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Cope v. Auto-Owners Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. Colorado

January 7, 2019

TODD COPE, Plaintiff,
v.
AUTO-OWNERS INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant. and KENNETH MERRITT and CHRISTY MERRITT, Plaintiffs,
v.
AUTO-OWNERS INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO CONSOLIDATE RELATED CASES

          William J. Martínez United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Consolidate (“Motion to Consolidate” or “Motion”; ECF No. 47). Defendant requests that the Court consolidate 18-cv-0051-WJM-SKC and 18-cv-2000-WJM-STV (the “Merritt lawsuit”) into one action. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's Motion to Consolidate is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In November 2013, Kenneth and Christy Merritt (the “Merritts”), were passengers in a vehicle driven by Plaintiff Todd Cope (“Plaintiff”). (ECF No. 5 ¶¶ 7, 10.) Plaintiff, an employee of Rocky's Auto, Inc. (“Rocky's Auto”), was driving the Merritts to a nearby bank to obtain funds to purchase a vehicle from Rocky's Auto. (Merritt, ECF No. 25 at 5.) While stopped at a red traffic light, Plaintiff's vehicle was hit from behind by a motorist (“Motorist”). (Merritt, ECF No. 6 ¶ 11.)

         Plaintiff and the Merritts allegedly sustained serious injuries from the car crash and both filed separate lawsuits against the Motorist in Colorado state court. (ECF No. 5 ¶¶ 7, 10; Merritt, ECF No. 6 ¶¶ 45-46.) These actions were subsequently combined and, on the eve of trial, Plaintiff and the Merritts settled their liability claims against the Motorist for a global settlement amount of $1, 400, 000. (ECF No. 5 ¶¶ 10-11.)

         Plaintiff and the Merritts, however, allege that the Motorist did not have sufficient automobile liability insurance to cover the injuries, losses, and damages they sustained as a result of the collision. (ECF No. 5 ¶ 12; Merritt, ECF No. 6 ¶¶ 73-75.) Thus, Plaintiff and the Merritts sought to recover underinsured-motorist (“UIM”) benefits from Defendant pursuant to an automobile policy for UIM coverage Defendant had issued to Rocky's Auto. (ECF No. 5 ¶¶ 13-15, 21; Merritt, ECF No. 6 ¶¶ 76-77.) After reviewing their claims, Defendant determined that Plaintiff and the Merritts were not entitled to UIM benefits because their total damages did not exceed the Motorist's limit of liability insurance. (ECF No. 29 at 3-4; Merritt, ECF No. 25 at 6-7.)

         On November 14, 2017, Plaintiff filed the current action against Defendant in Colorado state court, seeking to recover UIM benefits, a statutory penalty, and fees. (ECF Nos. 1, 5, 29 at 2.) The case was removed to this Court on diversity jurisdiction grounds on January 8, 2018. (ECF No. 1.) In July 2018, the Merritts filed a complaint against Defendant in Colorado state court and the case was likewise removed to this Court on diversity jurisdiction grounds. (Merritt, ECF No. 1.) In that lawsuit, the Merritts seek to recover UIM benefits, a statutory penalty, and fees. (Merritt, ECF Nos. 6 & 25 at 5.)

         Soon after the Merritt lawsuit was removed to this Court, Defendant filed a Motion to Consolidate this action with the Merritt lawsuit. (ECF No. 47.) Plaintiff has not filed a response to the Motion and, according to Defendant, Plaintiff's attorney “indicated that Plaintiff Todd Cope takes no position on this [M]otion.” (Id. at 1.) The Merritts, however, object to Defendant's Motion. (ECF No. 51.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Rule 42(a) provides that “[i]f actions before the court involve a common question of law or fact, the court may . . . consolidate the actions . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 42(a)(2). The decision whether to consolidate actions involving common questions of law or fact is committed to the sound discretion of the district court. Shump v. Balka, 574 F.2d 1341, 1344 (10th Cir. 1978). The purpose of Rule 42(a) is “to give the court broad discretion to decide how cases on its docket are to be tried so that the business of the court may be dispatched with expedition and economy while providing justice to the parties.” Breaux v. Am. Family Mut. Ins. Co., 220 F.R.D. 366, 367 (D. Colo. 2004).

         “In exercising its discretion, the court should take into consideration whether judicial efficiency is best served by consolidation.” Otter Prods., LLC v. Treefrog Devs., Inc., 2013 WL 490964, at *1 (D. Colo. Feb. 7, 2013). “The court generally weighs the saving of time and effort that consolidation would produce against any inconvenience, delay, or expense that consolidation would cause.” Id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Duty to Confer

         As an initial matter, the Court will address the Merritts' contention that Defendant violated D.C.COLO.LCivR 7.1(a) when it allegedly failed to confer with the Merritts' counsel prior to filing the Motion to Consolidate.[1] In particular, the Merritts argue that “[a]t no time did Defendant Auto Owners ever consult with, or confer with, Counsel for [the Merritts]” in regard to the Motion. (ECF No. 51 at 1.) In its reply, Defendant asserts that it was only required to confer with Plaintiff's counsel. (ECF No. 52 at 3.) In other words, Defendant contends that it did not have a duty to confer with the Merritts' counsel since ...


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