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Courter v. Westfield Insurance Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 28, 2014

KENNETH COURTER, SR., and PATRICIA ASHLEY, Administrators of the Estate of Kenneth M. Courter, Jr., Plaintiffs.
v.
WESTFIELD INSURANCE CO., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

THOMAS M. BLEWITT, Magistrate Judge.

I. Background.

Plaintiffs, Kenneth Courter, Sr., and Patricia Ashley, as Administrators for the Estate of Kenneth M. Courter, Jr. ("decedent"), filed a Complaint on July 26, 2013, against Defendant Westfield Insurance Company ("Westfield" or "Defendant").[1] Plaintiffs raise two Pennsylvania state law claims, one for breach of contract and, the second for bad faith under 42 Pa. C.S.A. §8371, with respect to Defendant's denial of Plaintiffs' claim for uninsured motorist benefits for decedent, who was fatally injured in a February 22, 2012 motor vehicle accident, under an insurance policy (#WNP 7383480) Defendant issued to decedent's grandmother, Janice M. Courter. (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs submitted Exhibits with their Complaint. (Docs. 1-1 & 1-2).

Jurisdiction of this federal Court is based on diversity pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), as Plaintiffs reside in Pennsylvania and Defendant is an Ohio company. (Doc. 1, p. 2).

On August 22, 2013, Defendant filed an Answer to Plaintiffs' Complaint with Affirmative Defenses and an Exhibit (a copy of the insurance policy #WNP 7383480 Defendant issued to Janice M. Courter for the period from February 22, 2012 to February 22, 2013) as well as a Counterclaim seeking Declaratory Judgment, under 28 U.S.C. § 2201, that Plaintiffs are not entitled to uninsured motorist benefits under the policy Defendant issued to decedent's grandmother since decedent was not a family member who was a resident of his grandmother's household in Bushkill, PA, and thus, not an insured as defined in the policy. (Doc. 4).

On August 29, 2013, Plaintiffs filed their Answer to Defendant's Counterclaim. (Doc. 11).

On September 13, 2013, the parities filed a Joint Case Management Plan. (Doc. 12). In their Joint Case Management Plan, the parities indicated that they would jointly be filing a Motion for Bifurcation of Plaintiffs' breach of contract claim and bad faith claim in October 2013. (Doc. 12, p. 5). However, no such motion was ever filed.

After discovery was completed, the parties filed Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment, pursuant to Fed.R. Civ. P. 56, on March 31, 2014. (Doc. 21, Plaintiffs & Doc. 22, Defendant). Both parities then filed their Statement of Material Facts ("SMF") and Exhibits. (Doc. 23, Defendant & Doc. 27, Plaintiffs). The parties also filed their briefs in support of their respective motions and their opposition briefs to the other party's motion as well as Answers to the other party's SMF. (Docs. 30, 31, 34, 35, 37, and 38). On May 21, 2014, Defendant filed a reply brief in support of its Summary Judgment Motion with Exhibits and a request for oral argument. (Doc. 40). The Court granted the request of Defendant for oral argument and held argument on October 23, 2014. (Docs. 41 & 44). During oral argument, Plaintiffs moved to file a supplemental exhibit in support of their Motion for Summary Judgment, namely, a copy of a blank Pennsylvania application for a non-commercial driver's license, and requested that the Court take judicial notice of it.[2] The Court granted Plaintiffs' oral motion and had the form driver's license application filed. (Doc. 43).

The Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment are now ready for disposition.[3] (Doc. 21, Plaintiffs & Doc. 22, Defendant). At oral argument, the parties agreed that this case could be decided by the Court on the Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. The Court concurs.

The parties agree that if decedent was not a family member who was a resident of his grandmother's household, located at 1203 Resica Falls Road, East Stroudsburg (Bushkill), PA, at the time of the February 22, 2012 accident, then he was not an insured as defined in his grandmother's policy with Defendant. If decedent was not an insured, then Plaintiffs are not entitled to uninsured motorist ("UM") coverage under the policy Defendant issued to decedent's grandmother. Plaintiffs maintain that decedent was still a resident of Janice M. Courter's (his grandmother's) household at the time of the February 22, 2012 accident since he only temporarily left her house sometime in December 2011, to attend college in Reading, PA, and that he intended to return to his grandmother's house. Thus, Plaintiffs argue that Defendant beached the insurance contract it had with decedent's grandmother by denying their claim for UM coverage. Plaintiffs now move for summary judgment on their breach of contract claim, and seek the Court to declare that decedent was a family member of Janice M. Courter at the time of the February 22, 2012 accident. (Doc. 21).

Defendant contends that at the time of the February 22, 2012 accident, decedent was not a "family member" as defined in the insurance policy Defendant issued to Janice M. Courter since he was not a resident of her household, and he was not an "insured" under the policy. Defendant also contends that before the February 22, 2012 accident, sometime in December 2011, prior to Christmas, decedent had been asked to leave the home of Janice M. Courter after a dispute with his father. Defendant points out that after decedent moved out of said house, neither his father nor his grandmother, Janice M. Courter, knew of his whereabouts. Defendant further contends that decedent's father and grandmother did not know decedent enrolled in a college in Reading, PA, until after his death. Defendant moves for summary judgment on its Counterclaim seeking a declaration that it is not obligated to provide UM benefits to Plaintiffs under the insurance policy held by decedent's grandmother, Janice M. Courter.

II. Undisputed Material Facts.

As stated, both parties have filed their SMF's as required by Local Rule 56.1, M.D. Pa. (Docs. 23 (Defendant) and 27 (Plaintiffs)). Both parties also properly filed responses to other partys SMF. (Docs. 34 (Defendant) and 37 (Plaintiffs)). Further, both parties offered evidentiary support for their factual paragraphs contained in their SMF.

The Court finds the following facts to be undisputed and supported by the record. ( See Docs. 23 and 27).

On February 8, 2012, Janice M. Courter submitted an auto insurance policy application with Defendant and listed only herself as a driver. Decedent was not listed as either a driver or a resident of Janice M. Courter's 1203 Resica Falls Road home on her auto insurance policy application.

Defendant issued Janice M. Courter a Wespak Policy, which included a personal auto insurance policy #WNP 7383480 for the period from February 22, 2012 to February 22, 2013. (Doc. 4, Ex. A). The policy also insured Janice M. Courter's household, located at 1203 Resica Falls Road, East Stroudsburg (Bushkill), PA. Janice M. Courter was the only insured driver identified in the policy. Janice M. Courter was the grandmother of decedent. The policy which Defendant issued Janice M. Courter had a UM Endorsement which provided that Defendant "will pay compensatory damages which an insured is legally entitled to recover from the owner or operator of an uninsured motor vehicle because of bodily injury: 1. sustained by an insured; and 2. caused by an accident." The UM Endorsement also provided that "Insured' as used in this endorsement means: 1. You or any family member." "Family member" was defined in the policy as: "3. ...


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