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Selective Way Insurance Co. v. Gingrich

June 4, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Yvette Kane, Chief Judge United States District Court

(Chief Judge Kane)


Before the Court is Plaintiff Selective Way Insurance Company's motion for judgment on the pleadings. (Doc. No. 27.) Though the motion was filed January 30, 2009, and on March 25, 2009, the Court sent Defendant Randy Gingrich an order to show cause why the motion should not be deemed unopposed (Doc. No. 34), Defendant Gingrich has nonetheless failed to respond to the motion with the exception of having filed an "amended answer" to the complaint (Doc. No. 31). Because Defendant Gingrich has not responded to the Court's order to show cause and a brief in opposition to the motion was initially due February 21, 2009*fn1 , Plaintiff's motion is now deemed ripe before the Court for disposition.


On July 14, 2007, while under the influence of alcohol, Defendant Randy Gingrich was operating a vehicle insured by Plaintiff Selective Way Insurance Company. (Doc. No. 1, Ex. E, at 4.) He was involved in a collision that resulted in the death of Patricia Garthwaite. (Doc. No. 1, Ex. E, at 4-5.) Kevin Garthwaite, the decedent's spouse, filed a wrongful death action against Defendant Gingrich in the Court of Common Pleas of Lebanon County on January 19, 2008. (Doc. No. 1, Ex. E.) Plaintiff Selective Way Insurance Company, while defending Defendant in the state wrongful death action, filed this action on May 21, 2008, seeking declaratory judgment that Defendant is not, in fact, covered by the insurance policy issued in his name effective July 2, 2007. Defendant, currently incarcerated in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, failed to make an appearance or to otherwise defend himself within the time provided by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and Plaintiff moved for default judgment. (Doc. No. 9.) On July 31, 2008, the Clerk of Court entered default against Defendant Gingrich. (Doc. No. 11.) After several requested stays by Defendant (Doc. Nos. 15, 18, 20), the Court denied Plaintiff's motion for default judgment but directed Defendant to file an answer by February 4, 2009. (Doc. No. 25.) Defendant answered the complaint on January 26, 2009, admitting paragraphs 1-34 of the complaint, and also setting forth what are styled as four counterclaims but which conceviably also serve as arguments in defense of Plaintiff's motion. (Doc. No. 26.)

Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings (Doc. No. 27) and brief in support (Doc. No. 28). Rather than respond to the motion for judgment on the pleadings, Defendant Gingrich filed an "amended answer for declaratory judgment," adding an additional counterclaim. (Doc. No. 31.) Plaintiff did not respond to Defendant's counterclaims, classifying them instead as "defenses," but did file a supplemental memorandum of law in support of its motion for judgment on the pleadings. (Doc. No. 33.) Recognizing that Defendant Gingrich is acting pro se and is currently incarcerated, and seeing that nearly sixty days from the filing of Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings Defendant had still not responded to the motion, this Court directed Defendant to respond to the motion for judgment on the pleadings by April 14, 2009. (Doc. No. 34.) To date, over four months after the motion for judgment on the pleadings was filed, Defendant has made no response. Accordingly, the Court will rule on the motion as filed. M.D. Pa. L.R. 7.6 ("Any party opposing any motion shall file a responsive brief . . . within fifteen (15) days after service of the movant's brief . . . . Any respondent who fails to comply with this rule shall be deemed not to oppose such motion.").


At any time after the pleadings close and so as not to delay trial, a party may move for a judgment on the pleadings. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). In reviewing a motion for judgment on the pleadings, a court must accept the nonmovant's allegations as true, and view all reasonable facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Sikirica v. Nationwide Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 214 (3d Cir. 2005). The standard is generally comparable to a motion to dismiss. Id. A motion for judgment on the pleadings will not be granted unless the moving party clearly establishes that there are no material issues of fact, and he or she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. DiCarlo v. St. Mary Hosp., 530 F.3d 255, 259 (3d Cir. 2008).


