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State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company v. David Ramos

February 2, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Judge United States District Court Southern District of Indiana


Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [doc. 14]

Plaintiff's Motion to Strike Exhibits [doc. 17]

While riding as a passenger in a car owned and operated by David Hoover, defendant David Ramos was injured when a firearm that was brought into the car by another passenger, Robert James, discharged. Mr. Ramos filed a claim for his injuries under the uninsured-motorist's coverage of his automobile insurance policy with plaintiff State Farm Mutual Automobile Company. In this suit and in the present motion for summary judgment, State Farm seeks a declaratory judgment that it "is not obligated under the policy to provide uninsured motorist coverage for the damages caused to Defendant by Robert James . . . ." Amended Complaint [doc. 12] at 2 (prayer for relief). For the reasons explained herein, State Farm's motion for summary judgment is granted.

Following his injury, Mr. Ramos sued both Mr. Hoover and Mr. James in state court for negligence. The trial court granted a default judgment against Mr. James and granted summary judgment in favor of Mr. Hoover. While the court held that it was a jury question whether Mr. Hoover owed a duty to Mr. Ramos, it ruled as a matter of law that Mr. Ramos incurred the risk of his injury and, therefore, could not recover from Mr. Hoover. On an unspecified date, Mr. Ramos presented a claim to State Farm, his insurer, under his "Car Policy," seeking $150,000*fn1 in uninsured motorist coverage for damages inflicted by Mr. James. Amended Complaint [doc. 12] & 6 and Exhibit A. In June 2010, shortly after Mr. Ramos appealed and Mr. Hoover cross-appealed the state trial court's rulings regarding Mr. Hoover's liability, State Farm filed the present action in this Court seeking a declaratory judgment that there is no coverage under the policy for Mr. Ramos' injuries.

On October 5, 2010, the Indiana Court of Appeals issued an unpublished decision reversing both of the trial court's rulings regarding Mr. Hoover's liability and affirming its grant of judgment in favor of Mr. Hoover. The Court of Appeals summarized the relevant facts:

On July 17, 2005, Hoover picked up Ramos at his house and together they attended a wedding in Marion, Indiana. After the wedding, they drove to the wedding reception in Gas City, Indiana. Once they arrived at the wedding reception, Ramos started drinking. At some point in the evening, Robert James (James) arrived at the reception with a woman whom Ramos presumed to be James' ex-wife. Ramos saw James become intoxicated, smoke marijuana, and take seizure medication pills. Ramos also noticed that James had a gun in the waistband of his pants and saw him flashing the gun around by pulling up his shirt and showing the gun handle to everyone at the reception. The fact that James had a gun concerned Ramos, because he stated that "[James] was intoxicated, [and] people do stupid things when they're intoxicated." (Appellant's App. p. 55). Ramos had also heard during the evening that James was mad at somebody his ex-wife used to work with and witnessed James get into an argument with his ex-wife at the reception. (Appellant's App. p. 54).

At some point before Hoover and Ramos left the reception, James asked Hoover for a ride home. Ramos was aware that James would be riding in the car with them. Hoover, Ramos, James and another passenger, John Manton (Manton), were driving back to Marion, Indiana, and James sat in the back seat behind Ramos. Ramos heard Manton say to James "What are you doing?" and then heard the gun cock. (Appellant's App. pp. 113-14). After that noise, James' gun discharged and the bullet grazed the side of Ramos' head.

Ramos v. James, 934 N.E.2d 1268 (unpublished decision), 2010 WL 3873006, *1 (Ind. Ct. App., Oct. 5, 2010). On the question of Mr. Hoover's liability, the Court of Appeals first held that the trial court erred when it treated Mr. Ramos' incurred risk as a complete defense rather than as "'subsumed by the concept of fault in our comparative fault scheme.'" Id. (quoting Heck v. Robey, 659 N.E.2d 498, 504 (Ind. 1995), abrogated on other grounds, Control Technologies, Inc. v. Johnson, 762 N.E.2d 104 (Ind. 2002)). But Mr. Ramos obtained no benefit from this victory because the Court next ruled in Mr. Hoover's favor on his cross appeal, holding that the trial court also erred when it denied summary judgment on the issue of Mr. Hoover's duty to Mr. Ramos. The Court of Appeals relied on the standard for determining whether a duty exists that it declared in Wagner v. Spurlock, 803 N.E.2d 1174 (Ind. Ct. App. 2004):

We held that as a general rule there is no duty to control the conduct of a third person as to prevent him from causing physical harm to another unless a special relationship exists between the actor and the third person which imposes a duty upon the actor to control the third person's conduct, or a special relationship exists between the actor and other which gives to the other a right to protection.

Ramos, 2010 WL 3873006, * 3. The Court then found, based on the facts of this case:

Here, we find that there was no special relationship between Hoover and Ramos giving Ramos a right of protection or between Hoover and James giving Hoover a right of control. In the absence of such a relationship, there is no duty owed by Hoover to Ramos, and summary judgment should have been entered on this basis.

Id. Thus finding that Mr. Hoover was not liable to Mr. Ramos, the Court affirmed the trial court's summary judgment against Mr. Ramos' claim against Mr. Hoover.

On October 26, 2010, State Farm filed the present motion for summary judgment, which "should be rendered if 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." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2). The uninsured ...

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