United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
MEMORANDUM AND OPINION
Rosenthal Chief United States District Judge.
plaintiff, Eleazar Cantu, Jr., was injured when he fell off a
truck driven by an uninsured motorist. Mr. Cantu sued the
driver, two other uninsured individuals, and State Farm, Mr.
Cantu's uninsured motorist insurer, in state court. After
receiving a default judgment for $65, 095.12 against the
three individual defendants, Mr. Cantu demanded that State
Farm pay $30, 000, the policy limit. State Farm declined to
pay, and Mr. Cantu sued. State Farm timely removed on the
basis of diversity jurisdiction. (Docket Entry No. 1).
Farm has moved for partial summary judgment, arguing that it
is not responsible for paying the default judgment in the
uninsured-motorist lawsuit because it did not consent to be
bound by that judgment. (Docket Entry No. 16). Mr. Cantu
responded and cross-moved for partial summary judgment,
arguing that State Farm's knowledge of and participation
in that lawsuit indicated its consent to be bound by the
default judgment. (Docket Entry No. 17).
on the pleadings; the motions, responses, and replies; the
record; and the applicable law, the court grants State
Farm's motion for partial summary judgment and denies Mr.
Cantu's cross-motion. The reasons for these rulings are
The Legal Issue Presented and the Summary Judgment
Texas law, an insurer's obligation to pay under an
uninsured-motorist policy does not arise until there is a
judicial determination that an uninsured tortfeasor was
negligent and caused the policyholder's damages, up to
the policy limits. See Brainard v. Trinity Universal Ins.
Co., 216 S.W.3d 809 (Tex. 2006). Because the alleged
tortfeasor's negligence and the plaintiff's damages
are by definition uncontested when a default judgment issues,
the default does not bind an insurer that does not otherwise
consent to be bound by the proceedings. See, e.g.,
U.S. Fire Ins. v. Millard, 847 S.W.2d 668 (Tex.
App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 1993, no writ).
Farm argues that it did not consent to be bound by the
default judgment awarded to Mr. Cantu and that negligence and
damages have yet to be judicially determined under Mr.
Cantu's uninsured-motorist policy. (Docket Entry No. 16).
The issue is whether, as Mr. Cantu claims, State Farm's
participation in the uninsured-motorist lawsuit indicated its
consent to be bound by the default judgment issued in that
case. (Docket Entry No. 17).
judgment is required when ‘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.'”
Trent v. Wade, 776 F.3d 368, 376 (5th Cir. 2015)
(quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a)). “A genuine dispute of
material fact exists when the ‘evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving
party.'” Nola Spice Designs, LLC v. Haydel
Enters., Inc., 783 F.3d 527, 536 (5th Cir. 2015)
(quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S.
242, 248 (1986)). “The moving party ‘bears the
initial responsibility of informing the district court of the
basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the
record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a
genuine issue of material fact.'” Id.
(quoting E.E.O.C. v. LHC Grp., Inc., 773 F.3d 688,
694 (5th Cir. 2014)); see also Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).
the non-movant bears the burden of proof at trial, the movant
may merely point to the absence of evidence and thereby shift
to the non-movant the burden of demonstrating by competent
summary judgment proof that there is an issue of material
fact warranting trial.” Nola Spice, 783 F.3d
at 536 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted);
see also Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325. Although the
party moving for summary judgment must demonstrate the
absence of a genuine dispute of material fact, the movant
does not need to negate the elements of the nonmovant's
case. Pioneer Expl., L.L.C. v. Steadfast Ins. Co.,
767 F.3d 503, 511 (5th Cir. 2014). “A fact is
‘material' if its resolution in favor of one party
might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under governing
law.” Sossamon v. Lone Star State of Texas,
560 F.3d 316, 326 (5th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted).
“If the moving party fails to meet [its] initial
burden, the motion [for summary judgment] must be denied,
regardless of the nonmovant's response.” United
States v. $92, 203.00 in U.S. Currency, 537 F.3d 504,
507 (5th Cir. 2008) (quoting Little v. Liquid Air
Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc)).
the parties cross-move for summary judgment, the court must
review “each motion independently, viewing the evidence
and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving
party.” Mid-Continent Cas. Co. v. Bay Rock
Operating Co., 614 F.3d 105, 110 (5th Cir. 2010)
(alteration omitted) (citation omitted). When the moving
party has met its Rule 56(a) burden, the nonmoving party
cannot survive a summary judgment motion by resting on the
mere allegations of its pleadings. The nonmovant must
identify specific evidence in the record and explain how that
evidence supports that party's claim. Baranowski v.
Hart, 486 F.3d 112, 119 (5th Cir. 2007). “This
burden will not be satisfied by ‘some metaphysical
doubt as to the material facts, by conclusory allegations, by
unsubstantiated assertions, or by only a scintilla of
evidence.'” Boudreaux v. Swift Transp.
Co., 402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir. 2005) (quoting
Little, 37 F.3d at 1075). In deciding a summary
judgment motion, the court draws all reasonable inferences in
the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Connors
v. Graves, 538 F.3d 373, 376 (5th Cir. 2008).
Nevertheless, “[i]f a party fails to properly support
an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another
party's assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), the
court may: . . . consider the fact undisputed for purposes of
the motion.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2).
State Farm Did Not Consent to Be Bound
Texas, default judgments are not binding without the
insurer's consent if the uninsured-motorist policy
requires consent. See, e.g., State Farm Mut.
Auto. Ins. Co. v. Azima, 896 S.W.2d 177, 178 (Tex.
1995); Millard, 847 S.W.2d at 674; Gov't
Employees Ins. Co. (GEICO) v. Lichte, 792 S.W.2d 546,
548 (Tex. App.-El Paso 1990, writ denied); Criterion Ins.
Co. v. Brown, 469 S.W.2d 484, 484-85 (Tex. Civ.
App.-Austin 1971, writ ref'd n.r.e.). Consent clauses
“protect the carrier from liability arising from
default judgments against an uninsured motorist or from
insubstantial defense of the uninsured motorist.”
Azima, 896 S.W.2d at 178 (citing Allstate Ins.
Co. v. Hunt, 469 S.W.2d 151, 153 (Tex. 1971)).
State Farm policy stated that “[a]ny judgment for
damages arising out of a suit brought without our consent is
not binding on us. . . .” (Docket Entry No. 16 at 4).
State Farm did not give written consent, but that is not
required. (Docket Entry No. 19 at 2). Mr. Cantu instead
asserts that State Farm's consent to the lawsuit was
apparent from its participation in the suit against the
alleged tortfeasors, including naming the three individuals
as defendants, deposing the ...