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Brittain v. National Casualty Co.

United States District Court, Western District of Pennsylvania

September 11, 2014

BILLIE J. BRITTAIN, Plaintiff,
v.
NATIONAL CASUALTY COMPANY, Defendant.

OPINION

Mark R. Hornak United States District Judge

This matter is before the Court upon Cross Motions for Partial Summary Judgment filed by Plaintiff Billie J. Brittain ("Plaintiff') (ECF No. 39) and Defendant National Casualty Company ("Defendant") (ECF No. 43). This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. For the reasons which follow, Plaintiffs motion is denied and Defendant's motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

On February 4, 2007, Plaintiff was standing in the roadway on State Route 430 in Greenfield Township, Pennsylvania, when she was struck and severely injured by a vehicle operated by Jason Prody ("Prody"). Compl. ¶¶ 4-5, 7, At the time of the accident, Plaintiff was in possession of a 2007 Chevrolet Impala that she had rented from General American Rentals d/b/a Thrifty Rental Cars ("Thrifty"). Id. ¶ 10. The Impala was insured under a policy of insurance issued by Defendant under policy number CAO-0205015. Id. The declarations page contained in that policy indicated that the policy generally provided $1, 000, 000.00 in bodily injury liability coverage. ECF 45-1 at 13. However, a "Daily Auto Rental Endorsement" appended to the policy purported to limit bodily injury liability for persons renting vehicles from the policy holder to "$15, 000 Each Person." Id. at 37-38.

Prody, at the time of the accident, carried only $25, 000.00 in bodily injury protection. Compl. ¶ 9. On November 6, 2008, Prody's insurance carrier tendered its $25, 000.00 bodily injury policy limit to Plaintiff to settle her claim against Prody. Id.7. Because of the severity of her injuries, Plaintiff sought underinsured motorist benefits ("UIM") from Defendant pursuant to its policy with Thrifty. Id., ¶¶ 11-12. Defendant initially denied her claim on the grounds that Thrifty had signed a form rejecting UIM coverage. Id. ¶¶ 12-13. Plaintiff responded by filing a declaratory judgment action in state court. Id.

In the state court action, filed on February 3, 2009, the primary issue before the court was whether the UIM coverage waiver provided by Defendant and signed by Thrifty was valid under Pennsylvania law. On August 11, 2010, Judge John Garhart ruled that the UIM waiver form was "null and void" because the form lacked the specific phrase "I knowingly and voluntarily reject this coverage" as required by 75 Pa.C.S.A. § 1731(c). Compl. ¶ 14.

The parties subsequently attempted to resolve their dispute through arbitration. Compl. ¶¶ 15-16. However, a discrepancy immediately arose concerning the amount of available UIM coverage. Plaintiff indicated that defense counsel had previously represented that the policy provided for up to $1, 000, 000 in UIM benefits, while Defendant now took the position that only $15, 000 was available. Id. In light of this dispute, Judge Garhart dissolved the arbitration panel on grounds of mutual mistake. Def.'s Ex. B.

On February 7, 2013, Plaintiff filed the instant federal action seeking UIM benefits. Compl. ¶¶ 20-24. During the initial status conference, held on July 22, 2013, the parties identified two legal issues that warranted early attention. The first was whether Plaintiffs action was barred by the applicable statute of limitations, and the second concerned the amount of available insurance coverage under the policy CAO-0205015. The Court ordered the parties to file dispositive motions on each. ECF No. 18.

On October 11, 2013, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on the basis of Pennsylvania's four-year statute of limitations governing contractual claims for UIM benefits. ECF No. 4. That motion was denied on January 27, 2014. ECF No. 32. Shortly thereafter, the Court ordered the parties to file dispositive motions addressing the primary remaining dispute: the scope of available insurance coverage under the operative policy. ECF No. 35. The instant motions for summary judgment ensued. ECF Nos. 39, 43. Each motion is now fully briefed and ripe for review.

II. STANDARD FOR REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c)(2) provides that summary judgment shall be granted if the "pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Rule 56(e) further provides that when a motion for summary judgment is made and supported, "an opposing party may not rely merely on allegations or denials in its own pleading; rather, its response must - by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this rule - set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. If the opposing party does not so respond, summary judgment should, if appropriate, be entered against that party."

A material fact is a fact whose resolution will affect the outcome of the case under applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The moving party has the initial burden of proving to the district court the absence of evidence supporting the non-moving party's claims. Celotex Corp. v. Catreit, 477 U.S. 317 (1986); Country Floors, Inc. v. Partnership Composed of Gepner and Ford, 930 F.2d 1056, 1061 (3rd Cir. 1990). Further, "[R]ule 56 enables a party contending that there is no genuine dispute as to a specific, essential fact 'to demand at least one sworn averment of that fact before the lengthy process of litigation continues."' Schoch v. First Fidelity Bancorporation, 912 F.2d 654, 657 (3rd Cir. 1990) (quoting Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, 497 U.S. 871 (1990)). The burden then shifts to the non-movant to come forward with specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Company v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986); Williams v. Borough of West Chester, Pa., 891 F.2d 458, 460-461 (3rd Cir. 1989) (the non-movant must present affirmative evidence - more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance - which supports each element of his claim to defeat a properly presented motion for summary judgment).

III. DISCUSSION

The Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law ("MVFRL") requires insurers to offer uninsured ("UM") and UIM coverages. 75 Pa. C.S.A. § 1731(a) ("No motor vehicle liability insurance policy shall be delivered or issued in this Commonwealth . . . unless uninsured motorist and underinsured motorist coverages are offered therein . . ."). While it is mandatory for an insurer to offer such coverages, a driver may elect to waive UIM or UM coverage or agree to a reduced amount of coverage. Id. ("Purchase of uninsured motorist and underinsured motorist coverages is optional."). Any such waiver must strictly comply with the statutory requirements of Section 1731(c) of the MVFRL. If a driver attempts to waive UIM and UM coverage but fails to satisfy the statutory requirements, then the statute provides that ...


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