United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
JOHN W. BONK and DONNA M. BONK, Husband and Wife, Plaintiffs,
AMERICAN STATES INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.
Richard Caputo United States District Judge
before me is the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 16) filed
by Defendant American States Insurance Company
(“American States”). In the matter sub
judice, Plaintiff John Bonk (“Bonk”) claims
that American States breached the terms of an automobile
insurance policy by denying payment on his claim for
underinsured motorist benefits following a motor vehicle
accident with an underinsured third-party tortfeasor.
American States argues here that in executing a release with
the third-party tortfeasor, Bonk released all claims,
including those asserted against it in this litigation.
Because Bonk did not discharge American States under the
language of the release, the motion for summary judgment will
December 15, 2014, Bonk was injured in a motor vehicle
accident on Route 11 in Plymouth, Pennsylvania when he was a
passenger in a truck operated by his brother, Alfred Bonk.
(See Bonk Dep., 33:5-34:8). His brother's truck
was hit from behind at a red light. (See id. at
34:6-12). That accident was caused by the negligent acts and
omissions of Yasmin Pascual (“Pascual”).
(See Def.'s SMF, ¶ 8). At the time of
the accident, Alfred Bonk's vehicle was insured under a
motor vehicle insurance policy (the “Policy”)
issued by American States, which included underinsured
motorist benefits. (See Def.'s Ans., ¶ 6).
filed a claim against Pascual for responsibility for the
accident, and that claim was settled for $25, 000.00.
(See Bonk Dep., 73:16-74:14). As part of the
resolution of that claim, Bonk and his wife signed a
“Release of All Claims” (the
“Release”). (See id. at 75:1-77:1;
see also Def.'s Ans., Ex. “2”). When
he signed the Release, Bonk was represented by counsel.
(See Bonk Dep., 77:2-11). While he is unable to
recall whether he had any questions about the Release, Bonk
indicated that if he did he would have asked his counsel.
(See id. at 78:1-8). Bonk believes he probably read
the Release before signing it, but he could not recall the
date the Release was signed or where he was located when he
signed the Release. (See id. at 75:22-76:23).
Release provides, in relevant part:
This Indenture Witnesseth that we in consideration of the sum
of Twenty Five Thousand and 00/00 dollars ($25, 000), receipt
whereof is hereby acknowledged, do hereby for our heirs,
personal representatives and assign, release and forever
discharge Yasmin Pascual and any other person, firm or
corporation charged or chargeable with responsibility of
liability, their heirs, representative or assigns, form [sic]
any and all claims, demands, damages, costs, expenses, loss
of service, action and causes of action arising from any act
or occurrence up to the present time, and particularly on
account of all personal injury, disability, property damage,
loss or damage of any kind sustained or that we may hereafter
sustain in consequence of an accident that occurred on or
about the 15th day of December, 2014, at or near
East Main Street, Plymouth Boro, PA.
(Def.'s Ans., Ex. “2”).
resolving the claim with Pascual, Bonk and his wife Donna
commenced this action by filing a two-Count Complaint for
breach of contract and loss of consortium against American
States and SAFECO Insurance in the Court of Common Pleas of
Luzerne County, Pennsylvania on November 14, 2018.
(See Doc. 1, Ex. “A”,
generally). The action was removed to this Court on
December 21, 2018, (see Doc. 1, generally),
and the parties subsequently stipulated to proceeding with
American States as the lone Defendant in this case.
(See Doc. 5, generally). Donna Bonk also
voluntarily dismissed her claim against American States.
(See Docs. 14-15, generally).
August 16, 2019, American States moved for summary judgment
based on its view that the release executed by Bonk
discharged the claims against it as well. (See Docs.
16-17, generally). Bonk opposes the motion, arguing
that the release was specific to Pascual, American States was
not privy to the cause of action or settlement, and that the
language of the Release only contemplates individuals or
entities affiliated with Pascual. (See Doc. 19,
4-5). American States replies that the Release is clear, it
does not limit or narrow the parties that are released, and
the Release encompasses Bonk's UIM claim against it.
(See Doc. 20, generally). The motion for
summary judgment is thus fully briefed and ripe for
judgment shall be granted “if the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “A court may grant a motion for
summary judgment if, after it considers all probative
materials of record, with inferences drawn in favor of the
non-moving party, the court is satisfied that there are no
genuine issues of material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Chavarriaga v. N.J.
Dep't of Corrs., 806 F.3d 210, 218 (3d Cir. 2015)
(citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330,
106 S.Ct. 2548, 2556, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Brooks v.
Kyler, 204 F.3d 102, 105 n.5 (3d Cir. 2000)). “A
fact is ‘material' under Rule 56 if its existence
or nonexistence might impact the outcome of the suit under
the applicable substantive law. A dispute over a material
fact is ‘genuine' if ‘a reasonable jury could
return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'”
Santini v. Fuentes, 795 F.3d 410, 416 (3d Cir. 2015)
(quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S.
242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)).
“In determining whether the dispute is genuine, the
court's function is not to weigh the evidence or to
determine the truth of the matter . . . .” American
Eagle Outfitters v. Lyle & Scott Ltd., 584 F.3d 587,
581 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at
248-49, 106 S.Ct. 2505).
moving party bears the initial burden to identify
“specific portions of the record that establish the
absence of a genuine issue of material fact.”
Santini, 795 F.3d at 416 (citing Celotex,
477 U.S. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553). If this burden is
satisfied by the movant, the burden then “shifts to the
nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and ‘come
forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine
issue for trial.'” Id. (quoting
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,
475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L.Ed.2d 538
(1986)). The nonmovant's burden is not satisfied by
“simply show[ing] that there is some metaphysical doubt
as to the material facts.” Chavarriaga, 806
F.3d at 218.