United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
KEVIN COHEN, ET AL.
ANTON BECKER, ET AL.
ORDER & REASONS
J. BARBIER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
OF MOTION AND RELIEF REQUESTED
the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by
The Commerce Insurance Company. (Rec. Doc.
15.) Plaintiffs filed an opposition to the motion
(Rec. Doc. 16) and Commerce filed a reply (Rec. Doc. 20).
Having considered the motion and legal memoranda, the record,
and the applicable law, the Court finds that the motion
should be DENIED.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
action derives from a motor vehicle accident in Jefferson
Parish, Louisiana that resulted in the death of Susan Abrams
Tiano. On January 10, 2016, Ms. Tiano was riding as a guest
passenger in a vehicle owned by Payless Car Rental, Inc., and
operated by Anton Becker. While approaching the intersection
of Highway 45 and Leo Kerner Lafitte Parkway, Becker
allegedly drove through a flashing red light and stop sign.
At the same time, another vehicle operated by Don Carmadelle,
Jr. was also approaching the intersection and allegedly
proceeded through a flashing yellow caution light. The
vehicle operated by Carmadelle impacted the passenger's
side where Ms. Tiano was sitting in the vehicle operated by
Becker. At the time of the incident, Becker and Carmadelle
were allegedly driving at approximately 17 and 50 miles per
hour, respectively. Ms. Tiano suffered severe injuries from
the crash. She was transferred to a hospital where she died
as a result of those injuries.
time of the collision, Becker and Carmadelle carried
automobile-liability insurance. Becker was issued a policy by
Norfolk & Dedham Mutual Fire Insurance Company
(“Norfolk”) with bodily injury liability limits
of $250, 000 per person and $500, 000 per accident.
Carmadelle was issued a policy by State Farm Mutual
Automobile Insurance Company (“State Farm”) with
bodily injury liability limits of $15, 000 per person and
$30, 000 per accident. Ms. Tiano had an Underinsured Motorist
Policy (“UM Policy”) with The Commerce Insurance
Company (“Commerce”) with bodily injury liability
limits of $100, 000 per person and $300, 000 per accident.
Kevin Cohen and Kimberly Cohen Fine, brought this suit
individually and on behalf of their deceased mother, Ms.
Tiano. Plaintiffs allege that Becker's failure to obey
traffic signals and Carmadelle's excessive rate of speed
through a yellow, flashing caution light resulted in and
caused Ms. Tiano's fatal injuries. Plaintiffs named as
Defendants, Becker, Norfolk, Carmadelle, State Farm, and
Commerce. Presently before the Court is Commerce's
Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc.
15) and Plaintiffs' opposition thereto (Rec.
Doc. 16). Commerce has also submitted a reply to
Plaintiffs' opposition. (Rec. Doc. 20.) The motion is now
before the Court on the briefs and without oral argument.
moves for summary judgment on the grounds that the UM Policy
issued to Ms. Tiano is not triggered in this case. First,
Commerce argues that Massachusetts law applies to the UM
Policy. Under Massachusetts law, underinsured
(“UM”) benefits are not available when the
tortfeasor's liability limits are greater than the UM
Policy limits. Commerce states that the bodily injury
liability limits in the policies insuring Becker and
Carmadelle - issued by Norfolk and State Farm, respectively -
are not less than the UM Policy limits issued to Ms. Tiano.
Therefore, Commerce contends that Becker and Carmadelle are
not underinsured motorists, its policy is not triggered, and
the claims against it should be dismissed as a matter of law.
oppose the motion for summary judgment. First, Plaintiffs
contend that under a choice of law analysis, Louisiana law
governs the UM Policy, not Massachusetts law. As such,
Plaintiffs state that their damages exceed the Becker and
Carmadelle's liability limits and Louisiana law allows
them to recover the full extent of their damages. Second,
Plaintiffs argue that even if Massachusetts law applies,
Commerce's motion is premature until the liability of the
parties is either admitted or judicially determined.
Plaintiffs acknowledge that Becker's liability limits
exceed that of Ms. Tiano's UM Policy limits, but note
that Carmadelle's policy limits are far less than the
subject UM Policy limits. As such, Plaintiffs maintain that
until there is a determination of liability, there is a
question of fact as to whether Ms. Tiano's UM Policy
limits are less than the tortfeasors' liability limits in
judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, the discovery and
disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that
there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that
the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)
(citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)); Little v. Liquid Air
Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (citing
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). When assessing whether a dispute as to
any material fact exists, a court considers “all of the
evidence in the record but refrain[s] from making credibility
determinations or weighing the evidence.” Delta
& Pine Land Co. v. Nationwide Agribusiness Ins. Co.,
530 F.3d 395, 398-99 (5th Cir. 2008). All reasonable
inferences are drawn in favor of the nonmoving party, but a
party cannot defeat summary judgment with conclusory
allegations or unsubstantiated assertions. Little,
37 F.3d at 1075. A court ultimately must be satisfied that
“a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the
nonmoving party.” Delta, 530 F.3d at 399.
dispositive issue is one on which the moving party will bear
the burden of proof at trial, the moving party “must
come forward with evidence which would ‘entitle it to a
directed verdict if the evidence went uncontroverted at
trial.'” Int'l Shortstop, Inc. v.
Rally's, Inc., 939 F.2d 1257, 1264-65 (5th Cir.
1991). The nonmoving party can then defeat the motion by
either countering with sufficient evidence of its own, or
“showing that the moving party's evidence is so
sheer that it may not persuade the reasonable fact-finder to
return a verdict in favor of the moving party.”
Id. at 1265.
dispositive issue is one on which the nonmoving party will
bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may
satisfy its burden by merely pointing out that the evidence
in the record is insufficient with respect to an essential
element of the nonmoving party's claim. See
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. The burden then shifts to the
nonmoving party, who must, by submitting or referring to
evidence, set out specific facts showing that a genuine issue
exists. See Id. at 324. The nonmovant may not rest
upon the pleadings, but must identify specific facts that
establish a genuine issue for trial. See, e.g.,
id. at 325; Little, 37 F.3d at 1075.
Choice of Law Analysis
Court must first determine whether Louisiana or Massachusetts
law governs the application of the UM Policy at issue.
Commerce argues that Massachusetts law applies; Plaintiffs
contend that Louisiana law applies. When determining which
state law governs, courts apply the choice of law principles
of the forum state. See Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Elec. Mfg.
Co., 313 U.S. 487, 496 (1941) (holding that in diversity
cases a federal court must apply the same conflict of laws
analysis that the state courts of the forum would use); La.
Civ. Code Ann. art. 14. Accordingly, Louisiana's conflict
of law provisions control this Court's determination of
which state's law governs the UM Policy at issue.
Louisiana Supreme Court has established that Louisiana's
UM law does not automatically apply to a UM claim under a
policy issued in another state when a Louisiana resident is
involved in the accident, even when the accident occurs in
Louisiana. Champagne v. Ward, 2003-3211, p. 22 (La.
1/19/05); 893 So.2d 773, 786. Rather, “the appropriate
starting point in a multistate case . . . is to first
determine that there is a difference between Louisiana's
UM law and the UM law of the foreign state, and then to
conduct a choice-of-law analysis, as codified ...