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State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Wisnieski

February 21, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley


Presently before the Court for disposition is Plaintiff State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company's ("State Farm") Motion for Summary Judgment. This matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition. For the following reasons, we will grant the motion and enter judgment on behalf of State Farm.

I. Background

On January 2, 2002 Defendant Lorraine M. Wisnieski ("Wisnieski") was a passenger in a 1998 Honda operated by her mother, Lorraine R. Wisnieski, when the vehicle was involved in a one-car accident. Wisnieski's father, Roman J. Wisnieski owned the 1998 Honda and had a policy with State Farm with a per person liability insurance limit of $100,000 ("1998 policy"). Roman Wisnieski also owned a 1996 Honda, which he insured with State Farm under policy number 6432-558 ("1996 policy.") The 1996 policy provided underinsured motorist coverage with a $100,000 limit. Wisnieski now seeks underinsured motorist benefits under the 1996 policy on the theory that the 1998 Honda involved in the accident was an underinsured motor vehicle. The 1996 policy, however, specifically excludes vehicles "furnished for the regular use of you, your spouse, or any relative" from the definition of underinsured motor vehicle. (Compl. Ex. A 19).

State Farm filed the instant suit and summary judgment motion seeking a declaratory judgment that the "family vehicle" exclusion applies to Defendant's claim under the policy.

II. Jurisdiction

We have diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1332 because the parties are diverse and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. Because we are sitting in diversity, the substantive law of Pennsylvania shall apply to the instant case. Chamberlain v. Giampapa, 210 F.3d 154, 158 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Erie R.R. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938)). As a federal court sitting in diversity, we are bound by the decisions of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Harris v. Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, 410 F.2d 1332, 1335 (3d Cir. 1969).

III. Standard

Granting summary judgment is proper 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 judgment as a matter of law. See Knabe v. Boury, 114 F.3d 407, 410 n.4 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)). "[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (emphasis in original).

In considering a motion for summary judgment, the court must examine the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. International Raw Materials, Ltd. v. Stauffer Chemical Co., 898 F.2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (1986). A fact is material when it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Id. Where the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the party moving for summary judgment may meet its burden by showing that the evidentiary materials of record, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be insufficient to carry the non-movant's burden of proof at trial. Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party, who must go beyond its pleadings, and designate specific facts by the use of affidavits, depositions, admissions, or answers to interrogatories showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.

IV. Discussion

State Farm argues that the family vehicle exclusion in the 1996 policy precludes Wisnieski's claim for underinsured motorist coverage. Wisnieski argues that the exclusion is void as a matter of public policy. She acknowledges that numerous cases have upheld the exclusion as consistent with public policy, Paylor v. Hartford Ins. Co., 640 A.2d 1234, 1240 (Pa. 1994); Sherwood v. Bankers Standard Ins. Co., 648 A.2d 1171 (Pa. 1994); Ridley v. State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co., 745 A.2d 7 (Pa. Super. 1999), but attempts to distinguish each of these cases. We find that we are bound by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's opinion in Paylor v. Hartford Ins. Co., 640 A.2d 1235 (Pa. 1994), which found that the exclusion does not violate public policy under the operative facts of this case.

Public policy is to be ascertained by reference to the laws and legal precedents and not from general considerations of supposed public interest. . . . .It is only when a given policy is so obviously for or against the public health, safety, morals or welfare that there is a virtual unanimity of opinion in regard to it, that a court may constitute itself the voice of the community in declaring what is or is not in accord with public policy. Paylor, 640 A.2d at 1235 (citations omitted).

Pennsylvania's Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (MVFRL), 75 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. ยง 170, requires that all motor vehicle insurance policies include underinsured motor vehicle insurance. Id. at 1235-36. "The purpose of underinsured motorist coverage is to protect the insured (and his additional insureds) from the risk that a negligent driver of another vehicle will cause injury to the insured (or his additional insureds) and will have inadequate coverage to compensate for the ...

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