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Southern Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Co. v. Patton

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Eastern Division

January 26, 2015



JAMES M. MOODY, Jr., District Judge.

Pending are the parties' cross motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth herein, Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, docket # 14, is GRANTED. Defendants' motion for summary judgment, docket # 18, is DENIED.


Plaintiff, Southern Farm Bureau Casualty Insurance Company, ("Farm Bureau") filed its Complaint for Declaratory Judgment in this Court on June 13, 2013. Farm Bureau seeks a judgment as a matter of law finding that it owes no coverage under policy #MV00693913 and that the policy does not apply to any damages arising out of an automobile accident which occurred on October 20, 2011 because the driver of the insured vehicle was neither a named insured or a permissive user of the vehicle at the time in question. Defendants filed counterclaims against Farm Bureau seeking a finding by the Court that the subject Farm Bureau policy provided coverage to Raymond Gibson as a permissive user of the vehicle when the accident occurred.

Raymond Gibson and Belinda Patton were injured in a single vehicle accident on October 20, 2011, in Phillips County, Arkansas. At the time of the accident Mr. Gibson was operating and Belinda Patton was occupying, a 2001 Chevrolet Silverado owned by Tim Thomas and insured under Farm Bureau Motor Vehicle Policy #MV00693913. Mr. Gibson was not a named insured under the policy in question. However, Defendants argue that he was insured as a permissive user.

Raymond Gibson is a self-employed auto mechanic at Gibson's Garage in Phillips County, Arkansas. On October 20, 2011, Tim Thomas dropped his vehicle off at Gibson's Garage to have a window regulator repaired, he left the keys in the car. Gibson had worked on the Thomases' vehicles numerous times. Mr. Gibson testified that he drove the vehicle to pick up a part. Mr. Gibson claims that it was his common practice to drive his customer's vehicles. Mr. and Mrs Thomas testified that they did not give Mr. Gibson permission to drive the vehicle. Belinda Patton was at Gibson's shop when he drove the vehicle to pick up the part. Mr. Gibson took Patton with him so she would not be at the shop alone. While in route to pick up the part in the Thomases' vehicle, Gibson and Patton were involved in a singe vehicle accident.

The subject policy provided personal bodily injury limits of $50, 000 per person and med-pay limits of $5, 000 per person. As a result of the accident, Patton and Gibson incurred medical bills and expenses in excess of $5, 000 each and Gibson lost part of his lower extremity. On or about April 4, 2013, Patton obtained a default judgment against Gibson in the amount of $100, 000 in Phillips County case number CV-12-96 styled, Belinda Patton v. Raymond Gibson. Patton made a formal demand on Farm Bureau to satisfy the default judgment. Farm Bureau failed to pay any portion of the default judgment claiming that there is no coverage for the subject accident.

Standard for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate only when there is no genuine issue of material fact, so that the dispute may be decided solely on legal grounds. Holloway v. Lockhart, 813 F.2d 874 (8th Cir. 1987); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. The Supreme Court has established guidelines to assist trial courts in determining whether this standard has been met:

The inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is the need for a trial - whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.

Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986).

The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has cautioned that summary judgment should be invoked carefully so that no person will be improperly deprived of a trial of disputed factual issues. Inland Oil & Transport Co. v. United States, 600 F.2d 725 (8th Cir. 1979), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 991 (1979). The Eighth Circuit set out the burden of the parties in connection with a summary judgment motion in Counts v. M.K. Ferguson Co., 862 F.2d 1338 (8th Cir. 1988):

[T]he burden on the moving party for summary judgment is only to demonstrate, i.e., [to] point out to the District Court, ' that the record does not disclose a genuine dispute on a material fact. It is enough for the movant to bring up the fact that the record does not contain such an issue and to identify that part of the record which bears out his assertion. Once this is done, his burden is discharged, and, if the record in fact bears out the claim that no genuine dispute exists on any material fact, it is then the respondent's burden to set forth affirmative evidence, specific facts, showing that there is a genuine dispute on that issue. If the respondent fails to carry that burden, summary judgment should be granted.

Id. at 1339. (quoting City of Mt. Pleasant v. Associated Elec. Coop., 838 F.2d 268, 273-274 (8th Cir. 1988) (citations omitted)(brackets in original)). Only disputes over facts that may affect the outcome of the suit under governing law will properly ...

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