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Allstate Insurance Co. v. Punturo

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

August 9, 2019

ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
BRYAN PUNTURO, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          GORDON J. QUIST UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Allstate Insurance Company, filed this diversity case against Bryan and Fawn Punturo, B & A Holdings, LLC d/b/a Parkshore Resort, and Brace Kern, seeking a declaratory judgment that Allstate does not owe Defendant Kern a duty to indemnify for a lawsuit pending in Michigan state court against Kern-an employee and the principal of Bek Law, PLC-and others. In particular, Allstate alleges that Business Owners Policy No. 648239769, which it issued to Bek Law, PLC, provides no coverage for the claims asserted in the underlying lawsuit.

         Pursuant to the Court's April 1, 2019, Order (ECF No. 24), Allstate has filed a motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 26.) Kern has filed a response, to which Allstate has replied. In addition, the Punturos and B & A Holdings have also responded, and Allstate has filed a reply. Accordingly, the matter is ready for decision.[1]

         For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Allstate's motion and issue the requested declaratory judgment.

         I. Background

         A. The Underlying Litigation

         On or about February 16, 2017, Bryan Punturo, Fawn Punturo, and B&A Holdings, LLC (collectively the Punturos), filed a complaint against Defendant Kern and Sauburi Boyer and Danielle Kort (formerly Danielle Boyer), alleging state-law claims for defamation, false light invasion of privacy, and tortious interference with business relations. In a separate count, Fawn Punturo alleged a derivative claim for loss of consortium. (ECF No. 1-1.) B&A Holdings operates a hotel and conference facility on East Grand Traverse Bay known as the ParkShore Resort. Bryan Punturo owns 50% of B&A Holdings.

         The Punturos allege that Sauburi Boyer operated a parasailing business from ParkShore property from approximately 2003-2006. In 2006, Boyer moved his parasailing business from ParkShore to a new location at another hotel. From that time until the summer of 2013, