April 21, 2014
State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.
Submitted: April 2, 2014
On Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. DENIED.
Gary S. Nitsche, Esquire Nicholas M. Krayer, Esquire Weik, Nitsche, Dougherty, & Galbraith Attorneys for Plaintiff
Colin M. Shalk, Esquire Casarino Christman Shalk Ransom & Doss, P.A. Attorney for Defendant
Defendant automobile insurance company ("State Farm") has moved for summary judgment against Plaintiff Wigsonett Cruz-Miranda's declaratory judgment claim. The Court concludes that the conflicting deposition testimony as to whether or not a misrepresentation occurred creates a question of material fact that must be resolved by a jury. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is therefore DENIED.
II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff claims he was injured in a motor vehicle accident with Cipriano Piñeda-Ayala ("Ayala"). Ayala was driving a car registered and insured, under a State Farm policy, to Norma Bedolla ("Bedolla"). State Farm denied Plaintiff's claim based on Bedolla's representations that Ayala did not have permission to drive the vehicle.
Plaintiff subsequently obtained a default judgment against Ayala regarding liability and then filed suit against State Farm via an assignment of Ayala's rights.Plaintiff's current declaratory judgment claim against State Farm is based upon Ayala's testimony during the default judgment inquisition hearing in which he testified he was permitted to drive the vehicle.
During initial depositions for the current claim, Ayala stated that he had permission to operate Bedolla's vehicle while Bedolla stated that he did not. After further questioning, Bedolla later changed her testimony to state that the vehicle was actually Ayala's, but registered and insured under her name. Bedolla stated all payments for the vehicle and insurance were from money given to her by Ayala. In Ayala's re-deposition, he also then somewhat ambiguously claimed that the vehicle was purchased, at least partially, for his use, but was titled and insured in Bedolla's name because he was not able to have it in his own name.
Based on the depositions and the fact that Ayala and Bedolla's testimony was, at the conclusion of discovery, each consistent with the other's testimony, State Farm now takes the position that the insurance coverage is void ab initio due to the fraudulent arrangement between Bedolla and Ayala. Plaintiff, to the contrary, asserts that the conflicting depositions of Bedolla and Ayala create a question of material fact as to whether fraud occurred which must be resolved by a jury.
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Summary judgment is appropriate where there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Once a moving party establishes that no material facts are disputed, the non-moving party bears the burden to demonstrate a material fact issue by offering admissible evidence. The non-moving party must do "more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to material facts." The Delaware Supreme Court describes the restrictions on summary judgment as follows:
Under no circumstances, however, will summary judgment be granted when, from the evidence produced, there is a reasonable indication that a material fact is in dispute. Nor will summary judgment be granted if, upon an examination of all the facts, it seems desirable to inquire thoroughly into them in order to clarify the application of the law to the circumstances.
In considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.
This Court finds that in this case that there is still a "reasonable indication that a material fact is in dispute." This claim relies heavily on the relationship of the parties and their understanding of the ownership of the vehicle. The jury, as finder of fact, must resolve whether or not a misrepresentation to State Farm occurred based on the pretrial testimony of Bedolla and Ayala in their depositions and any trial testimony that they may offer. Although Bedolla and Ayala's testimony ultimately evolved to the point where they currently both appear to be asserting a similar narrative, their testimony could possibly change again at trial. "[T]rial courts should act … with caution in granting summary judgment [and] the trial court may … deny summary judgment in a case where there is reason to believe that the better course would be to proceed to a full trial." In the case at bar, material facts relating to the use or ownership of the motor vehicle are not locked in at this juncture. This Court adopts a "cautio[us]" approach and finds "upon an examination of all the facts, it seems desirable to inquire thoroughly into them in order to clarify the application of the law to the circumstances" in this case. The best course of action would be to proceed to a full trial so that the factual dispute as to whether fraud occurred can be resolved by a jury.
For the foregoing reasons, Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Richard R. Cooch, R.J.