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National Casualty Co. v. Young

July 14, 2009

NATIONAL CASUALTY COMPANY PLAINTIFF
v.
CHRISTOPHER YOUNG DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Golden, J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Before the Court is Plaintiff National Casualty Company's Motion for Summary Judgment. The sole question presented in Plaintiff's Motion is whether, under the insurance policy issued by Plaintiff to the insured Plainfield Township, Plaintiff owes a duty to defend Defendant Christopher Young for the claims asserted against Defendant in a prior lawsuit brought by Karen Romano individually and on behalf of minor Sierra Cardwell. (Civil Action No. 07-1708; hereinafter referred to as the "Underlying Action"). In the Underlying Action, Romano alleged, among other things, that Defendant-then a police officer for the insured Plainfield Township-engaged in sexual contact with Cardwell in violation of Cardwell's constitutional rights actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and subsequently lied to his supervisor when questioned about this sexual relationship. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is granted and the Court concludes that Plaintiff has no duty to defend Defendant in the Underlying Action.*fn1

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

I. Background of Underlying Action

Defendant Christopher Young was a police officer for Plainfield Township from December 2001 through 2005. (Joint Stipulation of Facts ¶ 11). In April 2007, a lawsuit was filed by Karen Romano ("Romano") in her individual capacity and as a parent of minor Sierra Cardwell ("Cardwell") against Defendant and others at Civil Action No. 07-1708. (Id. ¶ 1). An Amended Complaint was filed on July 3, 2007. (Id.). The Amended Complaint alleged that Defendant engaged in sexual activity with Cardwell-who was fifteen years old and a neighbor of Defendant-at various times and locations commencing on or about June 2005 and continuing for approximately four months. (Id. ¶¶ 1-3, 12; Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1, 5, 14). In March 2007, Defendant pled guilty to felony statutory sexual assault pursuant to 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 3122.1*fn2 -a fact pled in Romano's Amended Complaint. (Joint Stipulation of Facts ¶¶ 4, 18-19; Am. Compl. ¶ 17). Furthermore, the Amended Complaint claimed that Defendant falsely denied the allegations of improper sexual contact with Cardwell and, instead, defamed and maligned Romano by stating that he had sex with Romano and not with Cardwell. (Joint Stipulation of Facts ¶ 5; Am. Compl. ¶¶ 28-29). Defendant admitted at his deposition that, when he was first questioned by Plainfield Township Police Chief Dean Ceraul about Defendant's alleged sexual contact with Cardwell, he denied that it occurred and claimed instead that he was having an affair with Romano. (Joint Stipulation of Facts ¶¶ 16-17). The Amended Complaint further alleged that "[a]t all relevant times [Defendant] was employed as a police officer acting under color of law, with the Plainfield Township Police Department." (Am. Compl. ¶ 6).

Based on these facts, Romano individually and on behalf of Cardwell asserted several causes of action against Defendant in the Underlying Action, including: (1) violations of Cardwell's Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, actionable through 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for invading Cardwell's constitutional right to bodily integrity (Count I); (2) intentional infliction of emotional distress on Cardwell (Count VI); (3) assault and battery of Cardwell (Count VII); (4) defamation of Romano (Count VIII); and (5) false light/invasion of privacy of Romano (Count IX). (Joint Stipulation of Facts ¶¶ 6-10). After reviewing several motions for summary judgment and hearing oral argument, the Court entered judgment in favor of Young as to the Section 1983 claim in Count I, holding that "there simply is no evidence from which a jury could conclude that Young was either acting or purporting to act in his official capacity on any of the occasions when he had sexual relations with Cardwell." See Romano v. Young, No. 07-1708, 2009 WL 839017, at *7 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 30, 2009). Because judgment was entered in the Section 1983 federal claim, the Court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Romano's state law claims and dismissed without prejudice Counts VI, VII, VIII, and IX. The Court's decision was appealed by Romano to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. (Doc. No. 100).

II. The Insurance Policy

The operative insurance policy in this case (hereinafter, the "Policy") specifically provides coverage for losses "resulting from 'law enforcement wrongful act(s)' which arise out of and are committed during the course and scope of 'law enforcement activities.'" (Policy, Sec. I.1, NCC00064). An insured individual under the Policy is any "full or part-time employee[] [of Plainfield Township] and all persons who were, now are, or will be [Plainfield Township's] lawfully elected, appointed or employed officials with respect to liability arising out of 'law enforcement activities.'" (Policy, Sec. III.2, NCC00066). Plaintiff has the "duty to defend any 'suit' against the [Defendant] insured even if any of the allegations of the 'suit' are groundless, false or fraudulent." (Policy, Sec. I.2, NCC00064).

