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State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. v. General Motors, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

May 16, 2014

STATE FARM FIRE & CASUALTY COMPANY A/S/O KENNETH BURKHART, Plaintiff,
v.
GENERAL MOTORS, LLC, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

RUDY LOZANO, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on: (1) Defendant General Motors LLC's Motion for Summary Judgment, filed on September 24, 2013; and (2) Plaintiff's Motion to Stay Decision of Summary Judgment Pending Outcome of State Court Appeal, filed on November 20, 2013. For the reasons set forth below, the motion for summary judgment is GRANTED. Further, because the state court appeal has been completed, State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Niswander, No. 35A02-1307-CT-638, 2014 WL 1383254 (Ind.Ct.App. April 9, 2014), the motion to stay is DENIED as moot. Accordingly, the clerk is ORDERED to dismiss this case with prejudice.

BACKGROUND

On January 11, 2010, Kenneth Burkhart's 2006 GMC Sierra caught fire at his home, damaging the home as well as personal property. On May 7, 2013, State Farm filed this five-count subrogation action in Huntington Superior Court, as the insurer of the damaged home and three automobiles, including the 2006 GMC Sierra (hereinafter the "vehicle") owned by State Farm's insured, Kenneth Burkhart. State Farm contends the fire was caused by a defect in the vehicle. Specifically, Count I alleges defective manufacturing of the vehicle; Count II alleges defective design of the vehicle; Count III alleges negligent manufacturing of the vehicle; Count IV alleges negligent design of the vehicle; and Count V alleges General Motors breached its implied warranty of merchantability. On June 10, 2013, General Motors removed this case to this Court.

In the instant motion for summary judgment, General Motors argues that each of State Farm's claims are outside the applicable statute of limitations and, thus, must be dismissed because they are time barred. In response, State Farm concedes Count V should be dismissed. (DE# 22, p. 9). Thus, this Court must determine if Counts I-IV are barred by the applicable statute of limitations.

DISCUSSION

Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment must be granted when "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). A genuine issue of material fact exists when "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Not every dispute between the parties makes summary judgment inappropriate; "[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Id. To determine whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must construe all facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Ogden v. Atterholt, 606 F.3d 355, 358 (7th Cir. 2010). A party opposing a properly supported summary judgment motion may not rely on allegations in her own pleading, but rather must "marshal and present the court with the evidence she contends will prove her case." Goodman v. Nat'l Sec. Agency, Inc., 621 F.3d 651, 654 (7th Cir. 2010). If the non-moving party fails to establish the existence of an essential element on which he or she bears the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment is proper. Massey v. Johnson, 457 F.3d 711, 716 (7th Cir. 2006).

Facts

On January 10, 2010, the vehicle caught fire at Burkhart's home, causing damage to the home and personal property. As the insurer, State Farm's Product Investigation Unit sent a written notice to General Motors a few days after the fire, advising of the fire and State Farm's potential subrogation against General Motors. (DE#24, Ex. B). Specifically, State Farm wrote, "[o]ur preliminary investigation indicates that General Motors may be responsible for this loss. Please consider this as our notice of possible subrogation and our notice to you of the opportunity to schedule an inspection of vehicle/undisturbed scene." (DE #24, Ex. B). In response to State Farm, ESIS, General Motors' third-party administrator, wrote "[y]our correspondence alleges that your insured sustained property damages as a result of a manufacturer's product defect. However, insufficient technical documentation was provided relative to any alleged defect." (DE #24, Ex. C).

State Farm retained Herndon & Associates to conduct an origin and cause investigation of the fire, which included an examination of the vehicle. (DE #18, Ex. B). In his February 1, 2010, Origin and Cause Report, Timothy Herndon concluded:

[I]t is the opinion of this Investigator that the fire was an accidental combustible fluid fire. It is further the opinion of this Investigator that he fire originated in the ignition of oil leaking from the valve cover/gasket on the right or passenger's side engine onto hot surfaces of the manifold and upon ignition the fire extended upward and outward from that location causing the damage present. The fire is classified as an accidental fire.

(DE# 18, Ex. B, p. 8).

Mechanic Edward Nightingale, also of Herndon & Associates, conducted a mechanical examination of the engine, including an inspection of the rocker cover and gasket, and authored an accompanying report. (DE# 18, Ex. B, pp. ...


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