Valley Health System, LLC

Filing 50

ORDER that plaintiff Valley Health System, LLCs motion for partial summary judgment 22 regarding its breach of contract claim is hereby GRANTED. Defendant Nurses R Special 25 motion to strike plaintiffs motion for failing to comply with local rule 56-1 is hereby DENIED. Signed by Judge James C. Mahan on 4/12/11. (Copies have been distributed pursuant to the NEF - ECS)

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1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 DISTRICT OF NEVADA 6 8 VALLEY HEALTH SYSTEMS, LLC d/b/a SPRING VALLEY HOSPITAL MEDICAL CENTER, 9 2:09-CV-1361 JCM (LRL) Plaintiff, 7 10 v. 11 NURSES ‘R’ SPECIAL, INC., et al., 12 Defendants. 13 14 15 ORDER 16 Presently before the court is plaintiff Valley Health System, LLC’s (“Valley”) motion for 17 partial summary judgment. (Doc. #22). Defendant Nurses ‘R’ Special (“Nurses”) moves to strike 18 plaintiff’s motion for failing to comply with Local Rule 56-1. (Doc. #25). In the alternative, 19 defendant has responded (doc. #26) to the substance of plaintiff’s motion and provided a supplement 20 (doc. #29). Plaintiff responded to the motion to strike (doc. #33) and replied (doc. #30) to the 21 defendant’s opposition. 22 I. STATEMENT OF FACTS 23 The current litigation stems from an underlying action (“the Butts action”) in which plaintiff 24 Butts sued various defendants including Valley. In the Butts action, Nurse Nesbith, a nurse supplied 25 to Valley by Nurses, was found negligent in her treatment of Mr. Butts by special jury verdict. Her 26 negligence was also found to be a proximate cause of Mr. Butts’ death. Valley tendered the defense 27 of Nurse Nesbith to Nurses on two occasions, but Nurses rejected each tender. Nurses was briefly 28 James C. Mahan U.S. District Judge 1 a party in the Butts action after the plaintiff filed an amended complaint, but was dismissed based 2 on the statute of limitations. No findings of fact were made regarding Valley whatsoever, other than 3 that Nurse Nesbith was one of its agents. In the instant action, Valley now sues Nurses for indemnity 4 of the underlying verdict in the Butts action. 5 Nurses entered into a written contract with Broadlane whereby Nurses supplied staff to 6 outside customers, including Valley. “Broadlane provides contracting services to negotiate contracts 7 for certain services on behalf of individuals or entities that designate Broadlane as their group- 8 purchasing agent (“Customers”).” (Doc. #22, exhibit A). Under the terms of their contract, Nurses 9 was considered a “Supplier” and Valley was considered a “Customer.” Id. The contract also included 10 an indemnity provision which is at issue in this case. 11 II. MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT 12 Summary judgment is appropriate when, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the 13 nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue of material fact which would preclude summary 14 judgment as a matter of law. Bagdadi v. Nazar, 84 F.3d 1194, 1197 (9th Cir. 1996). The moving 15 party bears the burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion, together with evidence 16 demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp.v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 17 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has satisfied its burden, it is entitled to summary judgment 18 if the non-moving party fails to present, by affidavits, depositions, answer to interrogatories, or 19 admissions on file," specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Celotex Corp. v. 20 Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986); FED . R. CIV . P. 56(c). 21 A. 22 Per the choice of law provision found in the contract between Nurses and Broadlane, Texas 23 24 25 26 27 Indemnification of Valley law governing indemnity actions applies. The indemnity provision at issue in this case reads: Indemnification of Customers. Supplier shall indemnify, defend, and hold each Customer and its affiliates officers, directors, and agents harmless from and against all damages, claims, penalties, interest, or other losses arising from a breach of this Agreement by Supplier (including Staff) or arising from Services. This indemnity must include provision of a defense to any third party claims and the advance of costs related to this defense but does not extend any portion of the loss due to a Customer’s negligence or willful misconduct. 