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Doran v. Smith

United States District Court, D. Montana, Great Falls Division

November 7, 2019

DAN DORAN and JULIE DORAN, Plaintiffs,
v.
WILLY SMITH; TRAVIS BURROW; KALEB LARSON; RON MARTIN; DIRK JOHNSON; RYAN BALL; CITY OF GREAT FALLS; and DOES 1-10, Defendants.

          ORDER

          SUSAN P. WATTERS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Defendant Willy Smith's motion for summary judgment on all counts. (Doc. 56). For the following reasons, the Court grants in part and denies in part the motion.

         I. Background

         In September 2015, Loretta Day passed away and left her home in Great Falls, Montana, to her son Dan Doran, and her two other children. (Doc. 54 at 1 -2). On or around the early morning hours of January 15, 2016, a fire destroyed the home. (Doc. 54 at 1-2).

         Shortly after the fire, Defendant Willy Smith called the fire chief, Ron Martin, and told him he suspected Plaintiff Dan Doran started the fire to collect insurance money because Doran had been involved in three fires in the past. (Doc. 62-4 (Smith Depo.) at 9:21-22; 15:9-17; 17:18-18:2). Smith told Martin his suspicion was pure speculation and he had no proof. (Smith Depo. at 16:7-10). Smith's allegations formed part of the Cascade County Attorney's Office's affidavit of probable cause to charge Doran with arson and insurance theft. (Doc. 42-2 at 5). The affidavit stated "the Great Falls Fire Department received a phone call stating Dan Doran, the above named defendant, set the fire and has set the fires in the past when he needed money." (Doc. 42-2 at 5). The affidavit continued, "the individual provided information on a previous attempt to set this residence on fire. The individual indicated that approximately two weeks to a month before this fire of the residence, there was cardboard and a lamp set up in the basement of the residence in an apparent attempt to start a fire. The individual stated [Doran] and Katy were the only persons present at the time of this attempted fire." (Doc. 42-2 at 5). The state judge later dismissed the theft charge. (Doc. 42-14 at 2). After a jury trial, Doran was acquitted of the arson charge. (Doc. 62-2 (Ball Depo.) at 54:21-25).

         Smith also contacted the insurance company which insured the home. (Doc. 61-5 at 2-3). Smith made similar incriminating statements about Doran to the insurance company. (Doc. 61-5 at 2-3). The insurance company declined to cover the loss of the home because it believed Doran's alleged arson excluded the home from coverage. (Doc. 61-5 at 1-4). In its letter declining to cover the loss of the home, the insurance company specifically mentioned Smith's allegations as evidence that Doran had purposely started the fire. (Doc. 61-5 at 3). After the estate sued, the insurance company settled the claim for a substantial sum. (Doc. 61-6).

         Doran sued Smith and several City and County officials for, among other things, negligence, malicious prosecution, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, defamation, and punitive damages. (Doc. 17). Smith is the only Defendant remaining in the case, the others have either settled or been dismissed.

         Smith moved for summary judgment on every count. (Doc. 56). Doran conceded the motion for every count except negligence (Count 2), negligent infliction of emotional distress (Count 5), defamation (Count 9), and punitive damages.

         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. Negligence (Count 2)

         Smith argues the complaint does not meet Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2)'s requirements because there is no allegation Smith owed a ...


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