United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Lynchburg Division
K. MOON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Travelers Personal Security Insurance Company
(“Travelers”) seeks a declaratory judgment that
it is owes no duty to provide coverage Defendant Christian
Riddle for claims arising from a serious accident in which
Riddle was driving a friend's father's vehicle.
Travelers issued a policy covering vehicles owned by
Riddle's mother and stepfather (“the
Johnstons”). The policy also provided coverage to
relatives of the Johnstons residing in their
“household, ” for accidents occurring while the
relative was operating a vehicle with the owner's
permission. Travelers alleges that, at the time of the
accident, Riddle (age 20 at the time) was not a resident of the
Johnston household, and even if he was, he did not have
proper permission to drive the vehicle in question. For
purposes of this motion for summary judgment, Travelers
concedes that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to
whether Riddle had permission to drive the vehicle.
issue before the court is whether Defendants,  upon whom the
burden of proof rests, have presented sufficient evidence to
create a genuine issue of material fact and to prevent
Travelers from prevailing as a matter of law on whether
Riddle was a member of the Johnston household on the date of
the accident. Travelers has presented declarations of the
Johnstons stating the Riddle moved out of their house several
months before the accident and was not otherwise connected to
the household at the time of the accident. In opposition to
these statements, Defendants have only offered the limited
declaration of Corey Gribbin, a friend of Riddle's.
Riddle himself refused to contradict the Johnstons in a
declaration. I hold that Defendants have not carried
their burden and will grant summary judgment to Travelers.
Burden of Proof
parties seeking coverage, Defendants have the burden of
proving that Riddle was a resident of the Johnston household
on the day of the Accident, and thus that insurance coverage
existed. Furrow v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co.,
237 Va. 77 (1989); SunTrust Mortg., Inc. v. AIG United
Guar. Corp., 800 F.Supp.2d 722, 731 (E.D. Va. 2011),
aff'd sub nom. Suntrust Mortg., Inc. v.
United Guar. Residential Ins. Co. of N. Carolina, 508 F.
App'x 243 (4th Cir. 2013) (“Under Virginia
insurance law, the insured bears an initial burden to
establish a prima facie case that coverage should be
triggered.”); TRAVCO Ins. Co. v. Ward, 715
F.Supp.2d 699, 706 (E.D. Va. 2010), aff'd, 504
F. App'x 251 (4th Cir. 2013) (“Under Virginia law,
‘[i]n an action for declaratory judgment, the burden of
proof is not put on the plaintiff merely because he has filed
the action. Rather, the Court must examine the underlying
issues to determine who bears the burden of
proof.'” (quoting Rainwater Concrete Co. v.
Cardinal Concrete Co., 17 Va. Cir. 325 (Va. Cir. Ct.
Statement of the Facts
night of October 16, 2015, Joe Kleiner, Corey Gribbin, and
Christian Riddle attended a party at a friend's house.
(Riddle ¶ 4, Joe ¶ 4). Joe Kleiner had driven the
trio to the party in a car owned by his father, Mark Kleiner.
(Mark ¶ 3, Joe ¶ 3). During the party, Joe
complained that there were not enough girls present. (Gribbin
¶ 4, Riddle ¶ 4). Riddle told Joe that he knew some
girls he could invite to the party, and asked to borrow
Joe's car. (Riddle ¶¶ 4, 5). Riddle then
took Joe's car and drove to pick up the girls. (Riddle
picking up the girls, the car driven by Riddle became
involved in an accident (the Accident”) on its return
trip to the party. (Riddle ¶ 7). Defendants N.M. (a
minor) and Ivy Adkins were passengers in the vehicle, and Ms.
Adkins died as a result of the accident.
time of the accident, Jayme and Cindy Johnston (Riddle's
mother and stepfather) were the named insured covered by
Travelers' Automobile Insurance Policy number
994682272-203-1 (the “Policy”). (Dkt. 37-3). The
Policy provided coverage to any “insured, ” which
included “you” and “any family
member.” (Id. at L-1). A “family
member” was defined as “a person related to you
by blood, marriage or adoption who is a resident of your
household.” (Id. at GP-1) (emphasis
Virginia Supreme Court has interpreted the meaning of the
phrase “household” in this context as follows:
Whether the term ‘household' or ‘family'
is used, the term embraces a collection of persons as a
single group, with one head, living together, a unit of
permanent and domestic character, under one roof; a
‘collective body of persons living together within one
curtilage, subsisting in common and directing their attention
to a common object, the promotion of their mutual interests
and social happiness.
State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co. v. Smith, 142 S.E.2d
562, 566 (Va. 1965) overruled on other grounds
by State Farm v. Jones, 383 S.E.2d 734 (Va. 1989).
Further, “[t]he word ‘household' . . .
connotes a settled status; a more settled or permanent status
is indicated by ‘resident of the same household'
than would be indicated by ‘resident of the same house
or apartment.'” Id. at 565-66.
Motion for Summary Judgment
Standard of Review
Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that a court should
grant summary judgment “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.” “As
to materiality . . . [o]nly disputes over facts that might
affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will
properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.”
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986). In order to preclude summary judgment, the dispute
about a material fact must be “‘genuine, '
that is, if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmoving party.”
Id.; see also JKC Holding Co. v. Washington
Sports Ventures, Inc., 264 F.3d 459, 465 (4th Cir.
2001). If, however, the evidence of a genuine issue of
material fact “is merely colorable or is not
significantly probative, summary judgment may be
granted.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. In
considering a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56, a
court must view the record as a whole and draw all reasonable
inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
party. See, e.g., Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 322-24 (1986); Shaw v. Stroud, 13 F.3d
791, 798 (4th Cir. 1994).
Policy provides coverage to an insured's “family
member.” which is defined in relevant part as someone
who is a “resident of [the insured's]
household.” (Dkt. 37-3). The issue before the Court is
whether Riddle was a resident of the Johnstons' household
at the time of the Accident such that he would have been
covered by the Policy for claims arising out of the Accident.
Genuine Issues of Material Fact
evidence in support of summary judgment primarily consists of
a copy of the Policy and the declarations of the Johnstons.
Cindy Johnston's declaration reads in relevant
3. Christian Luke Riddle is my son. On July 4, 2015, my
husband and I asked Mr. Riddle to move out of the property.
He complied with that request. It is my belief that during
the period between July 4, 2015 and early August 2015, Mr.
Riddle spent the night at the homes of various friends and
acquaintances 4. In early August 2015 Mr. Riddle Left
Virginia to take a job in Minnesota. He remained at this job
for a period of approximately four to six weeks before
returning to Virginia.
5. Following his return to Virginia, Mr. Riddle was not
permitted to move back into the property. To my knowledge,
prior to the accident underlying this lawsuit Mr. Riddle was
staying at a variety of places, including the homes of his
girlfriend and his girlfriend's grandmother.
6. Following his return to Virginia from Minnesota, it is my
recollection that Mr. Riddle spent the night at the Property
only once - the night before a court date. He was permitted
to spend the night at the Property on that occasion only
because he did not have a valid driver's license and my
husband planned to take him to his court date.
7. Mr. Riddle no longer has a bedroom at the Property.
8. Mr. Riddle has never provided any type of financial
support to our family's household. He has never
contributed to the payment of any utility bills or other
9. Following his return to Virginia from Minnesota, my
husband and I did not provide any type of financial support
to Mr. Riddle.
have conceded several aspects of these declarations at
hearing. They do not contest that Christian Riddle moved out
of the Johnston residence on July 4th, or that he moved to
Minnesota to work for a period shortly
thereafter. Instead, they argue ...