28 James C. Mahan U.S. District Judge -2- 1 (Doc. #26) (emphasis omitted). 2 Texas case law dictates that an indemnitor, who denies its duty to indemnify, is not privy to 3 a judicial determination of an indemnitee’s liability to an injured party. Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe 4 Railway v. G.C. McBride, 322 S.W.2d 492, 495 (Tex. 1958). Specifically, the Supreme Court of 5 Texas found that “[when] an indemnitor denies any obligation under the indemnity agreement and 6 obtains a summary judgment, the indemnitor waives any right to insist upon a judicial determination 7 of the liability of the indemnitee to the injured party.” Id. Accordingly, “[h]aving settled the claim 8 without obtaining a judicial determination of its liability, [the indemnitee] assume[s] the risk of 9 being able to prove the facts which might have rendered it liable to the plaintiff as well as the 10 reasonableness of the amount which it paid. It will be necessary, therefore, for [the indemnitee] to 11 establish that from its standpoint the settlement was made in good faith and was reasonable and 12 prudent under the circumstances.” Id. (citations omitted). 13 Plaintiff argues that the court in Missouri Pacific R.R. Co. v. Southern Pacific Co., 430 14 S.W.2d 900 (Ct. App. Tex. 1968), addresses a factually analogous situation to this case. This court 15 agrees. In Missouri Pacific, the court found that “[Indemnitee-] Southern Pacific was not, under the 16 circumstances, required to prove its liability of [an injured railroad worker] as a condition to its 17 recovery of indemnity from [indemnitor-] Missouri Pacific.” Id. at 904. Indeed, the court in the 18 underlying case found that Southern Pacific, through its agency relationship with the injured railroad 19 worker (Liles), was not negligent. Id. at 903. Admittedly, this is a key factual difference between this 20 case and Missouri Pacific since Valley’s negligence, if any, was never determined by the jury. 21 However, the court in Missouri Pacific concluded that in failing to participate in the defense or 22 settlement of the injured party’s claim after being called upon to do so by indemnitee-Southern 23 Pacific, indemnitor-Missouri Pacific “waived any right to a judicial determination of Southern 24 Pacific’s liability as a condition to Southern Pacific’s recovery of indemnity from it.” Id. at 904. 25 Therefore, indemnitor-Nurses’ failure to participate in the defense of Mr. Butts’ claim, after being 26 called upon to do so by indemnitee-Valley, waives its right to a judicial determination of Valley’s 27 28 James C. Mahan U.S. District Judge -3- 1 liability as it asks for in its opposition.1 2 Additionally “Liles’ cause of action against [indemnitor-] Missouri Pacific was barred [by 3 a statute of limitations].” Id. The court recognized that there were many instances where “joint tort 4 feasors cause injury to a third party [and] one of them may be protected by the law from liability to 5 the injured party.” Id. However, “in those cases, the joint tortfeasor from whom indemnity or 6 contribution was sought never became liable to the injured party” like Missouri Pacific did. Id. 7 Accordingly, the Missouri Pacific court found that “the running of the statute of limitations did not 8 even extinguish that liability” between Missouri Pacific and Liles. Id. Rather, “it merely deprived 9 him of his remedy for enforcing it.” Id. The Settlement 10 B. 11 Nurses incorrectly asserts that “Valley did not settle with the Butts plaintiffs” when it 12 attempts to distinguish this case from the aforementioned Texas case law. (Doc. #26). Specifically, 13 Nurses claims that the Texas case law provided by Valley is not relevant to its position since those 14 cases ended in settlement and here Valley went to trial. Although Valley did go to trial and had 15 judgment entered against it based on Nurse Nesbith’s conduct, that verdict was controlled by a high- 16 low agreement. “A high-low agreement is a settlement in which a defendant agrees to pay the 17 plaintiff a minimum recovery in return for the plaintiff’s agreement to accept a maximum amount 18 regardless of the outcome of the trial.” Rodriguez v. Villarreal, 314 S.W.3d 636, 641 (Ct. App. Tex. 19 2010) (citation omitted). Considering “Valley’s loss was capped at $1 million dollars [sic] in the 20 underlying action despite a substantially higher jury verdict” (doc. #30), Valley’s “settlement [in the 21 Butts action] was made in good faith and was reasonable and prudent under the circumstances.”2 22 Gulf, 322 S.W.2d at 495. Accordingly, this case did involve settlement. 