Submitted on Briefs: December 7, 2016.
FROM: District Court of the Eleventh Judicial District, In
and For the County of Flathead, Cause No. DV-11-1252(D)
Honorable Amy Eddy, Presiding Judge
Appellant: Evan F. Danno, Danno Law Firm, Kalispell, Montana
Appellees: Mark S. Williams, Nicholas Pagnotta, Amanda Duman,
Williams Law Firm, P.C., Missoula, Montana, Monique P. Voigt,
William J. Mattix, Crowley Fleck, PLLP, Billings, Montana
McGrath Chief Justice.
Pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(c), Montana Supreme Court
Internal Operating Rules, this case is decided by memorandum
opinion and shall not be cited and does not serve as
precedent. Its case title, cause number, and disposition
shall be included in this Court's quarterly list of
noncitable cases published in the Pacific Reporter and
Jeannette Mundel (Mundel) appeals from an April 26, 2016
post-trial order denying her attorney's fees and costs,
in a case involving litigation of uninsured motorist
insurance coverage. We affirm.
On September 1, 2011, Mundel was stopped at a traffic light
in Kalispell, Montana, when her vehicle was rear-ended by
Zona Bauer (Bauer). Neither Mundel nor Bauer called the
police. Mundel drove herself to the Hospital in Whitefish,
Montana, where she received medical treatment. Bauer's
insurance company, Allstate, paid Mundel its bodily injury
liability limit of $25, 000. Mundel was insured by Farmers
Insurance (Farmers) and carried underinsured motorist
coverage (UIM) with a $100, 000 bodily injury liability
limit. Mundel made a claim under her Farmers UIM policy.
Farmers denied her claim. Mundel filed a complaint in
District Court alleging breach of contract and damages.
After Farmers denied key matters in its answer, Mundel served
discovery requests for admissions on Farmers to admit: the
accident was caused solely by Bauer, Mundel was injured in
the accident, and Mundel's medical bills compilation may
be admitted into evidence as a summary of her medical
expenses. Farmers denied her requests for admissions noting
the police were not called, Bauer and Mundel's versions
of the accident differed, Mundel failed to cooperate with the
injury investigation, and Farmers believed the summary of
medical expenses called for a legal conclusion. At trial,
these matters were resolved in Mundel's favor.
The jury awarded Mundel $19, 731.02 for bodily injury
damages. As such, Mundel did not qualify for UIM coverage
under her Farmers' policy because Bauer was not
underinsured. Allstate had paid her more than the jury
awarded. The District Court denied Mundel's post-trial
motion for attorney's fees and costs and entered judgment
in favor of Farmers.
A trial court has authority to impose discovery sanctions
pursuant to M. R. Civ. P. 37. The Montana Supreme Court
reviews sanctions imposed pursuant to M. R. Civ. P. 37 for an
abuse of discretion. Maloney v. Home & Inv. Ctr.,
Inc., 2000 MT 34, ¶ 27, 298 Mont. 213, 994 P.2d
1124; Kraft v. High Country Motors, Inc., 2012 MT
83, ¶ 23, 364 Mont. 465, 276 P.3d 908. We generally
defer to the trial court's judgment on the decision to
impose sanctions for discovery violations because "the
trial court is in the best position to know whether parties
are disregarding the rights of opposing parties in the course
of litigation and which sanctions for such conduct are most
appropriate." McKenzie v. Scheeler, 285 Mont.
500, 506, 949 P.2d 1168, 1172 (citing Smith v.
Butte-Silver Bow County, 276 Mont. 329, 332, 916 P.2d
91, 93 (1996)). See also Linn v. Whitaker, 2007 MT
46, ¶ 13, 336 Mont. 131, 152 P.3d 1282.
Mundel argues the District Court should have granted her
attorney's fees and costs pursuant to M. R. Civ. P.
37(c)(2) when Farmers failed to admit matters in requests for
admissions thus needlessly requiring litigation of those
issues. Mundel bases her argument on the assumption that
after a party fails to admit what is later proven true, M. R.
Civ. P. 37(c)(2) requires a district court to order payment
of attorney's fees incurred in proving the fact. M. R.
Civ. P. 37(c)(2) provides:
(2) Failure to Admit. If a party fails to admit what is
requested under Rule 36 and if the requesting party later
proves a document to be genuine or the matter true, the
requesting party may move that the party who failed to admit
pay the reasonable expenses, including attorney ...