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Tran ex rel Estate of Le v. Carr

April 21, 2010

THOMAS TRAN EX REL. ESTATE OF TUYET THI LE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ANTHONY CARR, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

The plaintiff, Thomas Tran, the personal representative of the estate of Tuyet Thi Le ("Ms. Le"), filed this action in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia ("Superior Court") against Anthony Carr ("Mr. Carr"), the Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania (the "Pa. Insurance Co."), and the American International Group (the "AI Group"), seeking damages and insurance policy benefits arising from an automobile accident that occurred in November 2007. See generally Notice of Removal (Plaintiff's Complaint for Negligence and Declaratory Judgment ("Compl.")). The case was removed to this Court, id., and thereafter the plaintiff stipulated to the dismissal of Mr. Carr. Docket Entry Number 20 (Stipulation of Partial Dismissal). Currently before the Court are the plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment, and the Pa. Insurance Co.'s and the AI Group's (collectively, the "defendants") cross-motion for summary judgment.*fn1 After considering the parties' written submissions and the record before it, for the reasons set forth below the Court must deny the plaintiff's motion and grant summary judgment to the defendants.

I. BACKGROUND

The facts giving rise to this lawsuit are not in dispute. On November 15, 2007, an automobile driven by Mr. Carr struck and killed Ms. Le as she was crossing the street as a pedestrian at the intersection of Connecticut Avenue and Ellicot Street in the District of Columbia. Pl.'s Mem. at 1-2. Mr. Carr had automobile insurance with another insurance company, and that company eventually paid the plaintiff the full policy limit of $25,000. Id. at 3.

At the time of the accident, Ms. Le was living with her daughter, Khanh Mai Do ("Ms. Do"), who was employed as the deputy defense attaché at the Embassy of Vietnam (the "Embassy"). Id. at 2. The defendants provided automobile insurance to the Embassy. Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 1. See generally Defs.' Mem., Exhibit ("Ex.") A (Certificate of Liability Insurance) (the "Policy").*fn2 The Policy covered two automobiles, a 2003 Mercury Grand Marquis and a 2006 Toyota Sienna, Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 1, which Ms. Do had access to as part of her employment, Pl.'s Mem. at 2. Significantly, neither car was involved in the accident. Defs.' Stmt. ¶ 7; Notice of Removal (Compl. ¶ 7).

In relevant part, the Policy provides for $100,000 in uninsured motorist benefits. Defs.' Mem., Ex. A, at 1. According to the Policy,

The [Pa. Insurance Co.] will pay all sums which the insured or his legal representative shall be legally entitled to recover as damages from the owner or operator of an uninsured automobile because of bodily injury or property damage sustained by the insured, caused by accident and arising out of ownership, maintenance or use of such uninsured automobiles.*fn3

Id. at 13. The term "insured" is not defined in the uninsured motorist provision, see id. however, it is defined elsewhere in the Policy, in part, as "the named insured and resident relatives legally responsible for the use thereof, provided the actual use of the automobile is by the named insured or with his permission. The insurance with respect to any person or organization other than the named insured does not apply." Id. at 7.

On the page of the Policy entitled "Certificate of Liability Insurance," the entity listed as the "insured" is the "Embassy of Vietnam Defense Office." Id. at 1. Several pages later, on the renewal declarations page for the "Diplomat Auto Program," the "Named Insured" is designated as the "Vietnam Defense Attache."*fn4 Id. at 4. Ms. Do's name appears in the Policy in two places: she is named as one of the four "Primary Driver[s]" of the 2003 Grand Marquis, id. at 5, and she is listed under the heading "Driver Information," which includes "drivers who frequently use [their] own vehicles." Id. at 2. Ms. Le's name does not appear anywhere in the Policy. See id. at 1-16.

As noted earlier, the plaintiff commenced this lawsuit in the Superior Court seeking damages of one million dollars from Mr. Carr, Notice of Removal (Compl. ¶¶ 8-12),*fn5 and a declaratory judgment that the defendants owe him $100,000 pursuant to the uninsured motorist provision in the Policy. Id. (Compl. ¶¶ 13-19). The defendants subsequently removed the case to this Court, invoking 28 U.S.C. § 1364 (2006), a direct action statute granting federal district courts exclusive jurisdiction in any civil action, regardless of the amount in controversy, filed by any person against an insurer who by contract insures a member of a diplomatic mission. Notice of Removal ¶ 5; see 28 U.S.C. § 1364(a) ("The district courts shall have original and exclusive jurisdiction, without regard to the amount in controversy, of any civil action commenced by any person against an insurer who by contract has insured an individual, who is, or was at the time of the tortious act or omission, a member of a mission (within the meaning of section 2(3) of the Diplomatic Relations Act (22 U.S.C. 254a(3))) or a member of the family of such a member of a mission . . . .").*fn6 The defendants admit issuing the Policy to the Embassy, but deny that Ms. Do was a named insured and further deny that the insurance coverage extended to Ms. Le. See Notice of Removal (Answer of Defendants Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania and American International Group, Inc. ¶ 14). Both parties now seek summary judgment.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Courts will grant a motion for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) if "the pleadings, depositions, 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). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, courts must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Bayer v. U.S. Dep't of Treasury, 956 F.2d 330, 333 (D.C. Cir. 1992). The nonmoving party, however, cannot rely on "mere allegations or denials . . . , but . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there [are] genuine issue[s] for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Under Rule 56, "if a party fails 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," summary judgment is warranted. Hazward v. Runyon, 14 F. Supp. 2d 120, 122 (D.D.C. 1998) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The party moving for summary judgment bears the burden of establishing the absence of evidence that supports the non-moving party's case. Id. In considering a motion for summary judgment, "the court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and it may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence." Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods. Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000) (citations omitted). Finally, "when ruling on cross-motions for summary judgment, the court shall grant summary judgment only if one of the moving parties is entitled to judgment as a matter of law upon material facts that are not genuinely in dispute." Teva Pharm. Indus. Ltd. v. Food & Drug Admin., 355 F. Supp. 2d 111, 116 (D.D.C. 2004) (quoting Barr Labs., Inc. v. Thompson, 238 F. Supp. 2d, 236, 244 (D.D.C. 2002).

III. LEGAL ANALYSIS

The central issue for the Court is whether Ms. Le qualifies as an insured under the Policy. The plaintiff argues that because the Policy lists Ms. Do as a driver in two places, and because a column adjacent to one of those listings "has a category for 'Additional Insured [and] Loss Payee," Ms. Do therefore qualifies as a named insured. Pl.'s Mem. at 5; see also Defs.' Mem., Ex. A at 5. The plaintiff then claims that because the Policy defines the term "insured" in part as "the insured and resident relatives," Ms. Do's status as an insured therefore extends to her mother, Ms. Le. Pl.'s Mem. at 5-6. According to the plaintiff, interpreting the Policy in this fashion would be "consistent with the reasonable expectations of the Defense ...


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