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Infinity Indemnity Insurance Company v. Jannette Gonzalez

June 4, 2012

INFINITY INDEMNITY INSURANCE COMPANY,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
JANNETTE GONZALEZ, ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff Infinity Indemnity Insurance Company ("Infinity") brings this declaratory judgment action against Jannette Gonzalez, Leonardo Barrios, Lizandro Martinez, and State Farm Indemnity Company ("State Farm"). Plaintiff seeks a declaration that it owes no coverage under a personal automobile liability insurance policy issued to Gonzalez. Defaults have been entered against Defendants Gonzalez, Barrios, and Martinez for failure to appear, plead, or otherwise defend this lawsuit. Before the Court is Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. Defendant State Farm has not responded and has indicated to the Court that it does not oppose the motion. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Plaintiff's motion.

I. BACKGROUND

Infinity issued a personal automobile liability insurance policy to Gonzalez for the period of May 3, 2010 to May 3, 2011. (Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. ¶ 2.) The policy is identified as a "Pennsylvania Low Cost Personal Auto Policy." (Compl. Ex. B [Policy and Endorsement].) An endorsement states that the policy is a "Pennsylvania Named Driver Only Personal Auto Policy Endorsement," and it also states: "We will only provide coverage for drivers listed on your policy. We will not provide coverage for any other driver of the insured auto." (Id.) Gonzalez also selected the optional "Economy Low Cost Discount," which provided a ten percent discount on premiums in exchange for an agreement that "unlisted drivers are not afforded coverage under the policy." (Compl. Ex. A [Application for Insurance] at 4.) The endorsement further states in an exclusion, "We do not cover bodily injury or property damage resulting from the . . . use of the insured auto by any person not listed on the Declarations Page before a loss." (Policy and Endorsement.) With respect to property damage to a listed vehicle, the endorsement contains a definition of "authorized driver" that includes only the named insured and any person listed on the application or added by an endorsement. (Id.)

Jannette Gonzalez is the only listed named insured in the policy. (Id.) One of the listed vehicles is a 2005 Dodge Caravan. (Id.) In Gonzalez's application for insurance, Gonzalez initialed and checked the "No" box next to a question whether there were "any drivers who may operate a listed vehicle on a regular or infrequent basis that have not been disclosed on this application." (Application for Insurance at 3.) Gonzalez also signed an acknowledgment on the signature page of her application that stated, "The Low Cost Personal Auto Policy specifically addresses who may use your vehicle and under what conditions coverage will be afforded. In all cases, only those individuals and vehicles shown on the Declarations Page or endorsed on the policy prior to a loss are afforded coverage." (Id. at 4.) Gonzalez further acknowledged that it was her responsibility to report to her insurance agent anyone not listed on the declarations page who will have access to the listed vehicle, and that the contract provides coverage only when a driver listed on the ceclarations page is driving the listed vehicle. (Id.)

On November 24, 2010, Gonzalez permitted Barrios to drive her Dodge Caravan. On that day, Barrios struck Martinez's vehicle, causing serious injury to Martinez. (Compl. Ex. C [Complaint, Martinez v. Barrios, et al.].) On April 7, 2011, Martinez sued Barrios and Gonzalez in the Superior Court of New Jersey. (Id.)

On August 2, 2011, Infinity brought this declaratory judgment action in this Court against Gonzalez, Barrios, Martinez, and State Farm. Defaults were entered against Gonzalez, Barrios, and Martinez for failure to appear, plead, or otherwise defend the action. State Farm answered the complaint and participated in a scheduling conference, where it indicated that it provides similar named driver only insurance policies.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate when the admissible evidence fails to demonstrate a genuine dispute of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). When the movant does not bear the burden of persuasion at trial, it may meet its burden on summary judgment by showing that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to carry its burden of persuasion. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986).

Thereafter, the nonmoving party demonstrates a genuine issue of material fact if it provides evidence sufficient to allow a reasonable finder of fact to find in its favor at trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In reviewing the record, a court "must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all inferences in that party's favor." Prowel v. Wise Bus. Forms, 32 F.3d 768, 777 (3d Cir. 2009). The court may not, however, make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence in considering motions for summary judgment. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000); see also Goodman v. Pa. Tpk. Comm'n, 293 F.3d 655, 665 (3d Cir. 2002).

III. DISCUSSION

Infinity contends that it has no duty to defend or indemnify Gonzalez and/or Barrios for any claims arising out of the collision with Martinez or to reimburse Gonzalez for damage to the Dodge Caravan resulting from that accident. It asserts that the policy only provides coverage for damage to the Dodge Caravan when it is being operated by an authorized driver. Because Barrios was not a named driver on the policy or endorsement, Infinity argues that it has no duty to provide coverage for damage resulting from the November 24, 2010 collision when Barrios was driving the Dodge Caravan with Gonzalez's permission.

Pennsylvania law, which governs the interpretation of the policy, "provides several well-settled principles governing the interpretation of insurance policies." J.C. Penney Life Ins. Co. v. Pilosi, 393 F.3d 356, 363 (3d Cir. 2004). First, the task of interpreting the policy is generally performed by the court, rather than the jury, and the goal of that task is to ascertain the intent of the parties through the contract's language. Id. (citing Standard Venetian Blind Co. v. Am. Empire Ins. Co., 469 A.2d 563, 566 (Pa. 1983)). Second, when "an insurance policy provision is ambiguous, it is to be construed against the insurer and in favor of the insured." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). A provision is ambiguous when the language, viewed in the context of the entire policy, is "reasonably susceptible of different constructions and capable of being understood in more than one sense." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). Third, when an insurance contract's language is unambiguous, the court must enforce the language and avoid creating ambiguities where none exist.

Id. "Thus, '[w]here the policy contains definitions for the words contained therein, the court will apply those definitions in interpreting the policy.'" Id. (quoting Monti v. Rockwood Ins. Co., 450 A.2d 24, 25 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1982)). Courts should not, "under the guise of judicial interpretation, . . . expand the coverage beyond that as ...


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