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General Motors Corp. v. Doupnik

filed: July 29, 1993.

GENERAL MOTORS CORPORATION, A DELAWARE CORPORATION, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
GARY D. DOUPNIK, JR., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California. D.C. No. CV-90-01596-DFL. David F. Levi, District Judge, Presiding.

Before: Mary M. Schroeder, Harry Pregerson, and Dorothy W. Nelson, Circuit Judges. Opinion by Judge Pregerson.

Author: Pregerson

PREGERSON, Circuit Judge:

Gary Doupnik appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of General Motors in its diversity action for equitable indemnity under California law. The court ordered indemnity from Gary Doupnik for 80 percent of a $1.6 million loss of consortium judgment that was rendered in favor of Sally Doupnik, Gary's spouse, in an underlying state action. We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We reverse.

BACKGROUND

On January 8, 1983, Gary Doupnik and a friend were returning from a wedding reception when Doupnik lost control of the General Motors car he was driving. Doupnik's car left the road, went down an embankment, rolled over, and came to a stop upside down. The evidence indicated that Doupnik had been drinking prior to the accident. Defective welds in a pillar post of the car caused the body to collapse on the driver's side. Doupnik was rendered a quadriplegic.

Gary Doupnik filed suit in state court against General Motors, alleging that the defective roof welds caused his injuries. The jury found that Doupnik had sustained injuries in the amount of $6,668,212. The jury also found that Doupnik was liable for 80 percent of his injuries and that General Motors was only liable for the remaining 20 percent. In addition, the jury determined that Doupnik's wife, Sally Doupnik, had sustained loss of consortium damages in the amount of $1.6 million as a result of her husband's injuries.

Thereafter, the trial court entered judgment against General Motors and awarded Gary Doupnik $1,333,642 (20 percent of $6,668,212). On motion by General Motors, the court reduced Sally Doupnik's award to $1 million on the grounds that $1.6 million was excessive. The court refused, however, to reduce her award by 80 percent to reflect her husband's proportionate share of fault. Rather, the court held that Sally Doupnik's loss of consortium claim was separate and distinct from her spouse's claim. Hence, her spouse's share of fault would not reduce her award for her separate injury.

Both General Motors and the Doupniks appealed to the California Court of Appeal. The court affirmed Gary Doupnik's judgment, reinstated Sally Doupnik's judgment to its original $1.6 million, and affirmed the judgment as modified. The California Supreme Court denied review. Thereafter, General Motors paid 20 percent of Gary Doupnik's damages and 100 percent of Sally Doupnik's $1.6 million judgment, plus interest and costs.

General Motors then brought a diversity action in federal district court seeking equitable indemnity from Gary Doupnik for 80 percent of Sally Doupnik's $1.6 million loss of consortium award. The California Supreme Court provides no precedent that specifically permits or prohibits equitable indemnity from a spouse of an injured party where the injury sustained is loss of consortium. Nonetheless, the district court construed California law to permit the action. Accordingly, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of General Motors. In so ruling, the court held that Gary Doupnik, as a joint tortfeasor who was 80 percent at fault for causing his quadriplegic condition, must indemnify General Motors for 80 percent of Sally Doupnik's $1.6 million loss of consortium award. In addition, the court held that Gary Doupnik must also pay interest on such indemnity amount "from the date of entry of judgment against General Motors," i.e., the date of the jury verdict.

On appeal, Gary Doupnik contends that: (1) the district court erred in granting General Motors' motion for summary judgment because: (a) the state court held, as a matter of fact and law, that General Motors was responsible for 100 percent of Sally Doupnik's loss of consortium and therefore General Motors is collaterally estopped from "relitigating" this issue through this indemnity action; and (b) the court premised such judgment on an erroneous interpretation of California law regarding equitable indemnity; and (2) if, arguendo, General Motors is entitled to indemnity from Gary Doupnik, then: (a) the district court erred in ordering indemnity for 80 percent of the $1.6 million judgment because General Motors waived any right to recover more than 80 percent of $1 million plus interest by appealing the state trial court's judgment rather than making immediate payment; and (b) the district court erred in concluding that Gary Doupnik must pay interest on 80 percent of the $1.6 million judgment from the date of the jury's verdict, rather than from the date the judgment was made certain by the issuance of a remittitur by the state appellate court.

ANALYSIS

We review de novo the district court's grant of summary judgment and interpretation of California state law. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Davis, 937 F.2d 1415, 1417, 1418 (9th Cir. 1991). Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, we must determine whether there are any genuine issues of material fact and whether the district court correctly applied the relevant substantive law. Id. ; Tzung v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co., 873 F.2d 1338, 1339-40 (9th Cir. 1989).

Gary Doupnik concedes that there are no genuine issues of material fact in this case. Rather, he contends that summary judgment was improper because the court based its decision on an incorrect application of relevant California law. Hence, we must review the ...


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