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

Summary judgment should be granted if the record, including pleadings, depositions, affidavits, and answers to interrogatories, demonstrates "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). In making that determination, the "evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The question is whether "the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Id. at 251-52. It is not the role of the trial judge "to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. at 250. Indeed, "[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge." Id. at 255.

INTERPRETATION OF INSURANCE CONTRACTS

"[A] duty to defend is broader than the duty to indemnify." Kvaerner Metals Div. of Kvaerner U.S., Inc. v. Commercial Union Ins. Co., 908 A.2d 888, 896 n.7 (Pa. 2006). Accordingly, an insurer may have a duty to defend even though it may ultimately have no duty to indemnify. Frog, Switch & Mfg. Co. v. Travelers Ins. Co., 193 F.3d 742, 746 (3d Cir. 1999). "[A] insurer must defend its insured if the underlying complaint alleges facts which, if true, would actually or potentially bring the claims within the policy coverage." Belser v. Rockwood Cas. Ins. Co., 791 A.2d 1216, 1222 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2002) (quoting Bd. of Public Educ. of Sch. Dist. of Pittsburgh v. Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, Pa., 709 A.2d 910, 913 (Pa. Super Ct. 1998)) (emphasis added). If there is no possibility that any of the underlying claims could fall within the coverage of the policy, then the insurer has no duty to defend or indemnify. Sphere Drake, P.L.C. v. 101 Variety, Inc., 35 F. Supp. 2d 421, 428 (E.D. Pa. 1999). When an insurer's defense obligation is triggered under the policy, the insurer must provide a defense "even if such suit is groundless, false, or fraudulent." Britamco Underwriters, Inc. v. Weiner, 636 A.2d 649, 651 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1994), appeal denied, 655 A.2d 508 (Pa. 1994). "[I]f a single claim in a multiclaim lawsuit is potentially covered, the insurer must defend all claims until there is no possibility that the underlying plaintiff could recover on a covered claim." Frog, Switch, 193 F.3d at 746. "Under Pennsylvania law, which the parties agree is applicable here, the 'interpretation of an insurance contract regarding the existence or non-existence of coverage is generally performed by the Court.'" Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. CPB Int'l, Inc., 562 F.3d 591, 595 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Gardner v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 544 F.3d 533, 558 (3d Cir. 2008)). In its analysis, a court first looks to the terms of the policy "which are a manifestation of the intent of the parties." Id. (internal quotations omitted). "When the language of the policy is clear and unambiguous, [the court] must give effect to that language." Donegal Mut. Ins. Co. v. Baumhammers, 938 A.2d 286, 290 (Pa. 2007). In cases where the wording is ambiguous, relevant extrinsic evidence should be considered to resolve the ambiguity. See Bokunewicz v. Purolator Prods., Inc., 907 F.2d 1396, 1401 (3d Cir. 1990) (citing Hutchison v. Sunbeam Coal Corp., 519 A.2d 385, 390 (Pa. 1986)); see also 12th Street Gym, Inc. v. Gen. Star Indem. Co., 980 F. Supp. 796, 801-02 (E.D. Pa. 1997). When such evidence does not resolve the dispute, the policy provision is to be construed in favor of the insured and against the insurer as the drafter of the agreement. See Bateman v. Motorists Mutual Ins. Co., 590 A.2d 281, 283 (Pa. 1991). Contractual language is ambiguous if "it is reasonably susceptible of different constructions and capable of being understood in more than one sense." Hutchison, 519 A.2d at 390.

Next, a court compares the terms of the policy to the allegations in the underlying claim. Nationwide, 562 F.3d at 595. "It is well established that an insurer's duties under an insurance policy are triggered by the language of the complaint against the insured." Id. (quoting Kvaerner, 908 A.2d at 897). "In determining the existence of a duty to defend, the factual allegations of the underlying complaint against the insured are to be taken as true and liberally construed in favor of the insured." Id. at 595-96 (quoting Frog, Switch, 193 F.3d at 746). Thus, in assessing whether a duty to defend exists in this case, the Court will look to the language of the Policy to determine in which instances the Policy provides coverage, and then will ...


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