estoppel as to Bellina's criminal conviction for voluntary manslaughter should not apply to preclude relitigation of the issue of intent in the Holtzman Action.
For the following reasons, this Court GRANTS State Farm's Motion for Summary Judgment.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). For a dispute to be genuine, the evidence must be such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In making this determination, the evidence of the nonmoving party is to be believed, and the district court must draw all reasonable inferences in the nonmovant's favor. See id. at 255. If the moving party establishes the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to "do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). While the movant bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the record which demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, Rule 56(c) requires the entry of summary judgment "after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). Although courts are to resolve any doubts as to the existence of genuine issues of fact against the moving party, the non-moving party may not rely merely upon bare assertions, conclusory allegations, or suspicions to rebut the movant's motion for summary judgment. Fireman's Ins. Co. v. DuFresne, 676 F.2d 965, 969 (3d Cir. 1982).
A. Policy Interpretation*fn5
The interpretation of an insurance policy is a question of law properly decided by the Court. Medical Protective Co. v. Watkins, 198 F.3d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1999); Standard Venetian Blind Co. v. American Empire Ins. Co., 469 A.2d 563, 566 (Pa. 1983). Principles of insurance policy interpretation are well-settled under Pennsylvania law, and are governed by the rules of contract interpretation. See Medical Protective, 198 F.3d at 103-04; United Services Auto. Assoc. v. Elitzky, 517 A.2d 982, 986 (Pa.Super.Ct. 1986). Those principles include the following: (1) the terms of the insurance policy must be given their ordinary meaning; (2) a term is ambiguous only if reasonably intelligent men, on considering it in the context of the entire policy, would honestly differ as to its meaning; and (3) the parties' true intent must be determined not only from the language but from all the circumstances. See Elitzky, 517 A.2d at 986. In determining coverage under an insurance contract, the focus is on the reasonable expectations of the insured and any ambiguous provisions in the policy should be construed in favor of the insured. See Britamco Underwriters, Inc. v. Grzeskiewicz, 639 F.2d 1208, 1210 (Pa.Super.Ct. 1994). As well, unambiguous exclusionary provisions contained in the Policy will be given effect. See McCaffery v. Travelers Ins., No. Civ. A. 02-1059, 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4685, at *6 (E.D.Pa. March 4, 2003).
B. State Farm's Duty to Defend
Pursuant to the express terms of the Policy, State Farm owes a duty to defend and indemnify its insured when "a claim is made or a suit is brought against an insured for damages because of bodily injury or property damage to which this coverage applies, caused by an occurrence. . . ." (See Pl.'s Ex. 1, Policy at 14.) The Policy defines the term "occurrence" to mean "an accident including exposure to conditions, which results in: (a) bodily injury; or (b) property damage." (See id. at 2.) However, coverage is excluded when bodily injury or property damage is either "expected or intended by an insured." (See id. at 16.)
In its Motion for Summary Judgment, State Farm argues that there has been no "occurrence" as defined by the Policy, and, even if Bellina's acts constituted an occurrence, his criminal conviction for the intentional killing of Holtzman precludes coverage under the Policy's "expected or intended" exclusion. Defendants counter that the events leading to Holtzman's fatal shooting amounted to an "occurrence," and that collateral estoppel should not apply to Bellina's criminal conviction since that conviction is on appeal.
