United States District Court, D. Alaska
ORDER AND OPINION [Re: Motion at Docket 24]
JOHN W. SEDWICK, Senior District Judge.
I. MOTION PRESENTED
At docket 24 defendant Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company ("PIIC") moves for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff Brandi Yeager ("Yeager") responds at docket 30. PIIC replies at docket 38. Oral argument was not requested and would not assist the court.
This case presents claims arising from a 2012 automobile collision between Yeager and Hope Jackson ("Jackson"). At the time of the collision Yeager was employed by Safe and Fear-Free Environment, Inc. ("SAFE"), an organization that assists victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in the Bristol Bay area. Yeager was on "back-up duty" that night, meaning that she was required to be available to respond to calls from individuals in crisis if SAFE's on-duty employee needed assistance. According to SAFE, while Yeager was performing this duty "she had access to the SAFE vehicle and permission to use it for her back-up duties." The exact scope of this permission is in dispute. SAFE's "Director Services Coordinator, " Karen Carpenter ("Carpenter"), stated that SAFE allows its employees performing "back-up" or "on-call" duty to use the SAFE vehicle if they "don't happen to have a personal vehicle" or if they need to transport clients. For example, Carpenter stated that Yeager could have used the vehicle if she "had to go out on call, " if she had to come into work, or if she had to go to court on the weekend.
On the night of the collision Yeager drove the SAFE vehicle to a bar where she consumed alcohol. After leaving the bar Yeager's blood alcohol content ("BAC") was above the legal limit. Her vehicle collided with Jackson's, injuring herself, her passenger Wassily Kyakwok ("Kyakwok"), Jackson, and Jackson's passenger. SAFE terminated Yeager's employment the next day stating that Yeager had used SAFE's vehicle "for personal use without authorization" and drove it while intoxicated "in violation of state law and SAFE's policies."
Kyakwok brought a negligence action against Yeager in state court. Yeager's responsive pleading includes a "counterclaim" against PIIC in which she alleges that she is entitled to a declaration that she is owed benefits pursuant to the uninsured motorist ("UIM") and medical payments coverage found in SAFE's automobile insurance policy with PIIC ("the Policy"). PIIC removed the case to this court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The case was then severed-Kyakwok's negligence claim against Yeager was remanded to state court, and this court retained jurisdiction over Yeager's declaratory judgment claim against PIIC. PIIC now moves for summary judgment.
III. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Summary judgment is appropriate where "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." The materiality requirement ensures that "only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Ultimately, "summary judgment will not lie if the... evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." However, summary judgment is mandated under Rule 56(c) "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial."
The moving party has the burden of showing that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact. Where the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial on a dispositive issue, the moving party need not present evidence to show that summary judgment is warranted; it need only point out the lack of any genuine dispute as to material fact. Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must set forth evidence of specific facts showing the existence of a genuine issue for trial. All evidence presented by the non-movant must be believed for purposes of summary judgment, and all justifiable inferences must be drawn in favor of the non-movant. However, the non-moving party may not rest upon mere allegations or denials, but must show that there is sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute to require a fact-finder to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial.
The parties agree that Yeager is an "insured" under the Policy's UIM endorsement because she was occupying a covered automobile at the time of the crash. PIIC argues that Yeager's claim is nevertheless precluded by the UIM endorsement's Exclusion C.7 ("the exclusion clause"), which states that UIM coverage "does not apply to... [a]nyone using a vehicle without a reasonable belief that the person is entitled to do so." Yeager disagrees, arguing that the exclusion clause is void because it violates Alaska statutory law and, alternatively, the clause does not apply under the facts of this case.
A. Yeager's Statutory Arguments
Yeager argues that the exclusion clause is void because it violates AS 28.20.440(b) and AS 21.96.020(c). The first statute is part of the Motor Vehicle Safety Responsibility Act ("MVSRA"), codified as Title 28, chapter 20, of the Alaska Statutes. All automobile policies issued in Alaska must meet the content requirements imposed by the MVSRA. Among other things, the requirements found at AS 28.20.440(b) provide that every liability policy must (1) insure the named insured, "and every other person using the vehicle with the express or implied permission of the named insured, against loss from the liability imposed by law for damages arising out of the... use of the vehicle.;" and (2) contain uninsured motorist coverage for ...