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Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Co. v. Miller

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

December 20, 2017

DONALD CLAYTON MILLER and NATIVIDAD GASTON, as the Personal Representative of the BONDARYL MCCALL, JR. ESTATE, Defendants.



         This is a declaratory judgment action arising from a lawsuit filed against Donald Clayton Miller (“Miller”) after he shot and killed Bondaryl McCall, Jr. (“McCall”). The Personal Representative of McCall's Estate (hereafter “Estate”) sued Miller for wrongful death. Plaintiff Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Company (“Allstate”) seeks a declaration that it is not liable to defend and indemnify Miller in that lawsuit under a homeowners insurance policy Allstate issued to Miller. Presently before the Court are Allstate's motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 16) and its motion for default judgment as to Miller (ECF No. 11). The Estate filed a response to Allstate's motion for summary judgment; Allstate filed a reply brief. (ECF No. 17, 18.) Miller has not responded to Allstate's Complaint or its motions. Finding the facts and legal arguments sufficiently presented in the parties' briefs, the Court is dispensing with oral argument pursuant to Eastern District of Michigan Local Rule 7.1(f).


         Allstate insured Miller under Select Homeowners Policy number 960030400 (hereafter “Policy”). (See Pl.'s Mot., Ex. B, ECF No. 16.)

         On February 16, 2016, McCall came to Miller's house to pick up McCall's son who was living with Miller and Miller's daughter, who is the child's mother and McCall's ex-girlfriend. When McCall arrived, Miller exited the home armed with a 9 mm handgun and began shooting McCall. Miller fired six shots, striking McCall in the back and the back of his head. McCall died from his gunshot wounds.

         As a result of his actions, Miller was charged with second-degree murder and felony firearm in the Circuit Court for Macomb County, Michigan. He claimed self-defense. On November 4, 2016, a jury found Miller guilty of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter and guilty of felony firearm. (Pl.'s Mot., Ex. D, ECF No. 16-5 at Pg ID 496.) Miller currently is serving sentences of four years and two months to fifteen years on the voluntary manslaughter conviction and two years on the felony firearm charge. Miller filed a direct appeal, but the appeal was dismissed by stipulation on August 16, 2017. (Id., Ex. F at 5, ECF No. 16-7 at Pg ID 510.)

         In the meantime, the Estate filed a wrongful death action against Miller in Macomb County Circuit Court (“underlying lawsuit”). (See id., Ex. A, ECF No. 16-2.) Allstate is defending Miller in the underlying lawsuit pursuant to a reservation of rights. The Estate filed a motion for summary disposition with respect to liability in the underlying lawsuit (Def.'s Resp., Ex. 2, ECF No. 17-2), which the state court denied on September 11, 2017. (Id, Ex. 3, ECF No. 17-3.)

         Allstate filed the current lawsuit on June 2, 2017, seeking a declaration that it has no duty to defend or indemnify Miller in the underlying lawsuit under the Policy. The Estate filed an Answer to Allstate's Complaint on July 20, 2017. (ECF No. 8.) When Miller failed to timely respond to the Complaint, Allstate filed a request for Clerk's Entry of Default on July 21, 2017. (ECF No. 9.) A Clerk's Entry of Default was entered July 24, 2017. (ECF No. 10.)

         Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 is appropriate “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). The central inquiry is “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986). After adequate time for discovery and upon motion, Rule 56 mandates summary judgment against a party who fails to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case and on which that party bears the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         The movant has the initial burden of showing “the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Id. at 323. Once the movant meets this burden, the “nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Electric Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). To demonstrate a genuine issue, the nonmoving party must present sufficient evidence upon which a jury could reasonably find for that party; a “scintilla of evidence” is insufficient. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 252. The court must accept as true the non-movant's evidence and draw “all justifiable inferences” in the non-movant's favor. See Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255.

         Applicable Law and Analysis

         Allstate argues that it has no duty to defend or indemnify Miller in the underlying lawsuit because the Policy only covers damages arising from an “occurrence” which means “an accident” and, Allstate argues, Miller's act of shooting McCall was not an accident. Alternatively, Allstate argues that coverage is excluded under the Policy's intended or expected acts exclusion. The Estate responds, arguing that the state court's decision denying its motion for summary disposition in the underlying case precludes Allstate's arguments. The Court addresses the Estate's argument first.

         Michigan law applies to this action, as subject matter jurisdiction is premised solely on the diversity of the parties. See Stalbosky v. Beleu, 205 F.3d 890, 893 (6th Cir. 2000) (citing Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938)). Thus, this Court must apply Michigan law as enunciated by the Michigan Supreme Court. See, e.g., Corrigan v. U.S. Steel Corp., 478 F.3d 718, 723 (6th Cir. 2007); Garden City Osteopathic Hosp. v. HBE Corp., 55 F.3d 1126, 1130 (6th Cir. 1995). Where the Michigan Supreme Court has not addressed an issue, the Court may look to the Michigan Court of Appeals' decisions and follow its reasoning unless this Court is ...

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