United States District Court, D. Montana, Great Falls Division
P. WATTERS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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.
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).
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).
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).
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
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.
Summary judgment standard
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).
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).
Negligence (Count 2)
argues the complaint does not meet Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 8(a)(2)'s requirements because there is no
allegation Smith owed a ...