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Sciolla v. West Blend Mutual Ins.

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 18, 2013

AMANDA SCIOLLA, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
WEST BEND MUTUAL INSURANCE CO., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, J.

Table of Contents

I. INTRODUCTION .............................................. 2

II. BACKGROUND ................................................ 3

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW ........................................ 5

IV. DISCUSSION ................................................ 8

A. Applicable Law ....................................... 8

B. The Parties’ Burdens ................................ 10

1. Plaintiff’s Burden of Establishing Coverage.... 10

2. Insured’s Burden of Establishing the Applicability of Exclusion CG2101 ................... 11

a. Elements of Exclusion CG2101 ................... 12

b. Ambiguity of Sponsor ........................... 15

C. Appropriateness of Summary Judgment ................. 19

D. Defendant’s Duties to Defend and Indemnify .......... 21

V. CONCLUSION ............................................... 23

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs Amanda Sciolla and Meredith Hopkins (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) brought this suit seeking declaratory relief against West Bend Mutual Insurance Company (“Defendant”). Plaintiffs’ Complaint relates to a previous action filed against Buckeye Donkey Ball, L.L.C. (“Buckeye”).[1]See Am. Compl., Ex. E, Compl. Against Buckeye (hereinafter, “Buckeye Compl.”), ECF No. 28-5. Defendant is Buckeye’s insurance carrier. Defendant alleges that, per its policy, Defendant has no duty to defend or indemnify Buckeye in the previously filed action. Answer Am. Compl., Feb. 20, 2013, ECF No. 29. Buckeye subsequently assigned its rights to Plaintiffs to assert claims directly against Defendant. See Am. Compl., Ex. F, Assignment of Rights, Aug. 20, 2011, ECF No. 28-2. Thus, Plaintiffs’ Complaint seeks a declaration that Defendant has a duty to defend and indemnify Buckeye against the claims that Plaintiffs filed in the previous suit. Am. Compl. Defendant answered Plaintiffs’ Complaint denying all allegations and asserting a variety of affirmative defenses. Answer Am. Compl.

Pending before the Court are the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment. See Def.’s Mot. Summ. J., Mar. 1, 2013, ECF No. 30-8; Pls.’ Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 31. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment and, correspondingly, deny Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs are both teachers in the Pennsbury School District. Defendant is an insurance company that issued an insurance policy to Buckeye Donkey Ball, L.L.C. (“Buckeye”). See Am. Compl., Ex. B, Ins. Policy, ECF No. 28-2. 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 Pennsbury School District. Plaintiffs allege they participated in this show and were thrown off their donkeys, sustaining injuries. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 6-7. Plaintiffs then filed a personal injury suit against Buckeye. See Am. Compl. ¶ 12; see also Buckeye Compl.

Prior to the incident, Buckeye purchased an insurance policy from Defendant. See Ins. Policy. Defendant, however, disclaims any duty to defend or indemnify Buckeye, citing a policy provision excluding insurance coverage. See Def.’s Mot. Summ. J., Ex. D, CG2101-Sports or Athletic Participant Exclusion (hereinafter, “Exclusion CG2101”) (“With respect to any operations shown in the Schedule, this insurance does not apply to ‘bodily injury’ to any person while practicing for or participating in any sports or athletic contest or exhibition that you sponsor.”).[2] In a letter to Buckeye, dated March 31, 2010, Defendant disclaimed liability under Exclusion CG2101. Am. Compl., Ex. C., Disclaimer of Duty to Defend or Indemnify (“Disclaimer Letter”), March 31, 2010, ECF No. 28-3. Thereafter, Buckeye assigned its rights under the insurance policy to Plaintiffs. See Assignment of Rights.

Plaintiffs brought this action seeking declaratory judgment, asserting that Defendant has a duty to defend and indemnify Buckeye. Following the Court’s Order Vacating its Earlier Memorandum Opinion and Order (ECF No. 26), [3] Defendant moved for summary judgment. Def.’s Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 30. In turn, Plaintiffs also filed for Summary Judgment and filed a response to Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 34). Defendant has responded to Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 33). The parties’ motions are now ripe for disposition.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

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.

The standard for addressing cross-motions for summary judgment remains the same as if there were only one motion filed. See Lawrence v. City of Phila., 527 F.3d 299, 310 (3d Cir. 2008).[4] When confronted with cross-motions for summary judgment the “court must rule on each party’s motion on an individual and separate basis, determining, for each side, whether a judgment may be entered in accordance with the Rule 56 standard.” Schlegel v. Life Ins. Co. of N. Am., 269 F.Supp.2d 612, 615 n.1 (E.D. ...


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