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Encompass Indemnity Co. v. Sarkari

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division

August 13, 2019

ENCOMPASS INDEMNITY CO., Plaintiff,
v.
ZUBIN SARKARI, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Stephen M. Doyle United States Magistrate Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         The underlying facts of this case pertain to a motorcycle accident that occurred on July 15, 2017, involving Defendant Zubin Sarkari (“Sarkari”), who was riding the motorcycle of Manraj “Patrick” Sidhu (“Sidhu”), and Defendant Abhiprai Gulati (“Gulati”), who was a passenger. Sidhu insured his motorcycle under a policy issued by Encompass Indemnity Company (“Encompass”). Sarkari and Gulati claim entitlement to uninsured motorist benefits under Sidhu's insurance policy for the injuries they sustained as a result of the accident.

         On January 15, 2018, Encompass filed a Complaint for declaratory judgment against Sarkari and Gulati. (Doc. 1). Encompass asks this Court to declare that Sidhu's insurance policy provides no coverage for the uninsured/underinsured motorist benefit claim made by Sarkari and Gulati. See generally Id. Presently before the Court is Encompass's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 28); Defendants' response in opposition (Doc. 32) thereto; and Encompass's reply (Doc. 34). For the reasons that follow, the undersigned finds that Encompass's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 28) is due to be DENIED.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a reviewing court shall grant a motion for “summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Only disputes about material facts will preclude the granting of summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). “An issue of fact is ‘genuine' if the record as a whole could lead a reasonable trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party. An issue is ‘material' if it might affect the outcome of the case under the governing law.” Redwing Vehicleriers, Inc. v. Saraland Apartments, 94 F.3d 1489, 1496 (11th Cir. 1996) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248).

         Summary judgment is appropriate “if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). The party asking for summary judgment “always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,' which it believes demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Id. at 323. The movant can meet this burden by presenting evidence showing there is no dispute of material fact, or by showing that the nonmoving party has failed to present evidence in support of some element of his case on which he bears the ultimate burden of proof. Id. at 322-23.

         Once the movant has satisfied this burden, the nonmoving party must “go beyond the pleadings and by his own affidavits, or by the ‘depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,' designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Id. at 324. In doing so, and to avoid summary judgment, the nonmovant “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The parties must support their assertions “that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed” by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations[], admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials” or by “showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A) & (B).

         In determining whether a genuine issue for trial exists, the court must view all the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. McCormick v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 333 F.3d 1234, 1243 (11th Cir. 2003). Likewise, the reviewing court must draw all justifiable inferences from the evidence in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. However, “mere conclusions and unsupported factual allegations are legally insufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion.” Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326 (11th Cir. 2005) (per curiam).

         III. STATEMENT OF FACTS[1]

         On July 15, 2017, Sidhu and his wife invited a group of friends to their lake home for a party. At approximately 11:00 a.m., Sakari and Gulati arrived at Sidhu's lake home for the party. Sidhu had known Sarkari and Gulati for approximately five or six years. As Sarkari and Gulati arrived at the party, Sidhu was returning from a ride on his new Harley Davidson motorcycle. When Sidhu parked the motorcycle in the driveway, Sarkari and others approached to look at it more closely. Sarkari asked Sidhu if he could go for a “spin” on the motorcycle. Sidhu asked Sarkari if he had ever ridden a Harley Davidson motorcycle before, and then gave Sarkari permission to ride. After Sarkari rode the motorcycle, it was placed in the garage and the garage door was closed.

         Several hours later, Sarkari asked Sidhu if he could take his ten-year-old son for a ride on the motorcycle.[2] Sidhu agreed to let Sarkari take his son for a ride, and assisted Sarkari in finding the keys. Sarkari then left the house and took a “short spin in the community” with his son. After returning from that ride, Sarkari did not put the motorcycle away but, instead, took Gulati (a nineteen-year-old man) for a ride. Prior to taking Gulati for a ride, Sarkari did not explicitly seek permission from Sidhu to take Gulati for a ride, nor did Sidhu explicitly give Sarkari permission to do so. Gulati did not ask Sidhu's permission to ride the motorcycle.

         While Sakari was riding the motorcycle with Gulati as a passenger, he encountered a section of the road that Sarkari described as “curvy.” The speed limit on that section of the road-which is part of the private residential roads of Sidhu's gated community-is 15 miles per hour. Sarkari was driving between 30 and 35 miles per hour when he approached a curve. As he came around the curve, Sarkari saw an oncoming car in his lane no more than fifty feet away. Sarkari swerved to avoid the collision and ran off the road. He and Gulati were ejected from the motorcycle. Neither were wearing helmets. Sarkari suffered a head injury, and his wrist was shattered. Gulati suffered a broken left femur, a fracture of his L2 vertebrae, and a broken wrist. Apparently, the oncoming car did not stop to assist Sarkari and Gulati.

         Prior to the day of the accident, Sarkari had ridden Sidhu's previous motorcycle on one or two occasions with Sidhu's permission. Sidhu testified that he never gave Sarkari or any other guest “blanket permission” to use any of his vehicles at will. He further testified that, whenever he gives someone permission to operate any of his vehicles, he is Id. at 62. “clear about where I want them to go, how to drive. I ask the question have you drive[n] before this thing, are you familiar with this, something like that.”

         Sarkari and Gulati have made a claim for uninsured motorist benefits under the insurance policy issued to Sidhu by Encompass. The pertinent provisions in the policy pertaining to coverage for Sarkari and Gulati include the following:

         INSURING AGREEMENT

A. We will pay damages which a covered person is legally entitled to recover from the owner or operator of an uninsured motor vehicle because of bodily injury:
1. ustained by a covered person; and
2. Caused by an accident.
B. Covered person as used in this part means:
1. You or any family member.
2. Any other person occupying your covered motor vehicle.
C. Uninsured motor vehicle means a land motor vehicle or trailer of any type:
4. Which is a hit-and-run vehicle whose operator cannot be identified and which hits or which causes an accident resulting in bodily injury without hitting:
a. You or any family member;
b. A vehicle which you or any family member are ...

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