United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
PAUL D. HARNESS, Plaintiff,
TWG TRANSPORTATION, INC.; KEVIN R. SAXTON; and CAROLINA CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendants.
TIMOTHY D. DEGIUSTI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Carolina Casualty Insurance Company (CCIC) moves to dismiss
all claims made against it in Plaintiff Paul D. Harness's
complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may
be granted [Doc. No. 2]. Plaintiff has filed his response in
opposition [Doc. No. 8] and CCIC has replied [Doc. No. 9].
The matter is fully briefed and at issue.
action stems from a motor vehicle accident which took place
on March 7, 2016, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Compl. [Doc.
No. 2-4] ¶ 17. On that day, a truck-trailer operated by
Defendant Kevin R. Saxton within the course of his employment
with Defendant TWG Transportation, Inc. (TWG) collided with
Plaintiff's vehicle. Id. ¶¶ 18, 23.
Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Saxton negligently caused
the accident and, by extension, Plaintiff's injuries
resulting from the accident. Id. Additionally,
Plaintiff states a claim against TWG for direct negligence,
negligence per se, negligent entrustment, and
negligent hiring, training, screening, and supervision of
Defendant Saxton. Id. ¶¶ 27, 28. Finally,
Plaintiff named CCIC a defendant due to its status as
TWG's liability insurance carrier. Id. ¶
alleges that under the Oklahoma Motor Carrier Act of 1995
(MCA), Okla. Stat. tit. 47, § 230.21 et seq.,
he may bring a direct action against CCIC for his injuries
and damages. The MCA makes it unlawful for any motor carrier
to operate or furnish service within Oklahoma without first
having obtained a license from the Oklahoma Corporation
Commission (OCC). Id. § 230.28. Additionally,
prior to granting a license, a carrier must have an approved
insurance policy or bond. Id. § 230.30. CCIC
contends that since TWG never registered its insurance policy
with the OCC, § 230.30 cannot be triggered here and CCIC
cannot have an action brought directly against it.
8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that a
pleading must contain a “short and plain statement of
the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to
relief.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
677-78 (2009). The pleading must have sufficient factual
matter that, when accepted as true, states “a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim to
relief is plausible on its face when the plaintiff pleads
facts that allow the court to reasonably infer that the
defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. To survive a motion to
dismiss, a pleading does not need detailed factual
allegations, but must be more than a formulaic recitation of
the elements of a cause of action or mere labels and
conclusions. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Courts must
accept all well-pleaded allegations of the complaint, and
must construe them in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party. Thomas v. Kaven, 765 F.3d 1183,
1190 (10th Cir. 2014). Consideration of a Rule 12(b)(6)
motion is limited to the complaint alone. Jacobsen v.
Deseret Book Co., 287 F.3d 936, 941 (10th Cir. 2002).
general rule, in Oklahoma a plaintiff may not bring a direct
action against a defendant's insurer. Daigle v.
Hamilton, 782 P.2d 1379, 1381 (Okla. 1989). An exception
to this rule is that an injured party may sue a motor carrier
and its liability insurer when certain statutorily identified
conditions are satisfied, or, as relevant here, “under
a statute requiring the carrier to file a liability insurance
policy or bond with the Oklahoma Corporation
Commission.” Id. (citing Enders v.
Longmire, 67 P.2d 12, 14 (Okla. 1937)). In
Daigle, the Oklahoma Supreme Court established the
rule that a plaintiff could maintain a joint, direct action
against the carrier and the insurer by virtue of the
carrier's obligation to maintain insurance under §
230.30. See Simpson v. Litt, No. CIV-17-339-R, 2017
WL 2271484, at *3 (W.D. Okla. May 23, 2017) (quoting
Daigle, 782 P.2d at 1381).
