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Transguard Insurance Co. of America v. Hinchey

May 30, 2006

TRANSGUARD INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL HINCHEY AND SHARON HINCHEY, HIS WIFE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conaboy

MEMORANDUM and ORDER

Before the Court are Transguard Insurance Company's ("Plaintiff") and Michael and Sharon Hinchey's ("Defendants") cross-motions for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff sought declaratory judgment against Defendants in its Complaint, (Doc. 1). Subsequently, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss, (Doc. 9). This Court converted the pending matters to cross motions for Summary Judgment by order on June 23, 2005. (Doc. 18).

The motions have been fully briefed and are now ripe for disposition. Based on the discussion below, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is granted in part and denied in part. Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is denied.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND*fn1

On December 21, 2003, Defendant Michael Hinchey was involved in an automobile accident in which he suffered personal injury.

Defendant is employed by Matheson Warehouse Co., Inc. and the vehicle he was operating at the time of the accident was owned by Matheson. Plaintiff issued a Commercial Auto Policy to Matheson and the vehicle Defendant was driving was included in the Schedule of Owned Vehicles covered by the policy. (Plaintiff's Exhibit B).

Following the accident, Defendant pursued a claim against the driver of the other vehicle who caused the accident. The owner of the other vehicle was insured by Allstate Insurance Company. Defendant settled with the other driver's carriers for the policy limits, which were $100,000. Following the settlement, Defendant notified Plaintiff that he intended to pursue an underinsured ("UIM") motorist claim.

The UIM Endorsement on the Commercial Policy Plaintiff issued to Matheson states that the UIM Policy limits are $500,000 per accident. Therefore, according to Plaintiff, Defendants' recovery is limited to $500,000.

Here, Defendants seeks to stack the UIM benefits of eight "personal use" vehicles covered within Transguard's policy.*fn2

Furthermore, Defendants claim that the amount of UIM coverage is one million dollars, not five hundred thousand. Defendants' position is based on their claim that the underinsured motorist benefits must equal the one million dollar liability benefits. Therefore, if allowed to stack benefits, Defendants seek eight million dollars from Plaintiff.

II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On March 16, 2005, Plaintiff filed a Complaint for Declaratory Judgment. (Doc. 1). On May 16, 2005, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 9). Following appropriate hearings, this Court converted the pending matters to cross motions for summary judgment by order on June 23, 2005. (Doc. 18).

On September 21, 2005, Defendants re-filed their Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 21). On October 21, 2005, Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition to Defendant's motion. (Doc. 25). On February 17, 2006, Defendants filed a Reply brief. (Doc. 29).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment Standard

In our analysis of this matter we keep in mind the various cases that direct us regarding summary judgment. A motion for summary judgment can be a very powerful motion. It is a legal method of totally resolving a case without a trial based on a review of pleadings and submissions of the parties. Granting summary judgment is appropriate in cases where there are no significant facts in dispute. Because of the finality of granting a summary judgment motion, we must carefully examine the case and supporting documents along with the submissions from the party who hopes to keep his case alive. Federal Rule 56 is a mechanism for "assess[ing] the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) advisory committee's notes (amended 1963).

Summary judgment is somewhat controversial and can be seen as upsetting the precarious balance between expediency and the preservation of our Seventh Amendment*fn3 right to jury trial. Thus, we are vigilant and careful not to use it to preclude a party's right to trial or as a vehicle to simply move the case more quickly through the judicial system.

We follow considerable guidance in determining whether summary judgment should be granted. 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, 247-8, 106 S.Ct. 2505 (1986) (emphasis in original).

These rules make it clear that in order for a moving party to prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the party must show two things: (a) that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and (b) that the party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). This instructs us that a fact is "material" if proof of its existence or nonexistence would effect the outcome of the lawsuit under the law applicable to the case. Id. at 248; Levendos v. Stern Entertainment Inc., 860 F.2d 1227, 1233 (3d Cir. 1988). We are further instructed that an issue of material fact is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury might return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 257; Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348 (1986); Hankins v. Temple University, 829 F.2d 437, 440 (3d Cir. 1987); Equimark Commercial Finance Co. v. C.I.T. Financial Services Corp., 812 F.2d 141, 144 (3d Cir. 1987).

Under this regimen that we follow, the Court is required to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Consistent with this principle, the non-movant's evidence must be accepted as true and all reasonable inferences must be drawn in the non-movant's favor. J.F. Feeser, Inc. v. Serv-A-Portion, Inc., 909 F.2d 1524, 1531 (3d Cir. 1990). However, the non-moving party may not rest on the bare allegations contained in his or her pleadings.

The non-moving party is required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(e)*fn4 to go beyond the pleadings by way of affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories or the like in order to demonstrate specific material facts which give rise to a genuine issue. Celotex Corporation v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (1986). When Rule 56(e) shifts the burden of proof to the non-moving party, that party must produce evidence to show the existence of every element essential to its case which it bears ...


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