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BELL v. UNITED STATES

March 25, 1983

WARNER BELL
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND THE TRAVELERS INSURANCE COMPANY AND WISTAR INSTITUTE AND JOHN J. CALLAHAN, JR.


Weiner, J.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: WEINER

WEINER, J.

 The facts in this case are not in dispute and have been agreed upon by stipulation. On July 2, 1981 plaintiff Warner Bell ("Bell") was injured in a two-vehicle accident. At the time of the accident he was employed by the United States Department of Defense -- Personnel Support Center as a file clerk and acting within the scope of his employment. He was a passenger in a government-owned vehicle which collided with a vehicle owned by First Pennsylvania Auto Leasing and operated by John J. Callahan, Jr. who was employed by Wistar Institute of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

 The vehicle in which Bell was a passenger was not registered in Pennsylvania nor was it insured under the Pennsylvania No-Fault Motor Vehicle Insurance Act, Act of July 19, 1974, P.L. 489, No. 176, §§ 101 et seq., 40 Pa. C.S. §§ 1009.101 et seq. ("Act"). Bell has been receiving federal workmen's compensation under the Federal Employees' Compensation Act ("FECA"), 5 U.S.C. §§ 8101, et. seq. At the time of the accident the plaintiff did not own a motor vehicle nor did he reside in the same household with an owner of a motor vehicle. The plaintiff was not a named insured in any policy of basic loss insurance under the Act.

 In April 1982 Bell filed in the Court of Common Pleas for Philadelphia County a Petition for Designation of an Insurer requesting the court to compel the Assigned Claims Plan ("Plan") to assign his claim for no-fault benefits to a servicing carrier under the Plan. The Plan answered that the plaintiff was not entitled to benefits from the Plan under the Act.

 By a May 28, 1982 order the Honorable Charles A. Lord of Common Pleas Court granted the plaintiff's petition, ordering the Plan to assign Bell's claim to a servicing carrier. Warner Bell v. Pennsylvania Assigned Claims Plan, (C.P. Phila. NO. 3078, April Term, 1982). The court relied on a "related case," Belinda Cook v. Pennsylvania Assigned Claims Plan and SEPTA (C.P. Phila. NO. 2289, December Term, 1981), as the basis of its opinion. As a result of the order, the Plan assigned Bell's claim to defendant The Travelers Insurance Company ("Travelers"). Travelers denied plaintiff's claim for benefits by letter dated July 6, 1982 from Randy P. Brungard, Assistant Supervisor. That letter stated that Travelers incorporated all the defenses of the Plan and that Bell should be seeking benefits through the United States Government. The letter further stated that since Bell is eligible for "Worker's" Compensation benefits, there would be no money due Bell once a set-off was made against the collateral source. Travelers also denied liability through its attorney by letter dated July 22, 1982 in which it claimed that the vehicle in which Bell was a passenger at the time of the accident was not a "motor vehicle" within the meaning of the Act and therefore the Act did not require payment under the Plan.

 Bell brought the present action in this court in August 1982 seeking declaratory and injunctive relief from the United States Department of Labor and Travelers, and monetary damages from Wistar Institute and John J. Callahan, Jr. By Memorandum Opinion and Order dated December 29, 1982 this court, upon motions by the defendants, dismissed defendants Wistar and Callahan for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. We also dismissed the Department of Labor but declared that it is entitled to satisfaction of a statutory lien on any recovery made by plaintiff from tortfeasors Callahan and Wistar, adopting the reasoning in Lorenzetti v. United States, 550 F. Supp. 997 (E.D. Pa. 1982). The motion to dismiss by defendant Travelers was denied because there is diversity of citizenship between the plaintiff and Travelers.

 Presently before the court are cross motions of Bell and Travelers for summary judgment. As stated earlier, none of the facts are in dispute, only legal issues as to the liability of Travelers under the circumstances remain to be resolved.

 
"Motor vehicle" means a vehicle of a kind required to be registered under the act of April 29, 1959 (P.L. 58, No. 32), known as The Vehicle Code. 40 P.S. § 1009.103

 Footnote 2 refers to 75 P.S. § 101 et seq., which is the entire Vehicle Code ("The Code"). Defendant claims that "a vehicle of a kind required to be registered under . . . The Vehicle Code" requires a determination as to which vehicles must or must not be registered in Pennsylvania.

 The plaintiff argues that the definition under the No-Fault Act using the language "of a kind required to be registered" means that the only determination required is whether or not the vehicle is generically the variety of vehicle that must be registered under the Code. For this determination, plaintiff argues, a "cursory glance" of the requirements under the Code leads to a conclusion that the 1980 Dodge truck in which the plaintiff was a passenger is a "motor vehicle" under the Code. For this conclusion, the plaintiff refers the court to the Code's definition of "vehicle" which is:

 
Every device in, upon or by which any person or property is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, except devises used exclusively upon rails or tracks. 75 Pa. C.S.A. § 102.

 The divergence in interpretation, then, is the meaning to be given "of a kind." Plaintiff argues that to be given the interpretation used by the defendant, the Act would be written "a vehicle required to be registered" rather than "a vehicle of a kind required to be registered." The recorded legislative history of the Act sheds no light on this question. While the reading given by the defendant is thought-provoking, this court determines that it is plaintiff's reading of the language which must prevail for the reasons that follow.

 The title of the No-Fault Act includes, "An Act providing for a compensation system for persons injured in motor vehicle accidents; requiring insurance for all motor vehicles required to be registered in Pennsylvania . . . ." 1974, July 19, P.L. 489, No. 176, 40 P.S. § 1009.101. Under the Statutory Construction Act of 1972 in Pennsylvania "the title and preamble of a statute may be considered in the construction thereof." 1 Pa. C.S.A. § 1924. The language in the title supports the plaintiff's reading of the Act since the legislature presumably would have used identical language in the title and the definition section of the Act if it intended the same meaning. It is the defendant who is attempting to re-write the statute by eliminating the words "of a kind" from the definition section.

 The defendant could, of course, be correct in its argument that a United States vehicle is not included in the mandatory registration of automobiles in Pennsylvania. No federal law is abrogated, however, by simply concluding that the truck in which Bell was a passenger is a "motor vehicle" within the meaning of the Act. In fact, the No-Fault Act addressed the effect of the Act on governmental entities in Section 104(c) of the Act which states:

 
(c) Obligated government. -- A government may provide security with respect to any motor vehicle owned or operated by it by lawfully obligating itself to pay basic restoration benefits in accordance with this act, and such added restoration benefits as are specified in the undertaking. 40 Pa. C.S.A. § 1009.104(c) (emphasis supplied).

 If this court were to accept the defendant's argument that a vehicle is not a "motor vehicle" when it is not required to be registered in Pennsylvania, then the use of the term "motor vehicle" in the above-referenced section would make no sense. It is on this section of the Act that federal law operates by reason of the Supremacy Clause, *fn3" rather than the definition section, as argued by the defendant.

 We find plaintiff's analysis of the Vehicle Code exceptions to the registration requirements to be cogent. A partial list of the exempted ...


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