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Boulter v. Hartford Fire Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

July 11, 2018

DONALD BOULTER, Plaintiff,
v.
THE HARTFORD FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY, and JOHN DOES I-V, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          SUSAN P. WATTERS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court are cross motions for summary judgment. (Docs. 14 and 17). This case presents the issue of whether walking in a parking lot with the purpose of getting back in one's car, after briefly exiting one's car to order a to-go breakfast during a long work-related road trip, is reasonably connected to the operation of one's car. For the following reasons, the Court holds that it is.

         I. Undisputed Facts

         The following facts are taken from the parties' joint statement of stipulated facts and Boulter's statement of undisputed facts, which The Hartford Fire Insurance Company did not dispute. D. Mont. L.R. 56.1(c-d).

         Donald Boulter's workday began at 6:00 AM on March 24, 2014. He and a co-worker had to drive a work van 140 miles from Bozeman to Billings to drop off a load of material before picking up another load and delivering it to Buffalo, Wyoming. (Doc. 19, ¶¶ 5-6). After they dropped off the first load in Billings, Boulter and his co-worker decided to grab a McDonald's to-go breakfast before they continued on to Buffalo. (Doc. 19, ¶ 6).

         Boulter parked his work van in the McDonald's parking lot, exited the vehicle, and went inside the McDonald's to order his breakfast to-go. (Doc. 19, ¶ 6). After receiving his order, Boulter exited the McDonald's and began walking back towards his work van. (Doc. 16, ¶ 7; Doc. 19, ¶ 7). While walking towards his work van, an unknown motorist drove past Boulter in a rushed manner. (Doc. 16, ¶ 7; Doc. 19, ¶ 8). Boulter stepped backwards out of the way, slipped, and fell to the ground, suffering a serious head injury. (Doc. 16, ¶ 7; Doc. 19, ¶ 8). Boulter was about 60 feet away from his work van when he fell. (Doc. 16, ¶ 8; Doc. 19, ¶ 9). The unknown motorist has never been identified. (Doc. 19, ¶ 10).

         Boulter's employer insured Boulter's work van under a policy issued by The Hartford Fire Insurance Company. (Doc. 16, ¶¶ 2-6). The policy provided uninsured motorist coverage to "insureds." (Doc. 16, ¶ 3). Under the policy, an "insured" is anyone "occupying" a covered auto. (Doc. 16, ¶ 3). "Occupying" means "in, upon, getting in, on, out or off." (Doc. 16, ¶ 3). An "uninsured motor vehicle" means "a hit-and-run vehicle and neither the driver nor owner can be identified. The vehicle must hit an 'insured,' a covered 'auto' or a vehicle an 'insured' is 'occupying.'" (Doc. 16, ¶ 3).

         Later that evening after he fell, Boulter was life-flighted from the emergency room in Bozeman to St. Vincent's hospital in Billings for specialty care of a subdural hemorrhage, craniotomy, and rehabilitation. (Doc. 19, ¶11). Boulter made a claim for uninsured motorist coverage under the policy. (Doc. 19, ¶ 12). Hartford Fire agreed the work van was a covered auto, Boulter suffered bodily injury, and the unknown motorist was an uninsured motor vehicle, but denied Boulter coverage on the position that he was not an "insured" because he was not "occupying" the work van when he was injured. (Doc. 16-2 at 3).

         Boulter sought a declaratory judgment in state district court that he was an "insured" under the policy. (Doc. 3). Hartford Fire removed the case to federal court. (Doc. 1). The parties filed simultaneous motions for summary judgment on two issues. First, whether Boulter is an "insured" under the policy. Second, whether the unknown motorist is an "uninsured motor vehicle" under the policy. The parties agree Montana law governs the case.

         II. Summary judgment standard

         "The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the 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 demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

         Material facts are those which may affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute as to a material fact is genuine if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue of fact exists. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).

         III. Discussion

         A. Boulter is an "insured" because he was walking back to his work van after briefly exiting the vehicle to order a to-go ...


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