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Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Company v. Michael J. Filachek

May 25, 2011

ALLSTATE PROPERTY AND CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY
v.
MICHAEL J. FILACHEK, ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Juan R. Sanchez, J.

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Company (Allstate) brings this declaratory judgment action seeking a declaration that it is not required to defend its insured, Defendant Michael Filachek, in a Pennsylvania wrongful death action brought by Linda Ung against Filachek, Matthew Maher, and Mad River Philly d/b/a Mad River Bar & Grille (Mad River).*fn1 Allstate asks this Court to enter judgment on the pleadings in its favor. For the following reasons, this Court will grant Allstate's motion and declare Allstate owes no duty to Filachek to defend him in the Pennsylvania action.

FACTS*fn2

On March 7, 2009, Filachek was a passenger in a vehicle owned and operated by Maher. While traveling on the Atlantic City Expressway, Maher lost control of the vehicle and struck a car operated by Hort Kap, Ung's husband. Kap was killed in the collision.

Before the collision, Filachek and Maher spent the evening drinking in Philadelphia at the three bars whose corporate owners are named as Defendants in this action: Nodding Head Brewery, Urban Saloon, and Mad River. The last bar Filachek and Maher visited was Mad River, where they arrived late in the evening and stayed until the bar closed at 2:00 a.m. While there, Maher "pounded shots of liquor" in Filachek's presence. Compl. ¶ 36. When Mad River closed, Maher and Filachek decided to drive to Atlantic City. Maher drove, and Filachek rode in the front passenger seat. Near milepost 18.6 on the Atlantic City Expressway, Maher collided with Kap's car while traveling at 103 miles per hour. His blood alcohol level was .21%, well over the .08% legal limit in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

As a result of this accident, Ung, individually and as administratrix of Kap's estate, sued Maher, Filachek, and Mad River for Kap's wrongful death. Ung claims Filachek is liable because he (1) provided Maher with alcohol and encouraged Maher to drink to excess; (2) failed to investigate whether Maher was capable of safely driving his car to Atlantic City; (3) failed to obtain alternative transportation to Atlantic City despite knowing Maher was under the influence of alcohol and could not legally drive; (4) failed to ensure Maher safely operated the vehicle and kept a safe following distance; (5) failed to "keep a proper lookout" and observe road conditions, including the presence of other vehicles on the road; (6) failed to ensure Maher braked or took other evasive action to avoid hitting Kap's car; (7) sent text messages immediately prior to the crash, despite knowing Maher was driving in excess of 100 miles per hour; (8) failed to assume operation of the vehicle when it became apparent Maher was unable to safely drive; and (9) failed to otherwise act to avoid the collision. Compl. ¶72.

At all times relevant to this litigation, Allstate insured Filachek under a Pennsylvania homeowners insurance policy (the Policy). Based on this policy, Allstate retained counsel to defend Filachek in the wrongful death action;, however, Allstate filed the instant action seeking a declaration that it is not obligated to defend Filachek because the Policy excludes coverage for injuries arising from the use, or supervision of the use, of a motor vehicle.

DISCUSSION

A motion for judgment on the pleadings is analyzed under the same standard as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Revell v. Port Auth., 598 F.3d 128, 134 (3d Cir. 2010). Judgment on the pleadings will not be granted "unless the movant clearly establishes that no material issue of fact remains to be resolved and that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Rosenau v. Unifund Corp., 539 F.3d 218, 221 (3d Cir. 2008) (citation omitted).

Allstate asserts it is entitled to a declaratory judgment because Filachek's conduct related to Kap's death is excluded from coverage under the Policy. "An insurer's duty to defend and indemnify the insured may be resolved via declaratory judgment actions." Erie Ins. Exch. v. Claypoole, 673 A.2d 348, 355 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1996). In interpreting Pennsylvania insurance policies, a court should "consider [the] policy from the point of view of the insured and construe [the] policy most strongly against the insurer." Erie Ins. Exch. v. Transamerica Ins. Co., 533 A.2d 1363, 1366-67 (Pa. 1987). An insurer must defend its insured even against lawsuits that are "groundless, false, or fraudulent," but it is not required to defend its insured against complaints when, even if the complaint were successful, the insurer would not be required to pay a judgment because such judgment would not be covered by the insurance policy. Id. at 1368 (citing Gedeon v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 188 A.2d 320 (Pa. 1963) (explaining "the obligation to defendant arises whenever the complaint filed by the injured party may potentially come within the coverage of the policy")). When an insurer contends coverage under its policy is precluded by a policy exclusion, it bears the burden of proving such an exclusion applies. Id; see also Alea London, Ltd. v. Woodlake Mgmt., 365 F. App'x 427, 429 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Madison Constr. Co. v. Harleysville Mut. Ins. Co.., 735 A.2d 100, 106 (Pa. 1999)).

Allstate argues it is not obligated to defend against or indemnify Filachek for the allegations included in Ung's Second Amended Complaint because Kap's death arose out of the ownership, maintenance, use and/or occupancy of a motor vehicle, and is therefore excluded from coverage by the Policy. Allstate asserts two Policy exclusions are applicable to Ung's claims. The first exclusion (the vehicle use exclusion) states, "We do not cover bodily injury or property damage arising out of the ownership, maintenance, use, occupancy, renting, loaning, entrusting, loading or unloading of any motor vehicle or trailer." Policy § C(4). The second exclusion (the vehicle supervision exclusion) states:

We do not cover bodily injury or property damage arising out of:

(a) the negligent supervision by any insured person of any person; or

(b) any liability statutorily imposed on any insured person arising from the ownership, maintenance, use, occupancy, renting, loaning, entrusting, loading or unloading of any aircraft, watercraft, motorized land vehicle or ...


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