23 24 25 26 27 1 “[T]he issue of Valley’s own negligence was never determined by the jury, and is required before the contract’s indemnity provision can be interpreted. As such, Nurses is entitled to litigate that issue in this case, in order to determine Valley’s percentage negligence as compared with Nurses. Only then can the indemnity provision be applied.” (Doc. #26, P. 6) 2 28 James C. Mahan U.S. District Judge The jury verdict exceeded $1.5 million. (Doc. #22, exhibit B) -4- Denying Tender of Defense 1 C. 2 Valley claims that pursuant to the terms of the underlying contract between Nurses and 3 Broadlane, Nurses had a duty to defend Valley. In contrast, Nurses claims that “the denial of tender 4 was appropriate, and not a breach of contract . . . [arguing that]. . . had [it] accepted Valley’s tender 5 by taking over the defense of Valley prior to trial, it would have been forced to waive its valid 6 defenses, which include pointing the finger at Valley for its own negligence.” Id. However, the court 7 in English v. BGP International, Inc., 174 S.W.3d 366, 373 (Ct. App. Tex. 1968), stated that when 8 “pleadings sufficiently allege separate negligence causes of action, that still does not relieve [the 9 indemnitor] of its duty to defend [the indemnitee] in the underlying lawsuits. When some theories 10 of liability fail to give rise to the duty to defend but other theories do, the party should be required 11 to provide a defense.” 12 13 14 15 16 Specifically, the English court found guidance from cases involving the duty to defend in the insurance context: [W]e find little reason why the principles regarding an insurer’s duty to defend should not apply with equal force to an indemnitor’s contractual promise to defend its indemnitee. See generally Gen. Motors Corp. v. Am. Ecology Envtl. Svcs. Corp., (citation omitted) (applying the same principles regarding the duty of an insurer to defend in the insurance context to the duty of an indemnitor who has contractually agreed to defend its indemnitee). 17 18 Id. at 372. The English court further explained that competing theories of liability do not relieve the 19 indemnitor’s duty to defend: 20 21 22 23 Typically, an insurer has a duty to defend, despite theories of liability asserted . . .which are not covered under the policy, if there are any theories of recovery that fall within . . . the policy.” See generally Gen. Motors Corp. v. Am. Ecology Envtl. Svcs. Corp., (citation omitted) (emphasis original); Fid. & Guar. Ins. Underwriters, Inc. v. McManus, 633 S.W.2d 787, 788 (Tex. 1982) (explaining that when a petition only alleges facts excluded by an insurance policy, the insurer is not required to defend). It is only when no facts sufficiently fall within the agreement that the party is excused from its duty to defend. 24 25 McManus, 633 S.W.2d at 788 (citation omitted). Thus, Nurses had a duty to defend Valley regardless 26 of whether there were any competing theories of liability since one of its own nurses, an employee 27 of its company, was implicated in the underlying Butts action. 28 James C. Mahan U.S. District Judge -5- Conclusion 1 D. 2 Nurses breached its contract with Valley when it denied Valley’s tender of defense of the 3 Butts action. Nurses had a duty to defend Valley, pursuant to the indemnity provision found in their 4 contract, regardless of whether there were competing theories of liability that might have implicated 5 Valley. 6 Accordingly, 7 IT IS HEREBY ORDERED ADJUDGED AND DECREED that plaintiff Valley Health 8 System, LLC’s motion for partial summary judgment (doc. # 22) regarding its breach of contract 9 claim is hereby GRANTED. 10 11 12 IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that defendant Nurses ‘R’ Special motion to strike plaintiff’s motion for failing to comply with local rule 56-1 is hereby DENIED. DATED April 12, 2011. 13 14 UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 James C. Mahan U.S. District Judge -6-

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