United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
STEPHAN M. VIDMAR United States Magistrate Judge
MATTER is before the Court on Defendant Auto-Owners'
Insurance Company's Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc.
99], filed on February 13, 2017. Briefing is complete,
[Docs. 106, 119], and oral argument was
held on June 19, 2017. Having considered the briefing,
record, oral argument, and the relevant law, the Court finds
that Defendant is entitled to summary judgment on
Plaintiff's claim for damages arising from his shingles
but not from his other alleged injuries. Defendant fails to
show that it is entitled to summary judgment on
Plaintiff's claim for declaratory judgment at this time.
Melvin Smith was an employee of a company called Principal
Mobility. He was traveling in an automobile owned by
Principal Mobility and insured by Defendant Auto-Owners
Insurance Company (“AOI”) when it was struck from
behind by a vehicle driven by a State Farm insured. State
Farm's driver was at fault for the accident. State Farm
adjusted the claim and ultimately contributed its $100, 000
policy limits to satisfy the claims of the various injured
parties, including Plaintiff. As a result of the accident,
Plaintiff received a payment of $26, 731.10 from State Farm.
The policy issued by Defendant provided $5, 000 in medical
payment coverage and $1, 000, 000 in underinsured motorist
(“UIM”) coverage. AOI paid $5, 000 to Plaintiff
under the med-pay coverage. Thus, he has received a total of
$31, 731.10 from State Farm and Defendant.
contends, however, that his damages far exceed $31, 731.10,
thus entitling him to UIM benefits under the policy.
Plaintiff initiated this lawsuit, claiming, among other
things, that Defendant's failure to pay him the UIM
benefits constitutes a breach of the insurance
moves for summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims for
breach of contract and declaratory judgment. [Doc. 99] at 1,
20. The crux of Defendant's position is that there was no
breach of contract because the $5, 000 it paid to Plaintiff,
combined with the money received from State Farm, fully
compensated Plaintiff for the injuries he sustained in the
accident. Plaintiff disagrees, claiming that his damages from
the accident far exceed the compensation he has already
received, thus entitling him to UIM benefits under the policy
judgment will be granted “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). The movant must support its request 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 . . .
.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A).
movant has the initial burden of establishing that there is
no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp.
v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). If this burden
is met, the non-movant must come forward with specific facts,
supported by admissible evidence, which demonstrate the
presence of a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.
Although all facts are construed in favor of the non-movant,
the non-movant still has a responsibility to “go beyond
the pleadings and designate specific facts so as to make a
showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element
essential to [his] case in order to survive summary
judgment.” Johnson v. Mullin, 422 F.3d 1184,
1187 (10th Cir. 2005) (alteration in original) (internal
quotation marks omitted).
is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's claim for
damages arising from his shingles, because he has no
admissible evidence that the accident caused the shingles.
However, Defendant is not entitled to summary judgment on
Plaintiff's breach-of-contract claim based on his other
personal injuries. Even if Plaintiff's left rotator cuff
was torn prior to the accident, Plaintiff may still recover
for the aggravation of the torn rotator cuff. Additionally,
Defendant concedes that Plaintiff suffered at least a
temporary soft tissue neck injury. Whether he has received
all the compensation to which he is entitled under his UIM
coverage remains a question of fact precluding summary
judgment. Finally, Plaintiff's claim for declaratory
judgment appears to seek relief that is not available under
the Declaratory Judgment Act. Nevertheless, Defendant has not
persuaded me that it is entitled to summary judgment for that
reason, on the briefing as it stands today, and its motion
will be denied without prejudice at this time.
contracted shingles after the accident. He claims that the
accident caused the shingles. Defendant argues that Plaintiff
is not entitled to any damages arising from the shingles
because there is no admissible evidence in the record on
which a reasonable fact-finder could rely to find that the
accident caused the shingles. [Doc. 99] at 9-10, 17-18 n.9.
what constitutes the proximate cause of any injury is a
question of fact. However, the question of proximate cause
becomes a question of law when the facts are undisputed and
there is no evidence from which a jury could reasonably find
a causal connection between the allegedly negligent act and
the injury.” Eck v. Parke, Davis & Co.,
256 F.3d 1013, 1023 (10th Cir. 2001) (internal citation and
quotation marks omitted). Under New Mexico law, it is
well-settled that the plaintiff bears the burden of proof on
medical causation, and he cannot prevail on the issue of
medical causation without expert testimony directly
supporting his conclusion. Woods v. Brumlop,
1962-NMSC-133, ¶ 15, 71 N.M. 221 (“[T]he cause and
effect of a physical condition lies in a field of knowledge
in which only a medical expert can give a competent