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Prudential Insurance Co. of America v. Hovis

October 23, 2007

THE PRUDENTIAL INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF
v.
ROBERT L. HOVIS, DAVID R. POTTER, AND DENISE GERSKI, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James F. McClure, Jr. United States District Judge

(Judge McClure)

ORDER

BACKGROUND:

On July 17, 2006, plaintiff, The Prudential Insurance Company of America, commenced this action with the filing of a complaint in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against defendants Robert L. Hovis, David R. Potter, and Denise Gerski. On October 16, 2006, the case was transferred to the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

In its complaint, plaintiff alleges that the insured, Bonnie Shall, purchased a term life insurance policy from plaintiff in February of 2003. (Compl., Rec. Doc. No. 1-2, ¶ 7.) The policy was purchased from defendant Hovis, an insurance agent of plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 7.) The insured designated her son, defendant Potter, as the primary beneficiary and her daughter, defendant Gerski, as a contingent beneficiary. (Id. ¶ 8.) On January 23, 2006, while terminally ill, Shall changed her policy to name defendant Hovis as the primary beneficiary. (Id. ¶¶ 10-11.). On February 23, 2006, Shall died of lung cancer. (Id. ¶ 12.) Now, defendants Hovis and Potter have filed competing claims for the proceeds of the insurance policy and plaintiff has instituted this action to determine who is the appropriate beneficiary under the policy.

On November 9, 2006, defendant Hovis filed an answer and a counterclaim seeking a declaratory judgment (Count I) against all parties which declares him the sole beneficiary of the insurance policy. (Rec. Doc. No. 4.) Hovis also brought counterclaims against plaintiff for breach of contract (Count II), negligence (Count III), breach of fiduciary duty (Count IV), bad faith (Count V), and unfair trade practices (Count VI). (Id.)

On November 22, 2006, defendants Potter and Gerski filed an answer and a counterclaim against plaintiff and a cross-claim against defendant Hovis seeking a declaratory judgment declaring them to be the beneficiaries of the insurance policy. (Rec. Doc. No. 14.)

On September 18, 2007, plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment. (Rec. Doc. No. 54.) On October 8, 2007, defendant Hovis filed an opposition brief (Rec. Doc. No. 57) and defendants Potter and Gerski filed an opposition brief (Rec. Doc. No. 58.) Now, for the following reasons, the court will grant in part and deny in part the motion. We will dismiss plaintiff's interpleader complaint, defendant Hovis' declaratory judgment counterclaim, and defendants Potter and Gerski's declaratory judgment counterclaim and cross-claim as moot and deny plaintiff's motion for summary judgment with respect to these claims. Furthermore, we will grant plaintiff's motion for summary judgment with respect to defendant Hovis' remaining counterclaims.

DISCUSSION:

I. Legal Standard

A district court may properly grant a motion for summary judgment "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). An issue is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). "Material facts" are those which might affect the outcome of the suit. Id.; Justofin v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 372 F.3d 517, 521 (3d Cir. 2004).

Regardless of who bears the burden of persuasion at trial, the party moving for summary judgment has the burden to show an absence of genuine issues of material fact. Aman v. Cort Furniture Rental Corp., 85 F.3d 1074, 1080 (3d Cir. 1996) (citations omitted). To meet this burden when the moving party does not bear the burden of persuasion at trial, the moving party must show 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.'" Jalil v. Avdel Corp., 873 F.2d 701, 706 (3d Cir. 1989) (quoting Chippolini v. Spencer Gifts, Inc., 814 F.2d 893, 896 (3d. Cir. 1987)); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). More simply put, a party moving for summary judgment who does not bear the burden of persuasion at trial is not required to negate the non-movant's claim, but must only point out a lack of evidence sufficient to support the non-movant's claim. Country Floors, Inc. v. Partnership Composed of Gepner and Ford, 930 F.2d 1056, 1061 (3d Cir. 1991).

To the contrary, when the moving party bears the burden of persuasion at trial, it must point to evidence in the record that supports its version of all material facts and demonstrate an absence of a genuine issue of material facts. National State Bank v. Federal Reserve Bank, 979 F.2d 1579, 1582 (3d Cir. 1992). If the moving party does not meet this burden, the court must deny summary judgment even if the nonmoving party does not produce any opposing evidence. Id.

Once the moving party meets its burden of showing an absence of genuine issues of material fact, the nonmoving party must provide some evidence that an issue of material fact remains. Matushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The nonmoving party, however, cannot do so by merely offering general denials, vague allegations, or conclusory statements; rather the party must point to specific evidence in the record that creates a genuine issue as ...


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