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State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Neff

November 30, 2006

STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOE CALVIN NEFF, DEFENDANT
v.
WILLIAM HILL, III, MICHAEL NEEB, BRIAN SNYDER, AND JUSTIN STUCKLEY, INTERVENING DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Plaintiff State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 18) as to its action seeking a declaratory judgment that it is not required to provide coverage, defend or indemnify Defendant Joe Calvin Neff pursuant to Neff's automobile insurance policy as a result of any personal injury or property damage caused by Neff on March 31, 2002. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's motion will be granted in part and denied in part. The Court has jurisdiction over this declaratory judgment action, filed under 28 U.S.C. § 2201(a), pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a).*fn1

BACKGROUND

The facts presented in the summary judgment record, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving parties, are as follows. On March 31, 2002, Defendant Joe Calvin Neff ("Neff") was the owner of a 1996 Mercury Sable insured pursuant to an automobile policy of insurance with Plaintiff under Policy No. 8287-429-38H. (Doc. 20 ¶ 1.) At approximately 12:30 a.m. on the morning of March 31, 2002, Intervening Defendants William Hill III, Michael Neeb, Brian Snyder and Justin Stuckley, along with Snyder's father, James, arrived at Neff's property in Hill's vehicle, which Hill parked on Route 443, a state road running adjacent to Neff's property. (Doc. 20 ¶ 4.) Intervening Defendants intended to obtain clothing for Neff's infant niece, Alexandria Fritzinger, who was being watched by Neff's wife because of an argument between Alexandria's parents, Beverly and Scott Fritzinger. (Doc. 20 ¶ 5.) As Intervening Defendants were walking up Neff's driveway, Neff began driving his vehicle down the driveway. (Doc. 20 ¶ 6.)

Plaintiff contends that, as Neff proceeded down the driveway, at a speed of twenty-five (25) to thirty (30) miles per hour, he struck Michael Neeb causing him to fly onto the hood of the car, ultimately landing on his head. (Doc. 20 ¶ 7.) Neff then struck Justin Stuckley with his car, made a U-turn on Route 443, and drove back up his driveway chasing William Hill, eventually striking him in his legs. (Doc. 20 ¶ 9.) Next, Neff struck Brian Snyder and ran over James Snyder's foot. (Doc. 20 ¶ 11.) Neff then intentionally began to collide with Hill's car, smashing into it seven (7) to eight (8) times. Id. After smashing into Hill's car, Neff drove into his yard and did donuts on his lawn. (Doc. 20 ¶ 12.) Neff then drove his vehicle back to the top of his driveway and parked. (Doc. 20 ¶ 13.)

Neff's relation of the facts is different from that of Plaintiff. Neff stated in his deposition that, as he drove down his driveway, he was planning on doing some donuts in the yard in the hope of scaring Intervening Defendants away from his property. (Neff Dep. 79:11-14, June 26, 2003.) As Neff reached the end of his driveway, he turned right onto Route 443. (Neff Dep. 80:8-12.) He then saw Hill's vehicle parked along Route 443. (Neff Dep. 80:13-15.) As Neff passed by Hill's car, he sideswiped it with his own car. (Neff Dep. 81:3-10.) "[A]t that point . . . it was [Neff's] intent to take [his] car and sideswipe [Hill's] car." (Neff Dep. 81:11-15.) Neff then drove into his yard and did donuts with his car. (Neff Dep. 80:17-18.) Neff then drove back towards Hill's car and sideswiped it again. (Neff Dep. 80:18-20.) Neff turned around and sideswiped Hill's car a third time. (Neff Dep. 80:21-24; 95:22-25.) Neff also, at some point, put his bumper against Hill's bumper and pressed the accelerator with the intention of moving Hill's car. (Neff Dep. 91:2-10; 92:14-16.) Neff then drove back into his driveway and parked his car. (Neff Dep. 80:23-24.) Neff asserts that he was driving around ten (10) miles per hour while performing these maneuvers. (Neff Dep. 86:24-25.) Additionally, Neff avers that he did not know that he had struck any of the Intervening Defendants with his car until after he had parked his car and was told so by the Fritzingers. (Neff Dep. 102:7-9; 113:2-114:11.) Importantly, Neff claims that he did not intend to strike anyone with his car, but only to strike Hill's vehicle and do donuts in his yard. (Neff Dep. 82:5-9.)

On January 23, 2003, Neff appeared in the Court of Common Pleas of Carbon County before the Honorable Richard W. Webb. (Doc. 20 ¶ 14.) Neff pleaded guilty to five counts each of simple assault, see 18 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. § 2701(a)(2), and careless driving, see 75 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. § 3714, and entered a nolo contendere plea to five counts each of aggravated assault, see 18 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. § 2702(a)(1), and reckless endangering, see 18 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. § 2705.

On August 28, 2003, Plaintiff filed a Declaratory Judgment Action, in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, requesting that an order be entered declaring that Plaintiff is not required to provide liability coverage or physical damage coverage to or on behalf of Neff as a result of any personal injury or property damage caused by Neff on March 31, 2002, and enjoining Neff from maintaining any claim for liability coverage or physical damage coverage as a result of any claims or judgments entered or made as it pertains to his automobile insurance policy. (Doc. 1.) In November, 2003, William Hill, III, Michael Neeb, Brian Snyder and Justin Stuckley, were granted leave to intervene as Defendants in the action. (Docs. 1-12, 1-13 and 1-14.)

Thereafter, on December 11, 2003, this matter was transferred to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania and assigned to this Court. (Doc. 1-19.) On May 27, 2005, Intervening Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction (Doc. 13), which this Court denied on August 2, 2005 (Doc. 17). On September 27, 2005, Defendant Neff commenced bankruptcy proceedings in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, case number 05-25846-TMT. (Doc. 22.) On November 15, 2005, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 18) and Brief in Support (Doc. 19). Counsel for Intervening Defendants informed the Court of Neff's bankruptcy proceedings in December of 2005. (Docs. 22-24, 27.) As a result, on December 28, 2005, the Court entered an Order (Doc. 29) staying this case pursuant to the automatic stay provision contained within the Bankruptcy Code. See 11 U.S.C. § 362(a). On July 27, 2006, the Court entered an Order (Doc. 39) lifting the stay. On August 16, 2006, Intervening Defendants filed a Brief in Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 43). On November 20, 2006, oral argument was conducted before the Court.

Plaintiff's motion is fully briefed and now ripe for disposition.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate 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). A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable substantive law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

Where there is no material fact in dispute, the moving party need only establish that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Where, however, there is a disputed issue of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate only if the factual dispute is not a genuine one. See id. at 248. An issue of material fact is genuine if "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.

Where there is a material fact in dispute, the moving party has the initial burden of proving that: (1) there is no genuine issue of material fact; and (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT & ARTHURR. MILLER, FEDERALPRACTICE AND PROCEDURE: CIVIL 2D ยง 2727 (2d ed. 1983). The moving party may present its own evidence or, where the nonmoving party has the burden of proof, simply point out to the Court that "the nonmoving party has ...


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