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Owners Insurance Co. v. Dockstader

United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division

August 28, 2018




         This matter is before the court on Defendant Jacob Taylor Dockstader's Motion to Dismiss. On August 1, 2018, the court held a hearing on the motion. At the hearing, Plaintiff Owners Insurance Company was represented by Anna Nelson and Marianne Schumann, and Defendant Dockstader was represented by William E. Frazier. After hearing argument, the court took the matter under advisement. The court has considered the memoranda and other materials submitted by the parties, as well as the law and facts relating to the motions. Now being fully advised, the court issues the following Memorandum Decision and Order.


         On October 14, 2014, Defendant Jacob Taylor Dockstader struck Thomas Brooks in the head with a dumbbell at Deseret Palms Health & Fitness Club in St. George, Utah. The blow left Brooks unconscious and bleeding from his head. Brooks was transported to the hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery and remained hospitalized for a week. The State of Utah charged Dockstader with aggravated assault. On July 15, 2015, after a bench trial, a state court judge found Dockstader guilty of aggravated assault, a second-degree felony. Dockstader was sentenced on August 25, 2015.

         On February 6, 2017, Brooks brought a civil lawsuit against Dockstader in Fifth Judicial District Court for Washington County, Utah, seeking more than $300, 000 in damages in connection with the incident that allegedly left Brooks disabled with a permanent traumatic brain injury. Brooks' state court action against Dockstader originally alleged two alternative causes of action: (1) negligence and (2) assault and battery. Brooks' Complaint alleged the facts involved in the incident and then alleged, alternatively, that Dockstader either negligently struck him with the dumbbell due to a misjudgment about the distances involved or that he intentionally hit him with the dumbbell.

         On March 1, 2017, Dockstader demanded that Plaintiff Owners Insurance Company defend and indemnify Dockstader from Brooks' civil suit under an insurance policy Owners issued to Dockstader's parents. On February 28, 2018, Owners filed the Complaint in this case, seeking a declaratory judgment that Owners has no duty to defend or indemnify Dockstader from the claims presented in Brooks' civil state court action. The Complaint alleges that Dockstader's assault on Brooks was not an “occurrence” covered by the policy. In addition, Owners' alleges that Dockstader's assault, which was previously alleged and proven against Dockstader in the felony case against him, was excluded under the policy's exclusionary clause. Finally, Owners asserts in its Complaint that it has no duty to defend Dockstader in Brooks' suit against him because the claims are not covered by the policy. As exhibits to the Complaint, Owners attached a copy of the docket in the state criminal case against Dockstader and a copy of the Complaint in Brooks' state civil action.

         On April 10, 2018, the court in Brooks' state civil action dismissed the assault and battery cause of action with prejudice based on a stipulation by the parties. Therefore, the only remaining claim in the state civil action is the negligence claim.


         Dockstader's Motion to Dismiss

         Dockstader seeks dismissal of Owners' Complaint, arguing that Owners' Complaint for declaratory judgment is based entirely on the claims brought in Brooks' state civil action and an exclusion in the insurance policy for injury that is “reasonably expected or intended by the insured.” Dockstader contends that the only allegations in the state court action supporting Owners' claims that it has no duty to defend or indemnify were in relation to the assault and battery cause of action, which the parties to the state court action stipulated to have dismissed. However, Owners argues that Dockstader's motion to dismiss ignores the allegations in Owners' Complaint and erroneously asserts that the entire basis for the Complaint is the allegations against Dockstader in the state civil action.

         Owners' Complaint alleges that because Dockstader was convicted of aggravated assault in connection with the events giving rise to the underlying action, he is not entitled to coverage under the insurance policy at issue. Where an insurance policy makes the duty to defend or indemnify conditional on “whether the claim or suit was ‘covered' by the policy, ” the court must consider evidence outside the allegations of the underlying complaint to determine coverage. Fire Ins. Exch. v. Estate of Therkelsen, 2001 UT 48, ¶ 24, 27 P.3d 555. “[A] court cannot limit its analysis of the duty to defend to the face of the complaint when the plain language of the policy directs otherwise.” Equine Assisted Growth & Learning Ass'n v. Carolina Cas. Ins. Co., 2011 UT 49, ¶ 21, 266 P.3d 733. The issue of whether the court's evaluation should include extrinsic evidence “hinges on the particular contractual terms of the insurance policy defining the scope of the duty to defend and the duty to indemnify.” Fire Ins. Exch., 2001 UT 48, ¶ 22.

         In this case, Owners' Complaint sets out the determinative contractual language from the policy at issue. The policy indicates that it provides indemnification for damages “arising out of bodily injury or property damage caused by an occurrence to which this coverage applies.” Compl. ¶ 16. The policy similarly provides that the insurer will defend only against claims or suits for “damages covered by this policy.” Id. Under those provisions, the insured is only entitled to defense or indemnification if the damages are, objectively speaking, covered by the policy. Damage claims, under the policy, are only covered if they were caused by an “occurrence, ” which is defined in the policy as “an accident.” Id. ¶ 16-17.

         Owners' contends that if the objective facts show that the underlying event was not accidental, the policy provides no coverage for that event regardless of whether the claim is stated in negligence or intentional tort. Owners asserts that it adequately alleges conduct giving rise to the underlying action that is not covered by the insurance policy as a matter of objective fact.

         The Complaint clearly alleges that Dockstader was tried and found guilty of aggravated assault, a second-degree felony, for the events giving rise to the underlying action. Dockstader does not now contend that the underlying action is based on anything other than the same conduct for which he was found to have committed an intentional felony assault. Under Utah ...

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