United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
JOHN T. GOHRANSON, et al., Plaintiffs,
SNOHOMISH COUNTY, et al., Defendants.
ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT ON WRONGFUL
DEATH AND SURVIVAL CLAIMS
S. LASNIK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter comes before the Court on the “Snohomish County
Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiff John
Gohranson's Wrongful Death and Survival Claims.”
Dkt. # 74. Mr. Gohranson is the widower and personal
representative of decedent Lindsay M. Kronberger. He has
asserted claims arising out of Ms. Kronberger death while she
was in the Snohomish County Jail and seeks damages under
Washington's wrongful death and special survivor
statutes. Defendants assert that the marriage was defunct at
the time of Ms. Kronberger's death, such that Mr.
Gohranson is not a first-tier beneficiary under Washington
law and may not assert wrongful death or survival
judgment is appropriate when, viewing the facts in the light
most favorable to the nonmoving party, there is no genuine
issue of material fact that would preclude the entry of
judgment as a matter of law. The party seeking summary
dismissal of the case “bears the initial responsibility
of informing the district court of the basis for its
motion” (Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
317, 323 (1986)) and “citing to particular parts of
materials in the record” that show the absence of a
genuine issue of material fact (Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). Once
the moving party has satisfied its burden, it is entitled to
summary judgment if the non-moving party fails to designate
“specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue
for trial.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324.
The Court will “view the evidence in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party . . . and draw all
reasonable inferences in that party's favor.”
Krechman v. County of Riverside, 723 F.3d 1104, 1109
(9th Cir. 2013). Although the Court must reserve for the jury
genuine issues regarding credibility, the weight of the
evidence, and legitimate inferences, the “mere
existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the
non-moving party's position will be insufficient”
to avoid judgment. City of Pomona v. SQM N. Am.
Corp., 750 F.3d 1036, 1049 (9th Cir. 2014); Anderson
v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986).
Factual disputes whose resolution would not affect the
outcome of the suit are irrelevant to the consideration of a
motion for summary judgment. S. Cal. Darts Ass'n v.
Zaffina, 762 F.3d 921, 925 (9th Cir. 2014). In other
words, summary judgment should be granted where the nonmoving
party fails to offer evidence from which a reasonable jury
could return a verdict in its favor. FreecycleSunnyvale
v. Freecycle Network, 626 F.3d 509, 514 (9th Cir. 2010).
reviewed the memoranda, declarations, and exhibits submitted
by the parties and taking the evidence in the light most
favorable to Mr. Gohranson, the Court finds as follows:
Kronberger and Mr. Gohranson began dating in high school and
married two and a half years after graduation while he was
stationed in Virginia with the United States Navy. They did
not have a firm or fixed plan to cohabitate. At the time, Ms.
Kronberger was living with her father and taking classes at
Everett Community College, and Mr. Gohranson was subject to
frequent and lengthy deployments. The long-distance
relationship floundered: the couple saw and spoke with each
other very infrequently, Mr. Gohranson had an affair a year
after they married, Ms. Kronberger was upset and jealous
whenever Mr. Gohranson remarked on or complimented another
woman on social media, and Ms. Kronberger's descent into
opiod addiction threatened both the relationship and Mr.
Gohranson's military career. At various points (both
before and after the marriage), Ms. Kronberger, Mr.
Gohranson's mother, and possibly even Mr. Gohranson came
to the conclusion that the relationship was at an end or was
not likely to work out. Ms. Bush, who paid Mr.
Gohranson's and Ms. Kronberger's cell phone bill
while he was deployed and took the brunt of Ms.
Kronberger's increasingly erratic and agitated behavior,
expressed a wish that Ms. Kronberger would get out of her
Gohranson last saw Ms. Kronberger on a March 2012 visit to
Washington. He was at sea for much of 2013, but acknowledges
that there were opportunities for him to visit Ms. Kronberger
had he made an effort. He explained, “we were kind of
like magnets. We would go -if we went apart, you couldn't
feel the connection. But as soon as we were any slight of
chance of close together again [sic], we would come back
together.” Moore Decl., Ex. A at 290:14-19. Their
conversations throughout this time period generally focused
on problems with the cell phone connection. By the time Mr.
