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Tolentino v. State Farm Insurance Co.

United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania

May 12, 2015

ALEXANDER TOLENTINO and DENISE TOLENTINO Plaintiffs
v.
STATE FARM INSURANCE COMPANY Defendant

MEMORANDUM

GERALD J. PAPPERT, J.

Plaintiff Alexander Tolentino (“Tolentino”) and his wife Denise filed suit against State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (“State Farm”) in connection with State Farm’s denial of a claim for underinsured motorist benefits (“UIM”). The parties have submitted cross-motions for summary judgment on the threshold issue of whether the Tolentinos’ insurance policies with State Farm provide the requested UIM coverage. Based on the undisputed material facts, the Court finds that the Tolentinos did not have UIM coverage under the applicable policy at the time of the accident at issue. State Farm, therefore, is entitled to judgment as a matter of law with respect to the Tolentinos’ claims. State Farm’s motion for summary judgment is granted and the Tolentinos’ motion for summary judgment denied.

Background

The material facts in this case are straightforward. Tolentino was injured in an accident while riding his Victory Boardwalk motorcycle. (Pls.’ Mot. for Summ. J. ¶ 1, Doc. No. 15.) The accident was caused by the negligence of Deborah Parker Fortunato. (Id. ¶ 2.) Tolentino eventually settled with Ms. Fortunato for the full amount of her policy limits, but this did not fully compensate Tolentino for his injuries. (Id. ¶¶ 4, 6.)

As a result, Tolentino submitted a UIM claim to State Farm. (Id. ¶ 6, Ex. A.) The Tolentinos had two automobile insurance policies with State Farm at the time of the accident. One covered only the Victory Boardwalk (the “Motorcycle Policy”). The other covered a Honda CRV and a Nissan Titan (the “Car Policy”). The Motorcycle Policy had initially covered a Suzuki GSX, but Tolentino asked State Farm to replace the Suzuki with the Victory a few months prior to the accident.

State Farm denied Tolentino’s UIM claim under both policies. (Id., Ex. B.) According to State Farm, Tolentino had waived UIM coverage under the Motorcycle Policy. (Id.) State Farm further asserted that UIM coverage was not available under the Car Policy because Tolentino was injured while operating a vehicle he owned but that was not covered under the policy.[1] (Id.)

In response to State Farm’s denial of benefits, Tolentino demanded that State Farm produce Tolentino’s rejection of UIM benefits under the Motorcycle Policy. (Id. ¶ 6, Ex. A.) State Farm provided a form titled “Rejection of Underinsured Motorist Protection” (the “Rejection Form”). (Id., Ex. C.) The Rejection Form bore Tolentino’s signature and was dated May 12, 2003, the same day that Tolentino first applied for the Motorcycle Policy. The Rejection Form contained the following statement:

By signing this waiver, I am rejecting underinsured motorist coverage under this policy, for myself and all relatives residing in my household. Underinsured coverage protects me and relatives living in my household for losses and damages suffered if injury is caused by the negligence of a driver who does not have enough insurance to pay for all losses and damages. I knowingly and voluntarily reject this coverage.

(Id.) The Rejection Form contained a second paragraph reading:

I understand that this acknowledgement of coverage rejection shall be applicable, as of the date specified above, to the policy of insurance identified above or for which application is being made, on all replacement policies and on all renewals of either this policy or any replacement policy, unless I request in writing a different selection for such coverage.

(Id.) There was a space above this second paragraph for a policy number, but that space was blank. These were the only two paragraphs appearing on the Rejection Form.

The Tolentinos then filed this suit, demanding that State Farm pay their UIM claim.[2] The parties have now submitted cross-motions for summary judgment solely on the issue of coverage. Tolentino does not dispute that he signed the Rejection Form. (See Id. ¶ 11.) Rather, he contends that the Rejection Form is facially invalid because it does not contain the policy number, and he is therefore entitled to judgment as a matter of law. (Id.) State Farm contests Tolentino’s characterization of the Rejection Form as invalid and insists that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law based on Tolentino’s rejection of UIM benefits under the Motorcycle Policy. (Def.’s Opp’n ¶ 11, Doc. No. 16.)[3]

Legal Standard

Summary judgment is proper if there is no genuine issue of material fact and if, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Smathers v. Multi-Tool, Inc./Multi-Plastics, Inc. Emp. Health & Welfare Plan, 298 F.3d 191, 194 (3d Cir. 2002); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists when “a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A mere scintilla of evidence in ...


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