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Katrina Lucero and El and Il, By and Through Their Next Friend v. Nanette Holbrook

November 30, 2012

KATRINA LUCERO AND EL AND IL, BY AND THROUGH THEIR NEXT FRIEND, GUARDIAN AND MOTHER, KATRINA LUCERO, APPELLANTS (PLAINTIFFS),
v.
NANETTE HOLBROOK, APPELLEE (DEFENDANT).



Appeal from the District Court of Natrona County The Honorable Catherine E. Wilking, Judge

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Voigt, Justice.

Before KITE, C.J., and GOLDEN,*fn1 HILL, VOIGT, and BURKE, JJ.

[¶1] Nanette Holbrook, the appellee, left her car unattended with the motor running in her private driveway while she briefly returned to her home to retrieve her pocketbook. In the interim, Colbey Emms (Emms), a methamphetamine user, stole her vehicle. Emms later got into a high-speed chase with the police, which ended when the car he was driving collided with a vehicle driven by Katrina Lucero (Lucero), one of the appellants, and mother of EL and IL, also appellants. Lucero filed a complaint on behalf of herself and her children alleging that the appellee breached a duty to them of due care by leaving her car unattended with the keys in the ignition. The district court granted the appellee's motion for summary judgment on the basis that no duty was owed to the appellants under either the common law or by statute, and that the appellee's leaving of her keys in her car with the motor running was not the proximate cause of the accident. We affirm.

ISSUE

[¶2] Did the district court appropriately grant the appellee's motion for summary judgment?

FACTS

[¶3] On the morning of December 18, 2009, the appellee got into her car, started the engine, and pulled the car out of her garage and onto her driveway as she was preparing to leave her home to go to work. She soon realized that she had forgotten her purse and returned to her home to retrieve it, leaving the car doors unlocked and engine running. Within approximately three minutes, the appellee returned to the driveway only to find the car missing. She quickly returned to the house and called 911 to report that her car had been stolen.

[¶4] The appellee testified that she did not see anyone suspicious in the vicinity of her driveway at the time that she had returned to the house. Nevertheless, Emms stole her vehicle during the appellee's brief absence. The police located Emms driving the stolen vehicle and made contact with Emms who then attempted to flee. This evolved into a high-speed chase. The chase ended soon after Emms collided with Lucero, who was driving with her two children, ages six months and five years, to her mother's house. Lucero and her children suffered serious injuries. Emms was under the influence of methamphetamine at the time of the accident.

[¶5] The appellants filed a complaint in district court alleging that the appellee, by leaving the keys in the ignition of her unattended vehicle, was negligent and that such negligence was the proximate cause of the injuries incurred by the appellants. In response, the appellee filed a motion for summary judgment which the district court granted, finding that (1) the appellee owed the appellants no duty of care under the circumstances either by statute or under the common law, and (2) the appellee's act of leaving the keys in the ignition was not the proximate cause of the appellants' injuries. The appellants now appeal that decision.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

[¶6] Although summary judgment is disfavored in negligence actions, summary judgment will be affirmed where the record fails to show the existence of a genuine issue of material fact. Uinta Cnty. v. Pennington, 2012 WY 129, ¶ 11, 286 P.3d 138, 142 (Wyo. 2012). "The existence of duty is a question of law, making an absence of duty the surest route to summary judgment in negligence actions." Erpelding v. Lisek, 2003 WY 80, ¶ 13, 71 P.3d 754, 757 (Wyo. 2003) (quoting Daily v. Bone, 906 P.2d 1039, 1043 (Wyo. 1995)).

We treat the summary judgment movant's motion as though it has been presented originally to us. We use the same materials in the record that was before the district court. Using the materials in the record, we examine them from the vantage point most favorable to the nonmoving party opposing the motion, giving that party the benefit of all favorable inferences which may fairly be drawn from the materials. . . . If doubt exists about the presence of genuine issues of material fact after we have reviewed the record, we resolve that doubt against the movant.

Shafer v. TNT Well Serv., Inc., 2012 WY 126, ¶ 8, 285 P.3d 958, 961 (Wyo. 2012) (quoting Lamar Outdoor Adver. v. Farmers Co-op Oil Co., 2009 WY 112, ¶ 10, 215 P.3d 296, ...


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