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Esurance Property and Casualty Insurance Co. v. Johnson

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

September 22, 2017

Esurance Property and Casualty Insurance Company, Plaintiff,
v.
Samuel Johnson, Lavelle Whitaker, Clora Funeral & Cremation Services, LLC, Selective Insurance Company of America, Will Wright, Jamaal Wright, and Jasmine Gary, Defendants.

          Mag. Judge Elizabeth A. Stafford

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [44]

          JUDITH E. LEVY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This case arises out of a car accident that occurred during a funeral procession. Plaintiff Esurance Property and Casualty Insurance Company (“Esurance”) insured defendant Lavelle Whitaker and a car involved in the accident. It now brings this action seeking a declaratory judgment that the present facts trigger an exception to the insurance policy, barring liability coverage and extinguishing Esurance's obligation to provide a legal defense in this case. Esurance now moves for summary judgment on that question. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is denied.

         I. Background

         Defendants Will Wright, Jamaal Wright, and Jasmine Gary filed suit in Wayne County Circuit Court on January 7, 2016, seeking remedy for injuries sustained in a car accident that occurred on January 10, 2015. (Dkt. 44 at 78-93.) Plaintiff alleges here, and Gary, Will Wright, and Jamaal Wright allege in the state court action, that defendant Lavelle Whitaker allowed defendant Samuel Johnson to drive his “covered vehicle” in a funeral procession put on by defendant Clora Funeral Homes (“Clora”) as part of Johnson's employment with Clora. (Dkt. 1 at 4; Dkt. 44 at 80.) While driving Whitaker's vehicle, Johnson allegedly caused a car accident, injuring Gary, Will Wright, and Jamaal Wright. (Id.) The state court complaint includes claims for negligence against the driver of the car, Johnson, owner's liability and negligence against the owner of the car, Whitaker, (Id. at 80-84), and first party benefits under Whitaker's insurance policy on the car, issued by plaintiff.[1] (Id. at 90-93.)

         Plaintiff further alleges that because defendant Johnson drove Whitaker's car in the course of his employment, an exclusion to Whitaker's car insurance policy with plaintiff applies in this case to exempt it from any obligations owed to Johnson and Whitaker. (Dkt. 1 at 4.) According to plaintiff, the insurance policy it sold Whitaker, PAMI-005014372 (Dkt. 44 at 95-135), does not apply when the “covered vehicle” is used for business purposes. (Dkt. 1 at 4.) Specifically, the insurance policy at issue states:

         EXCLUSIONS FOR PART I: LIABILITY COVERAGE

         1. “We” have no duty to defend and do not provide Liability Coverage for an “insured”:

… H. Maintaining or using any vehicle while that “insured” is employed or otherwise engaged in any “business” (other than fishing or ranching). This Exclusion 1.H. does not apply to business use of a “covered auto” by an “insured” that has been disclosed to “us” and for which all applicable premiums have been paid.

         (Dkt. 44 at 105-6.) (emphasis added) (“Exclusion 1.H”)

         Plaintiff filed this declaratory judgment action on May 25, 2016. (Dkt. 1.) The Court denied defendants Gary, Jamaal Wright, and Will Wright's motion to abstain from exercising jurisdiction, and issued an order retaining jurisdiction over the action on April 20, 2017. (Dkt. 37.)

         Plaintiff now files this motion for summary judgment to obtain a declaratory judgment that it is not obligated to provide liability coverage nor a defense to Johnson in the state case. Defendant Selective Insurance Company of America (“Selective”) is the only defendant to have filed a brief in opposition to plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. 49.) Clora also submitted a brief opposing plaintiff's motion, but did so more than five weeks after the deadline to respond. (Dkt. 51). That brief was stricken from the record and the Court denied a subsequent motion for leave to file a brief opposing plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. (Dkt. 53.) The Court determines that oral argument is not necessary pursuant to E.D. Mich. Local R. 7.1(f)(2).

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is proper when “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). The Court may not grant summary judgment if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The Court “views the evidence, all facts, and any inferences that may be drawn from the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Pure Tech ...


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