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U.S. FIDELITY AND GUAR. CO. v. TIERNEY ASSOCIATES

July 9, 2002

UNITED STATES FIDELITY AND GUARANTY COMPANY, PLAINTIFF VS. TIERNEY ASSOCIATES, INC., CEIL ANN TIERNEY, DEFENDANTS.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas I. Vanaskie, Chief Judge.

MEMORANDUM

This is an action for Declaratory Judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2201 and 2202, with jurisdiction based on the diversity statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Presently pending before the Court is plaintiff United States Fidelity and Guaranty Company's ("USF&G") motion for judgment on the pleadings. (Dkt. Entry 5.) Defendant, Ceil Ann Tierney ("Tierney"), the Corporate Secretary of Tierney Associates, Inc. ("Tierney Associates"), seeks underinsured motorist benefits under a policy issued by USF&G to Tierney Associates. USF&G contends that Tierney cannot recover because she was not riding in a covered vehicle at the time of the accident and she is not identified as a named insured under the terms of the policy. Tierney maintains that coverage should be extended to her as an intended beneficiary based on her status as a corporate officer. Because the policy at issue unambiguously identifies Tierney Associates, Inc. as the named insured, and does not extend coverage to corporate officers, USF&G's motion for judgment on the pleadings will be granted.

BACKGROUND

On or a bout July 16, 2000, USF&G issued a renewal business automobile policy to Tierney Associates, Inc., Policy No. BFA00000617571, with a coverage period from July 16, 2000 to July 16, 2001. (Complaint, ¶ 8.)*fn1 The policy included, inter alia, coverage pursuant to the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law, 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 1701, with limits for underinsurance motorist benefits in the amount of $300,000. (Id.) During the policy period, Tierney was Corporate Secretary of Tierney Associates. (Id., ¶ 10.)

On August 19, 2000, Tierney was injured in a motor vehicle accident while a passenger in a car owned and operated by Edward Kupstas. (Id., ¶ 11.) Tierney obtained recovery of the liability limits on the policy covering Mr. Kupstas' vehicle, as well as the limits for underinsurance coverage available to her under her personal automobile insurance. (D's Br. in Opp. to Mot'n for Judgment on the Pleadings, p. 1.) Tierney claims entitlement to underinsured motorist benefits under the USF&G policy issued to Tierney Associates.

On September 4, 2001, plaintiff moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the F.R.C.P. In addition to the submission of written briefs, the parties presented oral argument to the Court on February 20, 2002. The issue before the Court is whether the policy issued to Tierney Associates, Inc., a corporate entity, provides underinsured motorist coverage to Ceil Ann Tierney based on her status as a corporate officer.

DISCUSSION

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), any party may move for judgment after the pleadings are closed. Under Rule 12(c), a court must accept all factual averments as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See Society Hill Civic Ass'n v. Harris, 632 F.2d 1045, 1054 (3d Cir. 1980). A party moving for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) must demonstrate that there are no disputed material facts and that judgment should be entered as a matter of law. See Jablonski v. Pan American World Airways, Inc., 863 F.2d 289, 290-91 (3d Cir. 1988); Institute for Scientific Info., Inc. v. Gordon & Breach, Science Publishers, Inc. 931 F.2d 1002, 1005 (3rd Cir.), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 909 (1991). Judgment may only be entered where "no set of facts could be adduced to support the plaintiff's claim for relief." Bryson v. Brand Insulations, Inc., 621 F.2d 556, 559 (3d Cir. 1980). The parties are in agreement that the pleadings disclose the facts pertinent to the resolution of the coverage issue.

USF&G issued a Business Automobile Policy to Tierney Associates. The Business Automobile Policy Declarations indicate that the "Forms and Endorsements Applicable to this policy" include, inter alia, the Business Auto Coverage form (CA 00010797) and the Pennsylvania Underinsured Motorist Coverage — Nonstacked Form (CA 2193198). (See Ex. A to the Complaint.) The Business Coverage Auto Form states that "[t]hroughout this policy the words `you' and `your' refer to the Named Insured shown in the Declarations."*fn2 The Underinsured Motorists ("UIM") endorsement on the policy in question identifies the "Named Insured" as "TIERNEY ASSOCIATES, INC." (See Ex. "A" to Complaint.) Ceil Ann Tierney is not identified anywhere on the policy, the UIM endorsement, or the policy's declaration pages. The UIM endorsement to the policy provides that USF&G "will pay all sums the `insured' is legally entitled to recover from the owner or driver of an `underinsured motor vehicle.'" (Complaint, Ex. "A", emphasis added.) The UIM endorsement then identifies the person entitled to UIM coverage as follows:

A. Who Is An Insured

1. You.

2. If you are an individual, any "family member."

3. Anyone else "occupying" a covered "motor vehicle" . . .
4. Anyone for damages he or she is entitled to recover because of "bodily injury" sustained by an other "insured."

(Id.; emphasis added.)

As USF&G points out, "[h]istorically, Pennsylvania courts have categorized Underinsured Motorist claimants . . . into three classes." (Pl's Br. in Support of Mot'n for Judgment on the Pleadings, p. 3) (citing Utica Mut. Ins. Co. v. Contrisciane, 504 Pa. 328, 473 A.2d 1005, 1010 (1984).) Generally, the three classes of intended insureds are:

(1) "class one" includes "the named insured and any designated insured, and, while residents of the same household, the spouse and relatives of either";
(2) "class two" includes "any other person while occupying an insured highway vehicle"; and
(3) "class three" includes any person with respect to damages he is entitled to recover[,] because of bodily injury to which this insurance applies[,] sustained by an insured under (1) or (2) above. (i.e., a spouse claiming loss of consortium).

Jeffrey v. Erie Ins. Exchange, 423 Pa. Super. 483, 621 A.2d 635, 644 (1993) (en banc), app. denied, 537 Pa. 651, 644 A.2d 736 (1994).

In the case at bar, it is undisputed that Tierney is neither a class II insured — she was not in a covered vehicle at the time she was injured; nor a class III insured — she is not claiming coverage based on another's injuries. The dispute here is whether Tierney should be regarded as a class I beneficiary. Observing that a corporation cannot suffer bodily injury and that a corporation can only act through its officers and employees, Tierney maintains that corporate officers must be regarded as class I insureds in a corporate policy.

Resolution of Ms. Tierney's status is dependent upon an interpretation of the insurance contract in the context of Pennsylvania law.*fn3 Of course, decisions of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court are controlling. Coviello, 233 F.3d at 713. But, as explained by our Court of Appeals, "[i]f the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has not yet passed on the issue before us, we must consider the pronouncements of the lower state courts, as well as federal appeals and district court cases interpreting state law." Id. In addition, decisions from other states may also be considered. Boyanowski v. Capital Area Intermediate Unit, 215 F.3d 396, 406 (3d Cir. 2000).

Each party in this case advances a separate Pennsylvania Superior Court opinion in support of its position. Further confounding the situation is the fact that each Pennsylvania Superior Court decision was affirmed by the ...


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