Gohranson returned to Washington after Christmas in 2013, he
knew that Ms. Kronberger was addicted to opiods and was
living with another man. Whether this arrangement was
romantic or drug-related was unclear to either Mr. Gohranson
or Ms. Kronberger's father, but Mr. Gohranson made no
effort to intervene or contact Ms. Kronberger. Ms. Kronberger
died in January 2014.
Washington law, whether an estranged spouse qualifies as a
statutory beneficiary under the wrongful death and special
survival statutes depends on whether the marriage is
“defunct.” Parrish v. Jones, 44 Wn.App.
449, 456 (1986).
A defunct marriage exists where it can be determined that the
spouses, by their conduct, indicate that they no longer have
a will to union. Physical separation, by itself, does not
negate the existence of the community. The test is whether
the parties through their actions have exhibited a decision
to renounce the community with no intention of ever resuming
the marital relationship. Although previous cases in which a
defunct marriage was found involved a long separation
following entry of an interlocutory divorce decree or
execution of a written separation agreement, . . . we are
satisfied that so long as the actions of the parties evidence
an intent to renounce the marriage, no such formal action is
Id., at 456-57 (internal quotation marks and
citations omitted). A reasonable jury could, taking the
evidence in the light most favorable to Mr. Gohranson,
conclude that the marriage was not “defunct”
under Washington law. The jury could reasonably infer that
neither Mr. Gohranson nor Ms. Kronberger had finally resolved
to end their marriage before she died, much less informed the
other of that resolution or taken any concrete steps to make
it happen. While the situation looked bleak in December 2013
and the couple did not, by any stretch of the imagination,
have a storybook marriage, they had weathered a number of low
points in their seven year relationship and had continued on
as a married couple. Whether the marriage was defunct will
have to be determined by the jury.
interpret the underlying facts regarding Mr. Gohranson's
relationship with Ms. Kronberger very differently. Defendants
conclude that the marriage was simply a means for Mr.
Gohranson to obtain additional spousal and family benefits
from the military. A will to be a couple played no part or,
if it did, it withered at some unspecified point along the
rocky path between the wedding and Ms. Kronberger's
death. In defendants' view, the couple's lack of
personal interaction after March 2012, Ms. Kronberger's
threatening and expletive-filled messages to Ms. Bush and her
occasional renunciations of the marriage, Mr. Gohranson's
payment of $350/month to Ms. Kronberger after she threatened
to report him to the Navy, and his acquiescence in her
relationship with another man showed the lack of any will to
union in the future. Certainly a reasonable jury could agree
with defendants' interpretation of the undisputed events:
it is not the only reasonable conclusion, however.
recognizing that Mr. Gohranson's declaration offers
alternative explanations for events and creates a dispute
regarding the couple's intentions, ask that the Court
reject the declaration because it is self-serving,
uncorroborated, and “factually untenable.” Reply
at 7. The fact that a declaration is self-serving does not
justify the exclusion of one side's declaration, much
less the adoption of the other side's interpretation of
events. Declarations will often be self-serving -
“otherwise there would be no point in [a party]
submitting [them].” U.S. v. Shumway, 199 F.3d
1093, 1104 (9th Cir. 1999). Unless a declaration states only
conclusions or facts not within the personal knowledge of the
declarant, the self-serving nature of an affidavit goes to
its credibility, not to its admissibility. SEC v.
Phan, 500 F.3d 895, 909 (9th Cir. 2007). See also
Villiarimo v. Aloha Island Air, Inc., 281 F.3d 1054 (9th
Cir. 2002) (declaration provided no indication that the
declarant knew her uncorroborated factual assertions were
true and was therefore disregarded). The Court will not make
credibility judgments in the context of a Rule 56 motion. To
the extent Mr. Gohranson's statements are subject to
contradiction, they may be tested through cross examination
(and defendants will be given wide latitude in such cross
examinations at trial).
of the foregoing reasons, the Snohomish County
defendants' motion for summary judgment on Mr.
Gohranson's wrongful death and special survival statute
claims is DENIED.