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Cline v. Homuth

California Court of Appeals, Third District, Calaveras

February 27, 2015

RONALD LEE CLINE, Plaintiff and Appellant, BERNIECE DELORES HOMUTH, Defendant and Respondent.

Super. Ct. No. CV35615

Page 700

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 701

COUNSEL

Hinkle, Jachimowicz, Pointer & Emanuel and Joel P. Waelty for Plaintiff and Appellant.

May all Hurley, Vladimir F. Kozina and Jenny D. Dennis for Defendant and Respondent.

OPINION

DUARTE, J.

Plaintiff Ronald Lee Cline was severely injured when his motorcycle collided with a turning car driven by a teenager with a provisional license. He settled with the driver and the driver’s parents for their $100, 000 insurance policy limit. Cline executed a release that released the driver and his parents “and any other person, corporation, association, or partnership responsible in any manner or degree” for the accident.

Cline subsequently sued defendant Berniece Delores Homuth, the driver’s grandmother and the sole adult in the car with him at the time of the collision, for negligent supervision. Homuth raised the release as an affirmative defense. She moved for summary judgment; the trial court denied the motion. A court trial followed, centering on the validity of the release and whether Homuth was an intended third party beneficiary of the release. Relying on Rodriguez v. Oto (2013) 212 Cal.App.4th 1020 [151 Cal.Rptr.3d 667]

Page 702

(Rodriguez), the trial court found the release “unambiguously expresses a mutual intent to benefit a class of persons of which [Homuth] is a member” and that Homuth was entitled to enforce it.

Cline appeals from the judgment in favor of Homuth. He contends the extrinsic evidence demonstrates that Homuth is not an intended beneficiary of the release. As we explain, Cline failed to provide sufficient evidence to counter Homuth’s showing that she was an intended beneficiary of the release. We affirm.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The Accident

On April 9, 2007, Colby Homuth (Colby), who had a provisional driver’s license requiring immediate supervision by an adult (Veh. Code, § 12814.6), was driving his parents’ car on O’Byrnes Ferry Road. Homuth, his grandmother, was the sole passenger in the car. As Colby turned left onto Pheasant Run Drive, Cline’s motorcycle approached and struck the back of the car. The traffic collision report concluded Colby caused the accident. Cline was severely injured, suffering numerous broken bones.

Settlement and Release

Colby’s parents, Wade and Leslie Homuth, had automobile insurance with California State Automobile Association (CSAA). The policy’s limit for bodily injury claims was $100, 000 per person. Cline’s attorney, Gerald Emanuel, made a demand to Angelo Rodriguez, CSAA’s claims representative, for the policy limit.

Rodriguez knew Cline’s medical expenses exceeded the policy limits and believed payment of the policy limit was appropriate. On March 26, 2008, Cline signed a settlement agreement with CSAA. The “Release of All Claims” was a printed form with blanks for the name of the party signing and the parties released, as well as the amount of compensation and the date and location of the accident. The portions filled in were in all capitals. The release stated in part: “To be executed by RONALD CLINE. The undersigned do(es) hereby acknowledge acceptance of ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS ($100, 000.00) Payable to RONALD CLINE & GERALD E. EMANUEL AS ATTORNEY AND MEDICARE which payment is accepted in full compromise settlement and satisfaction of and as sole consideration for the final release and discharge of all actions, claims and demands whatsoever, that now exist, or may hereafter accrue against LESLIE & WADE HOMUTH; COLBY HOMUTH and any other person, corporation,

Page 703

association or partnership responsible in any manner or degree for injuries to the person and property of the undersigned, and the treatment thereof, and the consequences flowing therefrom, as a result of an accident, casualty or event which occurred on or about the 9TH day of APRIL 2007 at or near STR: O’BYRNES FAIRY [sic] RD CITY, COUNTY: COPPEROPOLIS, CALAVERAS ST: CA and for which the undersigned claims the above named persons or parties are legally liable in damages which legal liability and damages are disputed and denied....” Cline also waived the provisions of Civil Code section 1542 relating to unknown claims.

The Lawsuit

Cline filed a lawsuit against Homuth for damages based on negligent supervision. She moved for summary judgment, contending she was released from all claims by the unambiguous “any other person” language of the release.

The trial court denied the motion, finding a triable issue of fact as to whether the release was intended to benefit Homuth. The court found Cline had submitted evidence showing he had no such intent. This evidence included declarations from Cline and his attorney stating that he would not have signed the release if it had named Homuth as a releasee, that neither Cline nor his counsel intended to release Homuth, and that although Homuth was known by the parties to the settlement, she was not named in the release.

Homuth moved to have the trial court determine the legal effect of the release. The ...


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