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Johnson v. Auto-Owners Insurance Co.

March 19, 2009

TANYA JOHNSON AND TIFFANY JOHNSON, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
AUTO-OWNERS INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ralph R. Erickson, District Judge United States District Court

ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Auto-Owners Insurance Company ("Auto-Owners") (Doc. #18). Plaintiffs Tanya Johnson and Tiffany Johnson ("the Johnsons") have filed a brief in opposition (Doc. #24). The Court has carefully considered the briefs and documents filed by the parties and now issues this memorandum opinion and order.

SUMMARY OF DECISION

Viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the Johnsons, and giving them the benefit of all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the facts, the Court concludes there are genuine issues of material fact as to all the claims asserted in the Amended Complaint, and therefore Auto-Owners' Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The instant action arises out of three separate motor vehicle accidents involving Plaintiff Tanya Johnson and her adult daughter, Plaintiff Tiffany Johnson. On September 19, 2003, Tiffany Johnson was driving a 1977 Caprice Classic on 1st Avenue North in Fargo, North Dakota, when she was rear-ended by a hit-and-run driver in another vehicle. On October 27, 2003, Tanya Johnson was driving a 1989 GMC Suburban southbound on 42nd Street in Fargo, North Dakota, with her son riding as a passenger, when her vehicle was broad-sided on the passenger side by another vehicle. On March 29, 2004, Tanya Johnson was driving a 1977 Caprice Classic in Moorhead, Minnesota, with Tiffany Johnson riding as a front-seat passenger, when the vehicle was rear-ended by another vehicle at a stop light.

At the time of these accidents, the Johnsons were insured under a motor vehicle policy issued by Defendant Auto-Owners Insurance Company. After each respective accident, the Johnsons submitted claims to Auto-Owners seeking no-fault benefits for medical treatment of their accident-related injuries. Auto-Owners initially accepted their claims and paid no-fault benefits for their treatment, including chiropractic treatment and massage therapy.

After paying benefits to the Johnsons for some time, Auto-Owners eventually arranged for them to undergo independent medical examinations ("IMEs") to determine whether further treatment was warranted. On August 5, 2004, Dr. Brad Helms at Integrity Medicolegal Enterprises conducted an IME of Tiffany Johnson. Several weeks later, Auto-Owners notified Tiffany Johnson that it was discontinuing her no-fault benefits as to both the September 2003 and March 2004 accidents based on the results of the IME and the report of Dr. Helms.*fn1 Shortly thereafter, on October 28, 2004, Dr. Helms conducted an IME of Tanya Johnson. A few weeks later, Auto-Owners notified Tanya Johnson that it would not pay for any further treatment for the October 2003 and March 2004 accidents based on Dr. Helms' report of the IME.

On September 7, 2007, the Johnsons filed suit against Auto-Owners in Cass County District Court. Auto-Owners then removed the action to this Court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction.

In their Amended Complaint, the Johnsons essentially allege three different causes of action against Auto-Owners. First, both Tanya Johnson and Tiffany Johnson allege that Auto-Owners wrongfully failed to pay no-fault benefits for reasonable and necessary medical treatment required as a result of their accident-related injuries. Second, both Tanya Johnson and Tiffany Johnson allege that Auto-Owners acted in bad faith in the investigation, processing, and payment of their claims for no-fault benefits. Third, Tiffany Johnson alleges that she is entitled to uninsured motorist benefits for damages she suffered as a result of the September 2003 accident, which was negligently caused by an unidentified hit-and-run driver.

Auto-Owners now moves for summary judgment as to all of the Johnsons' claims, arguing that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that judgment is appropriate as a matter of law. In opposition, the Johnsons contend that there are numerous issues of material fact in this case, and therefore all of their claims must be allowed to proceed to trial.

DISCUSSION

Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The burden of proof is on the moving party to establish the basis for its motion. Donovan v. Harrah's Md. Heights Corp., 289 F.3d 527, 529 (8th Cir. 2002). It is axiomatic that the evidence is viewed in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and the nonmoving party enjoys the benefit of all reasonable inferences to be drawn from the facts. See, e.g., Vacca v. Viacom Broad. of Mo., Inc., 875 F.2d 1337, 1339 (8th Cir. 1989) (quotations omitted). If the moving party shows there are no genuine issues of material fact, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to set forth facts showing a genuine issue for trial. Donovan, 298 F.3d at 529.

A fact is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the case, and a factual dispute is "genuine" if 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). The basic inquiry is whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require full consideration on the merits by a jury, or whether it is so one-sided that one ...


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