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STATE FARM FIRE & CASUALTY COMPANY v. BELLINA

April 30, 2003

STATE FARM FIRE & CASUALTY COMPANY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PAUL J. BELLINA AND ERIC D. HOLTZMAN, ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF CRAIG HOLTZMAN, DECEASED, AND NEIL D. HOLTZMAN, AND MARION S. HOLTZMAN, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James McGIRR Kelly, Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff State Farm Fire & Casualty Company ("State Farm") brought this declaratory judgment action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2201*fn1 (the "Declaratory Judgment Action") seeking a declaration that it does not have a duty to defend or indemnify its insured, Paul J. Bellina ("Bellina"), in a lawsuit pending against him in the Court of Common Pleas for Montgomery County.*fn2 In the underlying civil action, Eric D. Holtzman, Neil D. Holtzman and Marion S. Holtzman seek damages for the shooting death of their decedent, Craig Holtzman ("Holtzman") (collectively, the "Defendants"), by Bellina and other named defendants (the "Holtzman Action").*fn3 In a subsequent criminal trial, Bellina was convicted by a jury for voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Holtzman, and is currently serving his sentence for that conviction.

Presently before the Court are State Farm's Motion For Summary Judgment in the Declaratory Judgment Action, Defendants' Answer in Opposition and State Farm's Reply thereto. For the following reasons, State Farm's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

State Farm is a corporation in the State of Illinois with its principal place of business located in Bloomington, Illinois. State Farm issued Bellina, a Pennsylvania resident, homeowner's insurance policy number 78-GE-1950-3 effective for the period from August 10, 2000 to August 10, 2001 (the "Policy"). The parties do not dispute that the Policy was in full force and effect during the relevant time period.

A. The Holtzman Action

On October 16, 2001, the Holtzman Action was filed in the Court of Common Pleas for Philadelphia County and later transferred to the Court of Common Pleas for Montgomery County. (See Pl.'s Ex. 1, Compl. in Holtzman Action.) The complaint in the Holtzman Action asserts five claims against Bellina, and two other named defendants, Discovery Home Inspections, Inc. and The Tex-Mex Connection, including: (1) wrongful death; (2) survival actions; (3) punitive damages; (4) negligent infliction of emotional distress; and (5) loss of consortium. (See id.)

B. Bellina's Criminal Conviction

On March 13, 2002, after a subsequent criminal trial, a jury in Montgomery County found Bellina guilty of two counts of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Holtzman. (See Pl.'s Ex. 2, Tr. of Bellina's Crim. Trial.) Bellina appealed his conviction, which is currently pending before the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. (See Defs.' Mem. of Law in Support of Ans. to Mot. for Summ. J. at 2.)

C. State Farm's Declaratory Judgment Action

On July 29, 2002, State Farm filed this Declaratory Judgment Action in this Court seeking a declaration that it has no duty to defend or indemnify Bellina in the Holtzman Action according to the terms of the Policy.*fn4 In the instant matter, State Farm claims that summary judgment is appropriate for the following reasons: (1) the operative facts allege non-accidental conduct by the insured and, therefore, there is no "occurrence" alleged to trigger coverage under the Policy; (2) Bellina's criminal conviction for voluntary manslaughter establishes, as a matter of law, that Bellina's conduct falls within the exclusion for intended or expected acts; and (3) Pennsylvania's public policy discourages extending insurance coverage to intentional, criminal acts.

Defendants respond that the allegations in the complaint to the Holtzman Action sufficiently allege negligence to constitute an "occurrence" under the Policy, thus, triggering coverage, and that collateral 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." ...


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