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06/24/93 NORTHBROOK INSURANCE COMPANY v. UNITED

June 24, 1993

NORTHBROOK INSURANCE COMPANY, APPELLANT
v.
UNITED SERVICES AUTOMOBILE ASSOCIATION, APPELLEE



Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. John H. Suda, Trial Judge)

Before Terry and Schwelb, Associate Judges, and Belson, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schwelb

SCHWELB, Associate Judge: This appeal requires us to resolve a controversy between two insurance companies regarding their respective responsibilities in connection with an automobile accident caused by the negligence of the operator of a rented vehicle. We affirm the trial court's holding, on cross-motions for summary judgment, that the rental company's insurer is solely responsible for compensating the driver of the other vehicle for his injuries (and the driver's wife for alleged loss of consortium), and that the company which insured the individual who rented the car (but who was not operating it at the time of the accident) has no liability.

I.

THE CONTROVERSY

Almost eight years ago, on July 26, 1985, Mlle. Maria Claudel, a resident of France, was operating a car which Major Carl McCarden, a resident of St. Croix, V.I., had rented in Falls Church, Virginia from Adjusters Auto Rental, Inc. (Adjusters), d/b/a Jiffy Auto Rental. As she approached a traffic light on Massachusetts Avenue in northwest Washington, D.C., Mlle. Claudel "had a blank" and her foot slipped off the brake. The vehicle, which was equipped with an automatic transmission, rear-ended a truck which was being operated by Mitchell Goodrum, a resident of Maryland.

Goodrum suffered serious injuries to his back, and he and his wife promptly filed a suit in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, based on diversity of citizenship, against McCarden, Mlle. Claudel, and Adjusters. The Goodrums moved for partial summary judgment as to liability. On December 19, 1988, a federal district Judge granted the motion, holding that the accident was caused by Mlle. Claudel's negligence and that she was operating the vehicle with the consent of Major McCarden and Adjusters. Goodrum v. McCarden, et al., C.A. No. 85-3396 SSH (D.D.C. Dec. 20, 1988). The case was subsequently settled for $125,000.

Adjusters was insured by appellant Northbrook Insurance Company. So far as the record shows, Mlle. Claudel had no relevant insurance. McCarden had several policies with appellee United Services Automobile Association (USAA). Northbrook paid $25,000 towards the settlement; USAA paid $100,000. It was agreed between Adjusters, Northbrook and USAA that any applicable insurance coverage dispute between these parties would be decided in an action for a declaratory judgment.

On March 25, 1992, USAA filed the present action against Northbrook and Adjusters. *fn1 The facts were largely undisputed. Northbrook and USAA each filed a motion for summary judgment. The trial Judge granted USAA's motion and denied Northbrook's. This appeal followed.

II.

THE APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARD

In reviewing an order granting or denying a motion for summary judgment, this court "applies the same standard as the trial court in considering the motion for summary judgment." Read v. Legg, 493 A.2d 1013, 1016 (D.C. 1985) (footnote omitted) (citing Holland v. Hannan, 456 A.2d 807, 814 (D.C. 1983)). The moving party must establish that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that he or she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Super. Ct. Civ. R. 56 (c). On appeal, this court

must conduct an independent review of the record . . . determine whether any relevant factual issues exist by examining and taking into account the pleadings, depositions, and admissions along with any affidavits on file, . . . construing such material in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.

Graff v. Malawer, 592 A.2d 1038, 1040 (D.C. 1991) (citations omitted). "The test for deciding a motion for summary judgment is essentially the same as that for a motion for a directed verdict." Beard v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., 587 A.2d 195, 199 (D.C. 1991).

Moreover,

in limited circumstances, where the parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment and the motions "are based on the same material facts and address the same legal issues," the filing of the cross-motions may evidence the absence of any genuine issue of material fact.

Read, supra, 493 A.2d at 1016 (citing Holland, supra, 456 A.2d at 814 n.9). When there is no dispute as to any material fact, the issue on appeal is whether the movant was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Basch v. George Washington Univ., 370 A.2d 1364, 1366, (D.C. 1977).

In the present case, the facts are almost entirely undisputed. The questions presented to us are thus questions of law, and we therefore review the trial Judge's Disposition of them de novo.

III.

THE INSURANCE POLICIES ...


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