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Scott Miller and Glenda Miller v. Daniel Poole and the Wall Rose

June 4, 2012

SCOTT MILLER AND GLENDA MILLER, APPELLANTS
v.
DANIEL POOLE AND THE WALL ROSE MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, APPELLEES



Appeal from the Order entered October 14, 2011, in the Court of Common Pleas of Fayette County, Civil Division, at No: 3012 of 2007 G.D.

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

BEFORE: FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E., ALLEN, J., and STRASSBURGER,*fn1 J.

Scott and Glenda Miller (the Millers) appeal from the order of October 14, 2011,*fn2 which denied their motion for summary judgment and granted summary judgment in favor of the Wall Rose Mutual Insurance Company (Wall Rose). We reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Helen Poole owned a home at 301 Cottage Avenue in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, and was the named insured on a homeowner's insurance policy issued by Wall Rose. Helen's son, Abe Poole, and 18-year-old grandson, Daniel Poole, spent the night of April 1, 2005, at Helen's house, as Helen was in the hospital and the two men's new apartment did not yet have working utilities. Helen Poole died the following day: April 2, 2005. Because Helen's will granted Abe a life estate in her house, Abe and Daniel moved their belongings from the new apartment to Helen's house and continued to stay there until September 2005.

On September 2, 2005, Daniel ignited the gas stove at the house to light a cigarette, and then left the house without turning off the stove. A fire ensued and spread to the Millers' adjacent property. The Millers sued Daniel for the damages caused by the fire. Wall Rose refused to defend Daniel and denied coverage for the Millers' property damage. The Millers eventually obtained a default judgment against Daniel.

On November 8, 2007, the Millers filed a declaratory judgment action against Daniel and Wall Rose, seeking a ruling that Wall Rose had a duty to indemnify Daniel for the judgment entered against him. After discovery, the Millers and Wall Rose filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The trial court granted Wall Rose's motion and denied the Millers' motion by order filed on October 14, 2011. The Millers filed a timely notice of appeal.*fn3

The Millers raise two questions for our consideration.

A. Did Wall Rose's liability insurance policy, affording coverage to resident relatives of Mrs. Poole's household, cover a loss caused by the negligence of her grandson, Daniel Poole, while living at the insured property on the date of the fire?

B. Did the uncontradicted facts warrant the conclusion that Daniel Poole was a resident of his grandmother's household as of the date of her death, particularly in view of the mandate that any ambiguity in the application of the language be construed against Wall Rose?

Millers' Brief at 4 (trial court answers omitted).

On appeal from an order granting a motion for summary judgment our review is plenary, and we may reverse the order of the trial court only if that court committed an error of law or abused its discretion. ADP, Inc. v. Morrow Motors Inc., 969 A.2d 1244, 1246 (Pa. Super. 2009). "Because contract interpretation is a question of law, this Court is not bound by the trial court's interpretation." Ragnar Benson, Inc. v. Hempfield Twp. Mun. Authority, 916 A.2d 1183, 1188 (Pa. Super. 2007).

The insurance policy at issue provides that Wall Rose will pay, up to its limit, sums for which an "insured" is liable for property damage or bodily injury. The questions before us center around the interpretation of the provision of the contract which defines who is an "insured" under the policy.*fn4 The relevant language is as follows.

7. "Insured" means:

a. "you" [the person named as the insured on the declarations page, which in this ...


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