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Owners Insurance Co. v. Dockstader

United States District Court, D. Utah

March 14, 2019

OWNERS INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
JACOB TAYLOR DOCKSTADER, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          DALE A KIMBALL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the court on Plaintiff Owner Insurance Company's Motion for Summary Judgment. On February 27, 2019, the court held a hearing on the motion. At the hearing, Plaintiff Owners Insurance Company was represented by Anna Nelson, Defendant Dockstader was represented by William E. Frazier, and Intervenor Defendant Thomas Brooks was represented by Michael W. Young and Chad C. Baker. 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.

         BACKGROUND

         On October 14, 2014, Defendant Jacob Taylor Dockstader hit Thomas Brooks in the head with a 15-pound dumbbell at Desert 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 felony aggravated assault, Utah Code Ann. §§ 76-5-102, 76-5-103(1).

         When Dockstader was originally charged, the State charged him with second-degree aggravated assault “in that defendant assaulted another and intentionally caused serious bodily injury, and used a dangerous weapon or other means or force likely to produce death or serious bodily injury, in violation of Section 76-5-102 and 76-5-103(1).” At the time of trial, the state proceeded against Dockstader for second-degree aggravated assault “in that defendant assaulted another and caused serious bodily injury, and used a dangerous weapon or other means or force likely to produce death or serious bodily injury, in violation of Section 76-5-102 and 76-5-103(1).” Dockstader defended the charge by claiming that his actions were justified by self-defense.

         On July 15, 2015, the state criminal case was tried to the bench and the judge found Dockstader guilty of aggravated assault, a second-degree felony. At the conclusion of the bench trial, the state court made findings of fact on the record and entered judgment. The trial court found that Dockstader threw the first punch in the altercation and was not entitled to claim self-defense. Specifically, the court stated: “The Court, quite frankly, finds that there was a punch thrown, and then as several witnesses testified, that Mr. Dockstader got the 15 pound weight and finished him off. That's basically what Francisco Roa's testimony was. Mr. Brooks is on the bench, he never stood up. Taylor Dockstader hit Mr. Brooks first. When Dockstader hit him with the 15 pound weight, Mr. Brooks is already on the floor with his feet up on the bench.” The judge also found it “quite persuasive” that Dockstader admitted to “Officer Carter that he overreacted, he shouldn't have done what he did, ” and that he knew “there would be consequences for his actions.” The state court sentenced Dockstader 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 October 14, 2014 incident which Brooks alleged left him permanently disabled with a permanent traumatic brain injury. Brooks' state court action against Dockstader originally alleged two alternative causes of action, negligence and assault and battery.

         On March 1, 2017, Dockstader demanded that Plaintiff Owners Insurance Company defend and indemnify Dockstader from Brooks' civil suit under a homeowners insurance policy Owners issued to Dockstader's parents, Policy No. 48-819-745-00. At the time of the assault, Dockstader was twenty-one years old. The Policy provides that Owners “will pay all sums insured becomes legally obligated to pay as damages because of or arising out of bodily injury or property damages caused by an occurrence to which this coverage applies.” The Policy defines the term “bodily injury” as “physical injury, sickness or disease sustained by a person including resulting death of that person.” The Policy defines “occurrence” as “an accident that results in bodily injury or property damage.” The Policy also contains an exclusion for “bodily injury or property damage reasonably expected or intended by the insured.” The exclusion “applies even if the bodily injury . . . is of a different kind or degree . . . than that reasonably expected or intended.”

         In his deposition in the civil lawsuit, Dockstader claimed that he did not mean to strike Mr. Brooks, only scare him. Dockstader testified that he believed he had sufficient strength and control with weights to stop his swing and avoid hitting Brooks.

         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 because it was not an accident. 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 because it was reasonably expected or intended by the insured. Owners also 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. Owners has been providing Dockstader a defense under a full reservation of rights.

         On April 10, 2018, the parties in the state civil action stipulated to dismissal of Brooks' assault and battery cause of action. Based on the parties' stipulation to dismiss the intentional tort claim, Dockstader attempted to have Owners' declaratory judgment action in this court dismissed. However, on August 27, 2018, this court denied Dockstader's motion to dismiss. In the state court action, Owners rejected Brooks' three settlement demands for the Policy's $500, 000 limit because this action regarding coverage was still pending. On September 25, 2018, Brooks and Dockstader entered into a stipulated judgment and assignment of Dockstader's claims against Owners, including a bad faith claim for refusal to settle within the policy limits. Brooks intervened in the present case on November 2, 2018, and filed a Third-Party Complaint against Owners on November 5, 2018.

         DISCUSSION

         Owners' Motion for Summary Judgment

         Owners argues that it has no duty to defend or indemnify Dockstader under the terms of the Policy because Dockstader's actions were not an accident. In interpreting the Policy, this court looks to Utah law. Berry & Murphy, P.C. v. Carolina Cas. Ins. Co., 586 F.3d 803, 808 (10th Cir. 2009). Under Utah law, “[a]n insurance policy is merely a contract between the insured and the insurer and is construed pursuant to the same rules applied to ordinary contracts.” Alf v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 850 P.2d 1272, 1274 (Utah 1993). The insured bears the initial burden of showing that there is coverage for a particular claim under the policy. See Utah Farm Bureau Ins. v. Dairyland Ins., 634 F.2d 1326, 1328 (10th Cir. ...


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