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Baker v. Christy

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division

October 16, 2019



          Edward B. Atkins United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Westfield Insurance Company's Motion for Summary Judgment, asserting that Brandy Baker is not entitled to underinsured motorist coverage under Westfield's policy. [R. 39]. Baker filed her response and Westfield replied. [R. 49, 52]. The issues are now ripe for review. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Westfield's motion.


         The essential facts in this matter are not disputed. This case arises from an automobile collision with a pedestrian that occurred on August 17, 2018 in Isom, Kentucky along a four-lane highway. On that date, Baker was struck by the alleged tortfeasor's vehicle, Defendant Rocky L. Christy. Prior to the accident, Baker exited her vehicle on the northbound shoulder of Kentucky Highway 15 and walked across the four-lane highway, traveling southbound. Although it is unclear Baker's reason for exiting her vehicle due to her memory loss from the accident, it appeared that she was attempting to retrieve something from the road. Soon after she entered the highway to retrieve the unknown object, Baker began crossing the highway again to walk back to her parked vehicle. At this point, Christy's vehicle struck Baker as she was crossing the highway. It was never determined by the parties what object Baker was attempting to retrieve from the highway.

         At the time of the accident, Baker was employed as a home health nurse by Whitesburg Appalachian Regional Healthcare, Inc. ("Appalachian Regional Healthcare"). As part of her employment, Baker was permitted to drive a company vehicle to complete home visits and personal errands. Prior to the accident, Baker completed two home visits. Westfield insured the vehicle that was issued and used by Baker on the date of her accident.

         On January 14, 2019, Baker filed suit in Letcher Circuit Court against both Christy and Westfield. [R. 1-1]. On February 8, 2019, Westfield timely removed this case to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky at Pikeville. [R. 1-2]. Following the consent of the parties, this case was assigned to this Court by the District Court. [R. 11]. Baker seeks coverage under Westfield's underinsured motorist insurance coverage asserting that Christy was underinsured at the time of the accident. [R. 1-1 at 9]. Westfield now moves pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 and asks this Court to grant summary judgment, alleging that Baker is not covered under the terms of its policy. [R. 39].


         Kentucky substantive law applies to Baker's UJJVI claim and the interpretation of Westfield's policy, but federal law dictates the summary judgment standard. Biegas v. Quickway Carriers, Inc., 573 F.3d 365, 374 (6th Cir. 2009). Accordingly, "[a] party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense - or the part of each claim or defense - on which summary judgment is sought." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Such a motion then "requires the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and by [his] own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 324 (internal quotation marks omitted). This is so because "[o]ne of the principal purposes of the summary judgment rule is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses." Id. at 323-24. To avoid summary judgment, the non-movant must come forward with evidence on which a jury could reasonably find in its favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). The following factors bear consideration by a court when entertaining a motion for summary judgment:

1. Complex cases are not necessarily inappropriate for summary judgment.
2. Cases involving state of mind issues are not necessarily inappropriate for summary judgment.
3. The movant must meet the initial burden of showing "the absence of a genuine issue of material fact" as to an essential element of the non-movant's case.
4. This burden may be met by pointing out to the court that the respondent, having had sufficient opportunity for discovery, has no evidence to support an essential element of his or her case.
5. A court should apply a federal directed verdict standard in ruling on a motion for summary judgment. The inquiry on a summary judgment motion or a directed verdict motion is the same: whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.
6. As on federal directed verdict motions, the "scintilla rule" applies, i.e., the respondent must adduce more than a scintilla of evidence to overcome the motion.
7. The substantive law governing the case will determine what issues of fact are material, and any heightened burden of proof required by the substantive law for an element of the respondent's case, such as proof by clear and convincing evidence, must be satisfied by the respondent.
8. The respondent cannot rely on the hope that the trier of fact will disbelieve the movant's denial of a disputed fact, but must "present affirmative evidence in order to defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment."
9. The trial court no longer has the duty to search the entire record to establish that it is bereft of a genuine issue of material fact.
10. The trial court has more discretion than in the "old era" in evaluating the respondent's evidence. The respondent must "do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Further, "[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find" for the respondent, the motion should be granted. The trial court has at least some discretion ...

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