United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma
ASHLEY NICHOLE MAGALLAN, individually, as surviving spouse and next friend of Jesus Magallan, Jr., deceased Plaintiff,
ZURICH AMERICAN INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant, and ZURICH AMERICAN INSURANCE COMPANY, Third-Party Plaintiff,
WYOMING CASING SERVICE, INC., Third-Party Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
V. EAGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court is Zurich American Insurance Company's
(Zurich) motion to certify questions to the Oklahoma Supreme
Court (Dkt. # 71). Zurich asks the Court to certify two
questions to the Oklahoma Supreme Court pursuant to the
Revised Uniform Certification of Questions of Law Act, Oka.
Stat. tit. 20, § 1601, et seq. Plaintiff Ashley
Nichole Magallan (Magallan) responds, arguing that
Zurich's motion should be denied because Zurich has
failed to establish that certification is necessary in this
case. Dkt. # 75.
case arises from an automobile accident that resulted in the
death of Magallan's husband, Jesus Magallan, Jr. Dkt. #
2-1, at 6. On February 17, 2015, Jesus Magallan, Jr. and
Pedro Ochoa were passengers in pickup truck being driven by
Robert Kirk and owned by Wyoming Casing Service, Inc.
(Wyoming Casing). Dkt. # 71, at 6; Dkt. # 75, at 7. All three
men were employees of Wyoming Casing and were acting within
the scope of their employment. Dkt. # 71, at 6; Dkt. # 75, at
7. The pickup truck was involved in an automobile accident
with another vehicle, resulting in injuries to Ochoa and Kirk
and the death of Jesus Magallan, Jr. Dkt. # 71, at 6; Dkt. #
75, at 7. At the time of the accident Wyoming Casing had
workers' compensation insurance and business automobile
insurance policies issued by Zurich. See Dkt. ##
71-12, 71-4. The business automobile insurance policy
includes uninsured motorist coverage. See Dkt. #
71-5. Magallan, individually and as surviving spouse of Jesus
Magallan, Jr., filed a workers' compensation claim and an
uninsured motorist claim with Zurich. Dkt. # 71, at 7.
Magallan was awarded benefits for her workers'
compensation claim, but Zurich denied her uninsured motorist
filed this suit in the District Court of Delaware County,
State of Oklahoma. Dkt. # 2-1, at 1. Her petition alleges
claims for breach of contract, bad faith, and declaratory
relief against Zurich, and negligence and wrongful death
against John Christopher Crelia, the driver of the other
automobile involved in the accident. Id. Zurich removed
the suit to this Court (Dkt. # 2) and filed a third-party
complaint (Dkt. # 15) against Wyoming Casing for a
declaratory judgment regarding Zurich's obligations under
the business automobile insurance policy. There are several
pending motions in this case, including motions for summary
judgment or partial summary judgment by each of the parties.
See Dkt. ## 74, 80, 81. Those motions are not yet at
issue, and this decision addresses only Zurich's motion
for certification of questions to the Oklahoma Supreme Court
(Dkt. # 71).
decision to certify a question of law to a state court is
within the discretion of a federal district court. See
Oliveros v. Mitchell, 449 F.3d 1091, 1093 (10th Cir.
2006); Coletti v. Cudd Pressure Control, 165 F.3d
767, 775 (10th Cir. 1999); Allstate Ins. Co. v.
Brown, 920 F.2d 664, 667 (10th Cir. 1990). The Oklahoma
Supreme Court has the power to accept a certified question
from a federal court if the outcome of the federal litigation
depends on a controlling issue of state law and the issue
cannot be resolved by reference to an Oklahoma statute,
constitutional provision, or judicial decision. Okla. Stat.
tit. 20, § 1602. But “[c]ertification should not
be routinely invoked whenever a federal court is presented
with an unsettled question of state law.” Armijo v.
Ex Cam, Inc., 843 F.2d 406, 407 (10th Cir. 1988).
“[F]ederal courts have the duty to decide questions of
state law even if difficult or uncertain.” Colony
Ins. Co. v. Burke, 698 F.3d 1222, 1235 (10th Cir. 2012)
(quoting Copier ex rel. Lindsey v. Smith & Wesson
Corp., 138 F.3d 833, 838 (10th Cir. 1998)). A federal
court will certify a question only where the question
“(1) may be determinative of the case at hand and (2)
is sufficiently novel that [the court] feel[s] uncomfortable
attempting to decide it without further guidance.”