1. Coverage for an "Occurrence"
State Farm has a duty to defend and indemnify its insured for damages resulting from an "occurrence," which the Policy defines as an "accident." See Gene's Restaurant, Inc. v. Nationwide Ins. Co., 548 A.2d 246, 247 (Pa. 1988) (finding that, under a different policy with similar language, an "`occurrence' must be an accident which a malicious, willful assault and beating could never be"). Under Pennsylvania law, the insurer has a duty to defend its insured when allegations contained in the complaint against it could potentially fall within the coverage of the policy. Air Products & Chemicals, Inc. v. Hartford Accident & Indemnity Co., 25 F.3d 177, 179 (3d Cir. 1994) (citing Gedeon v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 188 A.2d 320, 321-22 (Pa. 1963); Cadwallader v. New Amsterdam Cas. Co., 152 A.2d 484, 488 (Pa. 1959); Wilson v. Maryland Cas. Co., 105 A.2d 304, 307 (Pa. 1954)). "As long as the complaint comprehends an injury which may be within the scope of the policy, the company must defend the insured until the insurer can confine the claim to a recovery that the policy does not cover." Elitzky, 517 A.2d at 985. The insurer must defend the insured, even if the suit is "groundless, false, or fraudulent" and "has no basis in fact." Britamco Underwriters, Inc. v. Weiner, 636 A.2d 649, 651 (Pa.Super.Ct. 1994). Under Pennsylvania law, the particular cause of action pleaded is "not determinative of whether coverage has been triggered. . . . Instead, it is necessary to look at the factual allegations contained in the complaint." Mutual Benefit Ins. Co. v. Haver, 725 A.2d 743, 745 (Pa. 1999). Thus, as a threshold inquiry, this Court must determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint to the Holtzman Action can potentially constitute an "occurrence" to trigger coverage under the terms of Bellina's Policy. See id.
In the complaint to the Holtzman Action, Defendants plead facts in support of both negligent and intentional injury claims. Defendants aver that when Holtzman mistakenly approached and entered Bellina's home, Bellina initially responded and reacted to protect both his residence and his business property. (Pl.'s Ex. 1, Compl. in Holtzman Action at ¶ 22.) Defendants further aver that Bellina acted negligently, carelessly, recklessly, willfully, wantonly and intentionally when he: failed to ascertain Holtzman's identity; negligently reacted, and used unnecessary and excessive force responding to Holtzman's presence; was unfit to possess or use a weapon properly or safely; failed to permit Holtzman to walk away; shot Holtzman when there were numerous reasonable alternative means to induce Holtzman to leave; and used deadly force without reasonable justification. (Id. at ¶ 24.) Having considered the complaint in the Holtzman Action, we find that Defendants' factual allegations of Bellina's negligence appear to qualify as an "occurrence" pursuant to the terms of the Policy and, thus, trigger State Farm's duty to defend Bellina.*fn6 However, our inquiry does not end here, and "State Farm's duty to defend is not necessarily frozen in stasis once it is triggered." State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. v. In HWA Angela Cooper, No. Civ. A. 00-5538, 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17050, at *10 (E.D.Pa. Oct. 24, 2001).
2. "Expected" or "Intended" Clause
State Farm contends that Bellina's criminal conviction for voluntary manslaughter, an intentional killing, conclusively establishes that Bellina expected or intended to cause Holtzman bodily injury to preclude coverage under the Policy's exclusionary provision.*fn7 We agree.
When an insurer seeks to deny coverage based on an exclusion in the policy, it is the insurer's burden to demonstrate that the exclusion applies. Britamco Underwriters, Inc. v. C.J.H. Inc., 845 F. Supp. 1090, 1093 (E.D.Pa. 1994). In Pennsylvania, "the victim of a criminal act is precluded from litigating the issue of the insured actor's intent where that intent has been established by independent evidence in the prior criminal proceedings." Stidham v. Millvale Sportsmen's Club, 618 A.2d 945, 954 (Pa.Super.Ct. 1992), appeal denied, 637 A.2d 290 (Pa. 1993). Moreover, "criminal convictions are admissible in civil actions" and "are conclusive evidence of criminal acts." Id.
In the instant matter, Bellina's state of mind was conclusively determined at a jury trial. On March 21, 2002, Bellina was convicted of two counts of voluntary manslaughter pursuant to 18 Pa. Stat. Con. Ann. § 2503 for the shooting death of Holtzman, (See Pl.'s Ex. 2, Tr. at 48.), which conviction the Defendants do not dispute occurred.
Pennsylvania's voluntary manslaughter statute provides:
(a) GENERAL RULE. — A PERSON WHO KILLS AN INDIVIDUAL
WITHOUT LAWFUL JUSTIFICATION COMMITS VOLUNTARY
MANSLAUGHTER IF AT THE TIME OF THE KILLING HE IS ACTING
UNDER A SUDDEN AND INTENSE PASSION RESULTING FROM
SERIOUS PROVOCATION BY:
(1) the individual killed; or
(2) another whom the actor endeavors to kill, but he
negligently or accidentally causes the death of the