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McLin v. Stafford

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

December 27, 2019

DORIS MCLIN
v.
JACOB STAFFORD, ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY, AND SAFEWAY INSURANCE COMPANY OF LOUISIANA (UNINSURED/UNDERINSURED)

          On Appeal from the 21 st Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of Livingston State of Louisiana Trial Court No. 150, 362 Honorable Charlotte H. Foster, Judge Presiding

          Peyton P. Murphy Marcus J. Plaisance Byron M. Hutchinson Attorneys for Plaintiff -Appellee, Doris McLin

          Tracy L. Oakley Attorney for Defendant -Appellant, Safeway Insurance Company of Louisiana

          H. Minor Pipes, III Catherine Fornias Giarrusso, Attorneys for Defendant -Appellee, Safeco Insurance Company of Oregon

          BEFORE: HIGGINBOTHAM, PENZATO, AND LANIER, JJ.

          HIGGINBOTHAM, J.

         The issue before us in this summary judgment is whether an insurance policy provides liability coverage for a defendant driver.

         BACKGROUND

         On November 21, 2014, Jacob Stafford was driving a vehicle owned by his mother, Jean Stafford, when he rear-ended a stopped vehicle in front of him at a red light. The driver of the other vehicle, Doris McLin, filed a petition for damages against Jacob, his liability insurer, Allstate Insurance Company, and Safeway Insurance Company of Louisiana, which is Doris's underinsured motorist (UM) carrier. After settling with Allstate, Doris amended her petition to add a claim against Safeco Insurance Company of Oregon. Safeco was alleged to be a purported second liability insurer of Jacob under a policy issued to Jean, as the owner of the vehicle Jacob was driving, and under another policy issued to Jacob's brother, Jordan Stafford, with whom Jacob was allegedly residing at the time of the accident. Jordan and Jacob were adults at the time of the accident.

         Because Jacob was not an actual additional insured under the policy issued to Jean, Safeco was dismissed on summary judgment as to that claim. As for the policy issued to Jordan, Safeco moved for summary judgment on the basis that Jacob did not reside in Jordan's household on the date of the accident and thus, he was not covered by the policy since he was not a "family member" of Jordan's as defined by the policy terms. In support of its motion, Safeco offered Jordan's deposition testimony that Jacob did not reside with him on the date of the accident and had never lived with him. Safeco also offered Jacob's deposition testimony that he could not remember and was "not exactly sure" where he was living on the accident date. Additionally, Safeco offered an affidavit by Jacob attesting to the fact that he "was not living with anyone at the time of the accident who had an automobile policy issued which may have provided coverage to him."

         Doris did not respond to Safeco's motion for summary judgment; however, Doris's UM carrier, Safeway, opposed it by relying on Jacob's deposition testimony that he could not recall where he was residing but he believed it was with Jordan. Safeway also relied on Jordan's deposition statement that he was not sure where Jacob was living, but he did not believe it was with him. Safeway argued that the critical question of residency was a genuine issue of material fact that needed to go to trial since the brothers disagreed on Jacob's residency at the time of the accident. After a hearing on October 22, 2018, the trial court granted Safeco's motion for summary judgment and dismissed Safeco from the litigation. Safeway appeals, claiming the trial court made inappropriate credibility determinations on the residency issue. Safeway requests that this court reverse the summary judgment and remand the case for further proceedings.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         After an opportunity for adequate discovery, a motion for summary judgment shall be granted if the motion, memorandum, and supporting documents show there is no genuine issue as to material fact and that the mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. La. Code Civ. P. art. 966(A)(3). The burden of proof on motion for summary judgment rests on the mover. But if the mover will not bear the burden of proof at trial on the issue that is before the court on the motion, the mover's burden does not require him to negate all essential elements of the adverse party's claim, action, or defense. Instead, the mover must point out the absence of factual support for one or more elements essential to the adverse party's claim, action, or defense. The burden is then on the adverse party to produce factual support sufficient to establish the existence of a genuine issue of material fact or that the mover is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law. La. Code of Civil P. art. 966(D)(1). Because it is the applicable substantive law that determines materiality, whether a particular fact in dispute is material can be seen only in light of the substantive law applicable to the case. Talbert v. Restoration Hardware, Inc., 2017-0986 (La.App. 1st Cir. 5/31/18), 251 So.3d 532, 535, writ denied, 2018-1102 (La. 10/15/18), 253 So.3d 1304.

         The summary judgment procedure is favored and shall be construed to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action. La. Code Civ. P. art. 966(A)(2). In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, appellate courts review evidence de novo under the same criteria that govern the trial court's determination of whether summary judgment is appropriate. Thompson v. Center for Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, L.L.C., 2017-1088 (La.App. 1st Cir. 3/15/18), 244 So.3d 441, 444, writ denied, 2018-0583 (La. 6/1/18), 243 So.3d 1062. Factual inferences reasonably drawn from the evidence must be construed in favor of the party opposing a motion for summary judgment, and all doubt must be resolved in the opponent's favor. Id. at 445. However, mere conclusory allegations, improbable inferences, and unsupported speculation will not support a finding of a genuine issue of material fact. Guillory v. The Chimes, 2017-0479 (La.App. 1st Cir. 12/21/17), 2 ...


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