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Bren v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.

January 4, 2008

JOSEPH BREN AND CAROLYN BREN PLAINTIFFS,
v.
NATIONWIDE MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANT



MEMORANDUM

Judge John E. Jones III

This is a declaratory judgment action in which Plaintiffs Joseph and Carolyn Brens ("the Brens") seek reformation of the limits of underinsured motorist ("UIM") coverage provided by an automobile insurance policy issued to by Defendant Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company ("Nationwide"). Pending before the Court is Nationwide's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Nationwide's motion.

I. BACKGROUND

In accordance with the standard of review governing motions for summary judgment, the following undisputed facts, and any reasonable inference derived therefrom, are viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving parties, the Brens. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986).

Nationwide issued automobile insurance policy number 58 37 C 664126 to the Brens on February 6, 2004 with a policy period of March 2, 2004 to September 2, 2004. (Def. Motion for Summary Judgment ["Def."] Ex. G.)*fn1 The named insureds are Joseph and Carolyn Bren. (Id.) The policy provides, inter alia, $100,000 per person and $300,000 per occurrence in bodily injury liability coverage. (Id.) The declarations page also indicates that the policy provides $25,000 per person and $50,000 per occurrence in stacked UIM coverage. (Id.) The Brens paid the monthly premiums for the policy. (Statement of Material Facts ["SMF"] ¶ 4(1).)

On August 18, 2004, Joseph Bren was involved in a motor vehicle accident in which he sustained severe bodily injury. (SMF ¶ 4(2).) Nationwide consented to the Brens' settlement with the tortfeasor for the $30,000 total limits of two insurance policies. (Compl. Ex. B-D.) The Brens then presented an UIM claim to Nationwide. (SMF ¶ 6.) Nationwide paid $50,000 in UIM coverage, which it maintains is the limit of UIM coverage provided by the Brens' policy. (SMF ¶ 7.)

In this suit, the Brens allege that the proper limit of UIM coverage must be reformed to match the limit of liability coverage, and is therefore $100,000 per person stacked for two vehicles, totaling $200,000. The Brens argue that this reformation is necessary because the UIM coverage authorization form, which Nationwide claims establishes the lower limit, is invalid and unenforceable.

The UIM coverage authorization form at issue was signed by Joseph Bren on June 28, 2003. (SMF ¶ 3.) The form, as completed by Joseph Bren, provides:

(Compl. Ex. E.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate if the record establishes "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." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Initially, the moving party bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant meets this burden by pointing to an absence of evidence supporting an essential element as to which the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Id. at 325. Once the moving party meets its burden, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to show that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). An issue is "genuine" only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis for a reasonable jury to find for the non-moving party, and a factual dispute is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the action under the governing law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49.

In opposing summary judgment, the non-moving party "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleadings, but ... must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). The non-moving party "cannot rely on unsupported allegations, but must go beyond pleadings and provide some evidence that would show that there exists a genuine issue for trial." Jones v. UPS, 214 F.3d 402, 407 (3d Cir. 2000). Arguments made in briefs "are not evidence and cannot by themselves create a factual dispute sufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion." Jersey Cent. Power & Light Co. v. Twp. of Lacey, 772 F.2d 1103, 1109-10 (3d Cir. 1985). However, the underlying facts and all reasonable inferences therefrom must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. P.N. v. Clementon Bd. of Educ., 442 F.3d 848, 852 (3d Cir. 2006).

Summary judgment should not be granted when there is a disagreement about the facts or the proper inferences that a fact-finder could draw from them. Peterson v. Lehigh Valley Dist. Council, 676 F.2d 81, 84 (3d Cir. 1982). Still, "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; there must be a ...


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