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State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Gibbs

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 20, 2014

STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
BRADLEY GIBBS, Defendant.

Katherine A. McBride, MEAGHER & GEER, PLLP, for plaintiff.

Nicholas J. Maxwell, MASCHKA, RIEDY, & RIES, for defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING CROSS MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

JOHN R. TUNHEIM, District Judge.

This case involves a dispute over whether an automobile insurance policy covered the policyholder's eighteen-year-old son who had recently moved out of the policyholder's house. Defendant Bradley Gibbs was seriously injured when he was a passenger in a car crash and sought underinsured benefits from his mother's insurance policy through plaintiff State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company ("State Farm"). State Farm declined coverage, asserting that Gibbs was not covered by the policy because he was not a "resident relative" of his mother's at the time of the accident. State Farm brought this action seeking declaratory judgment of non-coverage and both parties move for summary judgment. The Court concludes that a genuine dispute of material fact exists as to whether Gibbs could be considered a "resident relative" within the meaning of the policy, and will deny both motions for summary judgment.

BACKGROUND

I. THE ACCIDENT

Gibbs was badly injured in a car accident on December 16, 2011. (Aff. of Katherine A. McBride, Ex. 1 at 1-8, June 13, 2013, Docket No. 16.)[1] Gibbs was 18 years old at the time of the accident. ( Id., Ex. 1 at 2.) Gibbs was riding in a car with three friends, including the driver, Kelsie Seykora. ( Id., Ex. 1 at 1-8.) Seykora's father owned the vehicle involved in the crash and was insured through Progressive Insurance Company ("Progressive"). ( Id. at 2.)

II. GIBBS' LIVING SITUATION

Up until a few months before the accident, in September 2011, Gibbs lived with his mother, Rita Gibbs ("his mother" or "Mrs. Gibbs") in a house on Swift Street in St. Peter, Minnesota. (McBride Aff., Ex. 4 (Dep. of Bradley Gibbs ("Gibbs Dep.") at 15).) In September 2011, Gibbs moved from his mother's home in St. Peter to an apartment, a fifteen minute drive away in North Mankato, Minnesota with two high school friends. ( Id. at 25.) Gibbs testified in his deposition that he moved because his friend had "just c[o]me back from his infantry training in the Army and he was saying right before that when he left that he wanted to get an apartment with me and he already set up arrangements to get an apartment with [the third friend]." ( Id. ) His two friends signed a six-month lease but Gibbs was not on the lease; Gibbs testified that he did not want to be on the lease because he did not want to be responsible for paying. ( Id. at 27.) It was a two-bedroom apartment and Gibbs slept on the floor near the living room. ( Id. at 42-43.)

When he moved in, he moved some of his belongings from his mother's house: clothes, his video game system, his car, his phone, and a few small pieces of furniture such as foot rests and folding chairs. ( Id. at 40-41.) Gibbs testified that he "left a lot of the stuff in my room, stuff like medals and a bunch of childhood-like awards and stuff" and his couch, bed, and his two pet cats. ( Id. at 44.) In November, when one of his friends was unable to pay rent, Gibbs moved into that friend's bedroom and the friend took Gibbs' place on the floor. ( Id. at 42-43.) At that point Gibbs moved an extra bed from his mother's home to the apartment to sleep in. ( Id. )

When Gibbs moved in September 2011 he had a part-time job working for a Halloween costume company. ( Id. at 27-28.) He made $9.50 an hour and worked about 25 hours a week. ( Id. at 29.) He testified that when he took the job he knew that it would be temporary - that it would end at the end of October or beginning of November; it ended October 31. ( Id at 29.) When that job ended, he began going to a temporary staffing agency. ( Id. at 30.) According to Gibbs' deposition testimony, at this point "I was really close to moving back [to his mother's] but I found a savings bond so then I could pay rent to live [at the apartment] another month." ( Id. at 31.) But he thought he would be moving back to his mother's house "[b]y the end of December, if not the beginning of December." ( Id. ) He testified that he believes he gave the temporary agency his mother's address in St. Peter because he anticipated moving back in with her. ( Id. at 30.) He and his mother had a few conversations near the end of November about him moving back in if he needed to: "It was when I was cashing out that savings bond. I was talking to her about potentially moving back.... She said if I had to move back, it wouldn't be a problem with her.... I might have had another conversation too after that date." ( Id. at 48-49; see also McBride Aff., Ex. 8 (Dep. of Rita Gibbs ("Rita Gibbs Dep.") at 24-25 ("I had asked him how he thought he was going to pay his rent another month and he didn't really have an answer yet at that point. So it was mentioned but nothing was planned.")).) He testified at his deposition that at this point he made some efforts to begin moving his belongings back to his mother's house: "I brought some of my stuff back to my mom's place" including clothing, and a "couple video game systems." (Gibbs Dep. at 31.)

While he lived in the apartment he continued to receive mail at his mother's house, kept keys to his mother's house, and believes that he remained on her health insurance. ( Id. at 35-36; see also Rita Gibbs Dep. at 23.) He visited his mother approximately once a week - she would pick him up in North Mankato and take him to the house in St. Peter where they would eat, she would do his laundry, and he often stayed overnight. (Rita Gibbs Dep. at 22.)

III. MRS. GIBBS' STATE FARM POLICY

Mrs. Gibbs held an automobile insurance policy ("the Policy") with State Farm, which she secured in November 2011 after cancelling her prior automobile insurance policy with MetLife. (Rita Gibbs Dep. at 15.) Mrs. Gibbs testified that she switched from MetLife to State Farm when MetLife refused to take Gibbs off her policy as a driver after his own car stopped functioning. ( Id. )[2] After Gibbs' car stopped working, Mrs. Gibbs tried to take the car and Gibbs off the MetLife insurance policy and to keep only herself and her Honda Accord on the policy:

I requested Met Life to take the car and Brad off my policy since he no longer lived at home and his car was not functioning at that time. Instead, they took the Thunderbird off my policy and they added him as a driver to my Honda Accord. I asked them if they could remove him from my policy since he lived in a different town and wasn't driving my car and they said they could not so I took a new policy with State Farm for my Honda Accord.

( Id. ) Mrs. Gibbs testified that she indicated in her application to State Farm that she was the only person living in her household at the time she took out the State Farm Policy. ( Id. at 17; see also Supplemental Aff. of Katherine McBride, Ex. 10, July 17, 2013, Docket No. 34 (Rita Gibbs is only name listed on her State Farm application).) Gibbs testified that he did not know if he was listed as a driver on this policy or not. (Gibbs Dep. at 59.)

After Gibbs' accident, he sought coverage under the "Underinsured Motor Vehicle Coverage" of the Policy. The Policy provides: " We will pay compensatory damages for bodily injury an insured is legally entitled to recover from the owner or driver of an underinsured motor vehicle. " (Second Aff. of Nicholas Maxwell, Ex. 1 ("State Farm Policy") at 25, July 11, 2013, Docket No. 30 (emphasis in original).) The Policy defines "insured, " in relevant part, as "1. you; 2. resident relatives; [and] 3. any other person while occupying [your car, a newly acquired car, or a temporary substitute car]." ( Id. at 24 (emphasis in original).) The term "you" in the Policy refers to Rita Gibbs, the named insured on the Policy. ( Id. at 6.) The Policy defines "resident relative" as follows:

Resident Relative means a person, other than you who is:

1. related to you by blood, marriage or adoption who ...

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