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Amanda Sciolla, et al v. West Bend Mutual Insurance Co


November 21, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, J.


Before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF Nos. 9, 10. For the reasons that follow, the Court will deny the parties' motions.

Plaintiffs Amanda Sciolla and Meredith Hopkins (collectively, "Plaintiffs") brought this suit seeking declaratory relief requiring that West Bend Mutual Insurance Company ("Defendant") defend and indemnify Buckeye Donkey Ball, L.L.C. ("Buckeye"). Plaintiffs' Complaint relates to a previous action filed against Buckeye.*fn1 Defendant was Buckeye's insurance carrier. Defendant alleges that, per its policy, Defendant has no duty to defend or indemnify Buckeye in the previously filed action. In its Answer, Defendant denies all of Plaintiffs' allegations and asserts a variety of affirmative defenses. Def.'s Answer, ECF No. 5.

Plaintiffs are both teachers in the Pennsbury School District. Buckeye puts on "Donkey Ball" shows that involve people riding donkeys while playing basketball. Relevant here, Buckeye put on a Donkey Ball show on November 13, 2009, at the Charles Boehm Middle School in the Pennsbury School District. Plaintiffs participated in this show and were thrown off their donkeys, sustaining injuries. Plaintiffs then filed a personal injury suit against Buckeye. See Compl. ¶ 12, ECF No. 1; Id. Ex. D (attaching original complaint in Hopkins, et al. v. Buckeye Donkey Ball L.L.C., No. 11-377).

At the time of the November 13, 2009, Donkey Ball show, Defendant insured Buckeye.*fn2 In disclaiming any duty to defend or indemnify Buckeye, Defendant cites a subsequently-added policy exclusion, which excludes insurance coverage for "Athletic or Sports Participants" such that the "insurance does not apply to 'bodily injury' to any person while practicing for or participating in any sports or athletic contest or exhibition that [Buckeye] sponsor[s]" (the "Exclusion"). Def.'s Br. in Supp. of Summ. J. Ex. C, ECF No. 9 [hereinafter Def.'s Br.]. In a letter to Buckeye, dated March 31, 2010, Defendant disclaimed liability under this Exclusion. Id. Ex. D. Thereafter, Buckeye assigned its rights under the insurance policy to Plaintiffs. Pls.' Compl. Ex. E.

Following discovery, Defendant moved for summary judgment. Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 9. Plaintiff responded in opposition and cross-moved for summary judgment. Pls.' Resp. and Cross-Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 10.*fn3 Defendant then filed a motion for leave to file a reply brief. Def.'s Reply, ECF No. 12. Plaintiffs responded in opposition to this motion. Pls.' Surreply, ECF No. 13. The parties' motions are now ripe for disposition.

Summary judgment is appropriate if there are no genuine disputes of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). "A motion for summary judgment will not be defeated by 'the mere existence' of some disputed facts, but will be denied when there is a genuine issue of material fact." Am. Eagle Outfitters v. Lyle & Scott Ltd., 584 F.3d 575, 581 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986)).

A fact is "material" if proof of its existence or non-existence might affect the outcome of the litigation, and a dispute is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

In undertaking this analysis, the court views the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. "After making all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor, there is a genuine issue of material fact if a reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party." Pignataro v. Port Auth. of N.Y. & N.J., 593 F.3d 265, 268 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Reliance Ins. Co. v. Moessner, 121 F.3d 895, 900 (3d Cir. 1997)). While the moving party bears the initial burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, meeting this obligation shifts the burden to the non-moving party who "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250 (internal quotation mark omitted).

In ruling on cross-motions for summary judgment, each motion must be examined separately. Thus, the Court will first examine Defendant's motion.

As a preliminary matter, Defendant's motion requires the Court to interpret the terms of Defendant's insurance contract with Buckeye, including provisions in the general insurance policy as well as the Exclusion. But the parties do not agree that Plaintiffs' copy is the operative insurance policy.*fn4

Here, the parties appear to dispute the authenticity, completeness, and application of Plaintiffs' proffered insurance contract. Additionally, central to resolving the parties' dispute is determining whether Plaintiffs constitute "players" covered by the policy or "participants" not covered under the Exclusion. These issues are genuine and unresolved disputes of material fact. Accordingly, the Court will deny Defendant's motion.

Plaintiffs' motion raises the same unresolved disputes of material fact; namely, the authenticity of Plaintiffs' proffered insurance contract, the terms of the insurance policy between Defendant and Buckeye, and whether Plaintiffs constitute "players" covered by the policy or "participants" not covered under the Exclusion. Therefore, the Court will also deny Plaintiffs' motion. An appropriate order will follow.

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