As stated above, Defendant Gingrich did file an answer to the complaint admitting all the facts set forth in the initial complaint, including his exclusion as a covered driver under the policy. (Doc. No. 26.) Defendant then filed an amended answer to the complaint, which was substantially similar to the initial answer, but with one additional "claim for relief." (Doc. No. 31.) Because Defendant has accepted all facts as true, the only question before the Court is one of law-whether the exclusion of Defendant Randy Gingrich as a driver to an insurance policy issued to C & R Construction releases Plaintiff Selective Way Insurance Company from any and all duty to defend and liability for damages incurred while Defendant Gingrich was operating a C & R Construction automobile otherwise covered by the policy. The Court finds that it does. In so finding, the Court simultaneously rejects Defendant's counterclaims.

Under Pennsylvania law, an insurance company is entitled to issue a policy that insures a motor vehicle but to exclude certain drivers from coverage even when driving a covered vehicle.

75 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1718(c); Donegal Mut. Ins. Co. v. Fackler, 835 A.2d 712 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2003) (holding that a named driver exclusion is valid even where not all requirements of 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1718(c) are met); State Farm Fire and Cas. Co. v. Keenan, 953 F. Supp. 103 (E.D. Pa. 1997) (releasing insurance company from liability to third-party accident victim after finding exclusion of husband, who was driving during the accident, from insurance policy covering wife's car was valid and enforceable). This so-called "named driver exclusion" has been upheld by Pennsylvania courts as consistent with the public policy embodied in the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law ("MVFRL"). Donegal, 835 A.2d at 716 (citing Progressive No. Ins. Co. v. Schneck, 813 A.2d 828 (Pa. 2002)). While not as explicit as some named driver exclusions*fn2 , the named driver exclusion for Defendant Gingrich's insurance policy clearly states: "[i]t is agreed that the insurance afforded by the coverage form listed above shall not apply with respect to any claim arising from accidents which occur while any automobile is being operated by: Randy Gingrich." (Doc. No. 27-16 at 13.) This endorsement page is not individually signed, however, Defendant Gingrich acknowledges that such exclusion was part of his policy. (Doc. No. 31.) The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has stated that "[w]ords in an insurance policy must be given a reasonable and normal interpretation," and "[w]here the language of a policy is clear and unambiguous, a court is required to give effect to that language." Progressive, 813 A.2d at 831(citing Great American Ins. Co. v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 194 A.2d 903, 905 (Pa. 1963) and Standard Venetian Blind Co. v. American Empire Ins. Co., 469 A.2d 563, 566 (Pa. 1983)).

Given the clear statement that "insurance afforded by the coverage form listed above shall not apply with respect to any claim arising from accidents which occur while any automobile is being operated by: Randy Gingrich," this Court concludes that the words of the insurance policy should be given their plain meaning releasing Plaintiff Selective Way Insurance from liability for claims arising out of Defendant Gingrich's collision with Patricia Garthwaite. Courts are only entitled to go beyond the plain meaning of the contract language when it is contrary to a clearly expressed public policy, which is not the case here. Donegal, 835 A.2d at 716; Progressive, 813 A.2d at 831. Accordingly, Plaintiff's motion for declaratory judgment will be granted.

Defendant's claims for relief, whether construed as arguments in his defense for purposes of this motion or as counterclaims, are without merit. He argues generally that Plaintiff Selective Way has a duty to defend and indemnify him for damages, a duty to pay punitive damages, and a duty to provide him benefits under the insurance contract (Doc. No. 31 ¶¶ (b), (c), (d)), all of which are in direct contradiction to the declaratory relief sought by Plaintiff. Yet, Defendant provides no argument in support of these assertions except a citation to a decision of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals stating that liability insurance policies typically include a duty to defend and indemnify. Hardy v. Hartford Ins. Co., 236 F.3d 287 (5th Cir. 2001). However, as stated above, the insurance contract at issue is not typical in that it specifically denies any duty to defend, indemnify, or cover accidents that occur while ...

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