in Fierro v. Lincoln General Insurance Co., 217 P.3d
158 (Okla.Civ.App. 2009), the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals
carved out an exception to this rule and found that the MCA
does not permit a direct action against an interstate motor
carrier's liability insurer when the insurer is properly
registered in its home state. Id. at 160-61 (quoting
Daigle, 782 P.2d at 1380). The court observed that
the reasons for prohibiting a direct action against a
defendant's insurer “besides statutory directive,
include policy, prohibition by judicial decision, lack of
privity between the injured plaintiff and the insurer,
misjoinder of the tort action and the action on the contract,
and the enforcement of the ‘no action' clause in
the policy.” Id. (quoting Daigle, 782
P.2d at 1380). Post-Fierro, cases in the Western
District of Oklahoma have held that insurance companies for
interstate carriers who have not filed proof of insurance in
Oklahoma may not be named as joint defendants. See, e.g.,
Hankla v. Lee, No. CIV-17-641-D, 2018 WL 563181 (W.D.
Okla., Jan. 25, 2018); White v. Lewis, No.
CIV-13-862-C, 2014 WL 7272464 (W.D. Okla., Dec. 18,
2014); Beebe v. Flores, No. CIV-11-1381-HE, 2012 WL
137780 (W.D. Okla., Jan. 28, 2012). A direct action against
an insurer may be proper “if the Oklahoma Corporation
Commission has issued [its insured] a motor carrier
license.” See Simpson, 2017 WL 2271484, at *3.
Plaintiff makes the bare assertion that “pursuant to
§ 230.30 and Oklahoma law, CCIC is a properly named
party and a direct and joined action can be maintained
against said insurance company for the injuries and damages
suffered by Plaintiff Harness.” Compl. ¶ 40.
However, Plaintiff states no facts sufficient to make CCIC a
defendant under § 230.30, namely that TWG registered its
insurance with the OCC. This situation is identical to
Hankla, where the plaintiffs merely pled that the
motor carrier's liability insurer was a proper defendant
solely due to the MCA. Hankla, 2018 WL 563181, at
*2. This Court held in Hankla that, per
Fierro, insurance companies for interstate carriers
who have not filed proof of insurance with the OCC may not be
named as joint defendants per the MCA. Id. Thus,
here too CCIC may not be named a joint defendant because
Plaintiff does not allege that TWG registered its insurance
with the OCC.
claims in his response that because Oklahoma participates in
Unified Carrier Registration, a direct action may be brought
against CCIC under § 230.30 if TWG is registered under
Unified Carrier Registration. Pl.'s Resp. Br. at 7.
Plaintiff asserts that this allows a motor carrier to
register annually with only one state and that such
single-state registration satisfies the registration
requirements in all participating states. Id.
(citing Mid-Con Freight Sys., Inc., 545 U.S. at
443). Thus, Plaintiff contends, if TWG is so registered then
it is effectively registered with the OCC and a direct action
may be brought against CCIC under § 230.30. Id.
District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma, however,
rejected this contention in Mason v. Dunn, No.
CIV-14-282-KEW, 2016 WL 1178058 (E.D. Okla., Mar. 23, 2016).
Mason held that out-of-state registration does not
satisfy the requirement that the motor carrier's
liability policy be filed with the OCC before the insurer may
be subject to direct action. Id. at *2-3. See
also Simpson, 2017 WL 2271484, at *3 (because interstate
carriers do not need to register in Oklahoma and §
230.30 applies only to motor carriers required to obtain a
license from the OCC, interstate carriers who have registered
proof of insurance in their home state pursuant to Unified
Carrier Registration are not subject to § 230.30). The
Court agrees with the decisions in Mason and
Simpson. Even if TWG is registered under Unified
Carrier Registration, CCIC still may not be named as a
defendant because TWG is not subject to § 230.30 and did
not file its insurance policy with the OCC.
Plaintiff claims in his response that failure to treat
Unified Carrier Registration by TWG Transportation as
registration with the OCC would “result in disparate
treatment of Oklahoma citizens injured within the state of
Oklahoma when compared to an Oklahoma registered motor
carrier.” Pl.'s Resp. Br. at 7. This treatment,
Plaintiff claims, is a violation of the Equal Protection
Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
and Section 44 of Article IX of the Oklahoma Constitution,
which requires domestic and foreign corporations to be
treated the same in Oklahoma. Id. This is not