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Victoria Insurance Co. v. Mincin Insulation Services

September 15, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ambrose, Chief District Judge.



In this insurance coverage dispute, Plaintiff, Victoria Insurance Company, ("Victoria"), filed a motion for summary judgment requesting an order indicating that its insurance policy exclusion precluded it from providing its insured, Mincin Insulation Services, Inc., ("Mincin"), with a defense and insurance coverage in an underlying lawsuit. For reasons set for below, I will grant Victoria's motion.


I. Applicable Standards

Granting summary judgment is proper 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 judgment as a matter of law. Knabe v. Boury, 114 F.3d 407, 410 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing F.R.Civ.P. 56). A fact is material when it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed. 2d 202 (1986).

When considering a motion for summary judgment, the courts examine the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. International Raw Materials, Ltd. v. Stauffer Chemical Co., 898 F.2d 946, 949 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

Once the moving party satisfies its burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party, who must go beyond its pleadings, and designate specific facts by the use of affidavits, depositions, admissions, or answers to interrogatories showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324. Summary judgment must therefore be granted "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." White v. Westinghouse Electric Co., 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988), quoting, Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

II. Procedural Background

This coverage action relates to an underlying lawsuit filed in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas brought by Mincin's employee against two of his co-workers for assault and battery and against Mincin for negligence. (Michael McHugh v. Anthony Villella, et al., docket no. GD-06-017653, hereinafter, the "McHugh Litigation"). The complaint filed in McHugh Litigation alleges that two of McHugh's co-workers, (Villella and Walker) intentionally struck McHugh causing him to sustain injuries. This complaint also alleges that Mincin owed a duty of care to McHugh, and that Mincin knew or should have known that Villella and Walker posed a threat to the other Mincin employees and breached that duty by hiring them. McHugh's complaint also alleges that Mincin "caused or partially caused" McHugh's injuries because Mincin failed to: (1) adequately research Villella and Walker's backgrounds, (2) properly train Villella and Walker, (3) adequately supervise Villella and Walker, and (4) intervene when Villella and Walker attacked McHugh. (A copy of the complaint was attached as Exhibit A to Victoria's appendix in support of its motion for summary judgment. See, Document no. 23-2, ¶¶ 24-30).

McHugh filed his complaint in Allegheny County on February 2, 2007. Victoria filed the instant lawsuit on June 30, 2008 seeking a declaratory judgment that the commercial general liability policy it issued to Mincin precludes Victoria from providing a defense to Mincin as well as coverage for the claims asserted against Mincin in the McHugh Litigation.

III. Legal Analysis

The parties agree that Pennsylvania law governs the interpretation of the insurance policy. Under Pennsylvania law, "[t]he task of interpreting [an insurance] contract is generally performed by a court rather than by a jury." 401 Fourth Street, Inc. v. Investors Ins. Group, 583 Pa. 445, 454 879 A.2d 166, 171 (2005). The goal in interpreting insurance policies is "to ascertain the intent of the parties as manifested by the terms used in the written insurance policy." Ibid. Generally, "when the language of the policy is clear and unambiguous, a court is required to give effect to that language[,]" but "[w]hen a provision in a policy is ambiguous . . . the policy is to be construed in favor of the insured to further the contract's prime purpose of indemnification and against the insurer, as the insurer drafts the policy, and controls coverage. Countryway Ins. Co. v. Slaugenhoup, 619 F.Supp.2d 190, 194 (W.D.Pa. 2008) citing, Gene & Harvey Builders, Inc. v. Pennsylvania Manufacturers' Association Ins. Co., 512 Pa. 420, 517 A.2d 910, 913 (1986).

Pennsylvania's Supreme Court has held that "[t]he duty to defend is a distinct obligation, separate and apart from an insurer's duty to provide coverage." Erie Ins. Exchange v. Transamerica Ins. Co., 516 Pa. 574, 583, 533 A.2d 1363, 1368 (1987). To determine when an ...

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