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Berhane v. Allstate Insurance Co.

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

November 6, 2013

BERENESH BERHANE, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

PETER J. MESSITTE, District Judge.

This suit arises out of a car accident involving Plaintiff Berenesh Berhane and Damun Walling. Based on diversity jurisdiction, the case was removed from the Circuit Court for Prince George's County, Maryland by Defendant Nissan North America, Inc. ("NNA") after Berenesh and Alemseged Berhane ("Plaintiffs") dismissed non-diverse Defendants Damun and George Walling. The remaining counts in this suit are for breach of contract (Count III) against Allstate Insurance Company ("Allstate") and product liability (Count IV) against NNA. NNA has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Paper No. 22) with respect to Count IV, Berenesh Berhane's claim against it.[1]

For the reasons that follow, the Motion is GRANTED.

I.

On November 11, 2009, in Prince George's County, Maryland, Damun Walling purportedly backed his GMC truck into Plaintiffs' Nissan Pathfinder automobile, injuring Berenesh Berhane. According to the Complaint, Alemseged Berhane was not involved in the accident. Plaintiffs' negligence and loss of consortium claims against Damun and George Walling, the driver and owner of the GMC, respectively, were voluntarily dismissed in the Circuit Court after Plaintiffs reached a settlement with the Wallings. As for Allstate, Plaintiffs alleged breach of contract based on the carrier's purported failure to pay underinsured motorist benefits included in Plaintiffs' insurance contract with it. Berenesh Berhane also brought a product liability claim against NNA, alleging that the Nissan Pathfinder vehicle was negligently designed and manufactured, and that those defects contributed to her injuries.

On February 25, 2013, Berenesh Berhane signed a release as part of her settlement with the Wallings' insurer ("Berhane-Wallings Release"). The Release provides, in relevant part:

For the Sole Consideration of Fifty thousand... dollars the receipt and sufficiency whereof is hereby acknowledged, the undersigned hereby releases and forever discharges Damian & George Walling their heirs, executors, administrators, agents and assigns, and all other persons, firms or corporations liable or, who might be claimed to be liable, none of whom admit any liability to the undersigned but all expressly deny any liability, from any and all claims, demands, damages, actions, cause of action or suits of any kind or nature whatsoever, and particularly on account of all injuries, known and unknown, both to the person and property, which have resulted or may in the future develop from an accident which occurred on or about November 11, 2009, at or near Forrest Blvd & RT 704, Mitchellville, MD.
***
Undersigned hereby declares that the terms of this settlement have been completely read and are fully understood and voluntarily accepted for the purpose of making a full and final compromise adjustment and settlement and any and all claims, disputed or otherwise, on account of the injuries and damages above mentioned, and for the express purpose of precluding forever any further or additional claims arising out of the aforesaid accident.

See Berhane-Wallings Release (emphasis added). In her deposition, Berenesh Berhane admitted to signing the Release. Based on the release, NNA asks that the claim against it be dismissed as a matter of law.

II.

"The court shall 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." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute is one where the evidence is such that "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Dulaney v. Packaging Corp. of Am., 673 F.3d 323, 330 (4th Cir. 2012). A material fact is one "that might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law." Erwin v. United States, 591 F.3d 313, 320 (4th Cir. 2010) ( citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). When assessing a motion for summary judgment, the court views the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draws all reasonable inferences in his or her favor. Dulaney, 673 F.3d at 330. A nonmoving party may not, however, defeat summary judgment by making assertions lacking sufficient factual support or by relying on a mere "scintilla of evidence." Am. Arms Int'l v. Herbert, 563 F.3d 78, 82 (4th Cir. 2009). A party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment bears the burden of establishing a genuine issue of material fact on each essential element of its case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49; Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The party opposing summary judgment "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [his] pleadings, ' but rather must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 525 (4th Cir. 2003).

III.

NNA contends that summary judgment in its favor is appropriate because the Berhane-Wallings Release not only releases the Wallings from liability, ...


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