plaintiff's pick-up truck with his car. Def. Brief at 2; Pl. Brief at 2. After the accident, Funtow assaulted plaintiff. Def. Brief at 2; Pl. Brief at 2. Funtow was uninsured. Def. Brief at 3; Pl. Brief at 3. Plaintiff had an automobile insurance policy with State Farm.

Plaintiff's automobile insurance policy with State Farm (the "Policy") contained an uninsured motor vehicle provision providing that State Farm would pay plaintiff's compensatory damages for bodily injuries that the plaintiff was legally entitled to recover from the driver of an uninsured motor vehicle.[1] The Policy included a provision governing fault and determining the amount of damages in the event of an accident with an uninsured motor vehicle:

Deciding Fault and Amount - Coverages U and U3
1. a. The insured and we must agree to the answers to the following two questions:
(1) Is the insured legally entitled to recover compensatory damages from the owner or driver of the uninsured motor vehicle ?
(2) If the insured and we agree that the answer to 1.a. (1) above is yes, then what is the amount of the compensatory damages that the insured is legally entitled to recover from the owner or driver of the uninsured motor vehicle ?
b. If there is no agreement on the answer to either question in 1.a. above, then the insured shall:
(1) file a lawsuit, in a state or federal court that has jurisdiction, against:
(a) us ;
(b) the owner and driver of the uninsured motor vehicle, unless we have consented to a settlement offer proposed by or on ...

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