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Baker v. Phoenix Insurance Co.

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

January 22, 2014

WILLIAM H. BAKER, Plaintiff,
v.
THE PHOENIX INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

ORDER ON MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

JAMES L. ROBART, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Before the court are Plaintiff William H. Baker's second motion for summary judgment (Baker MSJ 2 (Dkt. # 63)) and Defendant The Phoenix Insurance Company's ("Phoenix") fourth motion for summary judgment (Phoenix MSJ 4 (Dkt. # 64)). This is a car crash case. Mr. Baker was rear-ended on I-90 by a motorist who did not have enough money or insurance to pay all of Mr. Baker's medical bills. This insurance dispute followed.

As the court has previously noted, certain aspects of this case bear a strong resemblance to the mythical bird with which Defendant shares its name. Each time the court rules on a motion for summary judgment, another one seems to rise-as if by magic-to take its place. The court has expended a substantial amount of judicial resources ruling on these motions-an amount far in excess of the parties' proportionate share of the court's time. Accordingly, the court provides only a brief explanation of its decision to DENY both motions in large part, GRANTING only with respect to Mr. Baker's claim for breach of fiduciary duty. This case is rife with material fact issues regarding whether it was reasonable for Phoenix to deny Mr. Baker insurance coverage, so summary judgment is improper.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

This is an insurance coverage dispute. Mr. Baker was rear-ended on Interstate 90 by a motorist who did not have enough money or insurance to pay all of Mr. Baker's medical bills. (Compl. (Dkt. # 1-2) ¶¶ 4.1-4.3.) Now, the two sides dispute whether Mr. Baker is entitled to Uninsured-Underinsured Motorist coverage ("UIM") under a Phoenix insurance policy covering Mr. Baker's truck. Mr. Baker alleges breach of contract, bad faith, and numerous other causes of action against Pheonix. ( Id. ¶¶ 6.1-10.3.)

Mr. Baker made a UIM claim with Phoenix after his car was struck by an uninsured/underinsured[1] motorist named Sameer Mohamed. (Compl. ¶¶ 4.1-4.3.) Mr. Mohamed's car hit Mr. Baker's 1993 Dodge truck from behind, pushing it into the car directly ahead of Mr. Baker. ( Id. ¶¶ 4.3-4.5.) The parties do not dispute that Mr. Mohamed was the sole cause of the accident. Meanwhile, Mr. Baker's truck was registered in Mr. Baker's name, but it was not insured in his name. (1st Shoemaker Decl. (Dkt. # 15-4) Ex. D at 3, 7.) Instead, the truck was insured in the name of Bibb Construction LLC ("Bibb"), a company owned by Mr. Baker's adult son. ( Id at 7; Id. Ex. A.)

Phoenix denied Mr. Baker's UIM claim, informing him that he had no UIM coverage under Bibb's policy. ( Id. Ex. F.) Phoenix informed Mr. Baker that, although Bibb's policy included $1, 000, 000.00 of UIM coverage, this coverage only applied to automobiles owned by Bibb. ( Id. ) Phoenix told Mr. Baker that since he, not Bibb, owned the 1993 Dodge, it was not covered by Bibb's policy. ( Id. ) Accordingly, Phoenix denied Mr. Baker's UIM claim entirely. ( Id. )

However, as the court stated in its previous order, this issue is not as simple as Phoenix makes it out to be. It is true that Bibb's policy originally provided UIM coverage only for autos owned by Bibb. ( See id. ) However, before the accident, Mr. Baker's son contacted his insurance agent to add the 1993 Dodge to the policy. (Baker Decl. (Dkt. # 19-1) ¶¶ 4-5.) Phoenix agreed to add the Dodge and issued an endorsement to the policy that named the Dodge as an insured auto. ( See 1st Shoemaker Decl. Ex. B.) The endorsement stated that the 1993 Dodge was covered for UIM benefits (among other coverages) and that Phoenix would collect a premium for UIM coverage. ( Id. at 6.) Phoenix did collect this premium. (Baker Decl. ¶ 6.)

Mr. Baker moved for summary judgment on the coverage issue, and the court granted his motion. (9/3/13 Order (Dkt. # 47) at 4-7.) The court concluded that Mr. Baker was entitled to UIM coverage as a matter of law because the policy was ambiguous with respect to UIM benefits and, in Washington, ambiguities in insurance contracts are resolved in favor of the insured. ( See id. ) These motions for summary judgment followed.

There has been a substantial amount of motions practice in this case. This is Phoenix's fourth motion for summary judgment ( see Dkt. ## 14, 25, 42 (withdrawn), 64), and Mr. Baker's second motion for summary judgment ( see Dkt. ## 37, 63). The parties currently have 10 motions in limine pending ( see Dkt. ## 74, 77), and have filed two discovery motions ( see Dkt. ## 56, 59) for a total of 18 motions.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate if the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, demonstrates "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); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Galen v. Cnty. of L.A., 477 F.3d 652, 658 (9th Cir. 2007). A fact is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is "genuine" if the evidence is such that reasonable ...


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