Pino v. United States, 507 F.3d 1233, 1236 (10th
Cir. 2007) (citing Delaney v. Cade, 986 F.2d 387,
391 (10th Cir. 1993)).
first proposed question for certification is “[w]hether
an employer who is a motor carrier exempt from the Oklahoma
Uninsured Motorist Coverage Act may exclude from its fleet
policy's voluntarily-purchased uninsured motorist
coverage employees who are covered by workers'
compensation coverage on the effective date of the fleet
policy.” Dkt. # 71, at 6. Oklahoma law generally
requires automobile insurance policies to include uninsured
motorist coverage. Okla. Stat. tit. 36, § 3636. The
uninsured motorist coverage requirement does not apply to
“any policy covering motor trucks operated by a motor
carrier . . . where the named insured has employees who
operate motor trucks or to any other commercial automobile
liability policy covering motor trucks where the named
insured has employees and such employees are covered by
workers' compensation.” Id. § 3637.
Zurich's position in this case is that the uninsured
motorist policy does not cover Jesus Magallan, Jr., and that
his exclusion does not violate § 3636 because Wyoming
Casing is exempt under § 3637.
central question in this litigation is whether the uninsured
motorist policy covers Jesus Magallan, Jr., and Zurich's
first question assumes not only that he is not covered, but
also that Wyoming Casing is exempt under § 3637. The
Court will address those issues when it considers the pending
motions for summary judgment and expresses no opinion on the
merits of those arguments at this time. However, assuming
that Zurich prevails on the issues necessary to render its
first question relevant in this case, the question is
essentially whether the exemption to the uninsured motorist
coverage requirement is enforceable. In support of its motion
for certification, Zurich provides no reason why this would
be a novel issue of Oklahoma law requiring certification, and
instead simply argues the merits of its case-that Wyoming
Casing is a motor carrier exempt from § 3636 and can
exclude some employees from its uninsured motorist policy.
See Dkt. # 71, at 9-12. In § 3637, Oklahoma
created an exception to § 3636, and in the absence of a
compelling reason to the contrary, the Court will not certify
a question to the Oklahoma Supreme Court asking if §
3637 is enforceable.
second proposed question for certification is:
Whether liability and uninsured motorist coverage exclusions
relating to workers' compensation insurance and employee
indemnification/employer's liability in an employer's
fleet policy are valid and enforceable under Oklahoma's
rules of insurance policy interpretation in light of recent
changes to the Oklahoma workers' compensation laws and
facts which were not before the Court in [Torres v.
Kansas City Fire and Marine Insurance Company, 849 P.2d
407 (Okla. 1993)].
Id. at 6. Zurich's second question is worded in
a somewhat convoluted manner, but in light of Zurich's
arguments in support of its motion to certify, the Court
believes Zurich is asking whether this case is
distinguishable from Torres in light of changes in
Oklahoma's workers' compensation laws. In describing
the uninsured motorist coverage required by § 3636, the
statute states that coverage shall be provided for those
“entitled to recover damages from owners or operators
of uninsured motor vehicles. . . .” Torres is
one in a line of cases in which the Oklahoma Supreme Court
interpreted the meaning of “legally entitled to
recover.” See Torres, 849 P.2d at 410-11
(chronicling previous cases interpreting the phrase). The
defendant in Torres argued that the plaintiff could
not recover under the uninsured motorist policy because the
driver at fault was immune from liability by virtue of the
exclusivity provisions of the workers' compensation laws.
Id. at 409. Thus, defendant argued, the plaintiff
was not legally entitled to recover” under § 3636
because he was not legally entitled to recover damages from
the tortfeasor. Id. The Oklahoma Supreme Court
disagreed with the defendant and held that the exclusivity
provisions of the workers' compensation laws do not bar
recovery under an uninsured motorist policy. Id. at
412. The Oklahoma Supreme Court explained that it was
following its previous cases by holding that “[t]he
words ‘legally entitled to recover' simply mean
that the insured must be able to establish fault on the part
of the uninsured motorist which gives rise to damages and
prove the extent of those damages.” Id. at 410
(quoting Uptegraft v. Home Ins. Co., 662 P.2d 681,
685 (Okla. 1983)).
support of its motion to certify, Zurich argues that this
case should be distinguished from Torres. Dkt. # 71,
at 12-28. But federal courts routinely engage in analyzing
state court cases and determining whether their reasoning
applies to the situation before them, and Zurich has given
the Court no reason to think that there is anything
particular about this case or Torres that would
necessitate the state court to determine whether
Torres applies here. Torres is part of a
line of cases, not all of which involve workers'
compensation. Because the holding in Torres is not
inextricably linked to workers' compensation, the Court
finds that it does not “feel uncomfortable attempting
to decide [the issue] without further guidance” from
Oklahoma Supreme Court due to changes in Oklahoma's
workers' compensation laws. See Pino, 507 F.3d
IS THEREFORE ORDERED that Zurich American Insurance
Company's motion to certify questions to the Oklahoma
Supreme Court (Dkt. # 71) is denied.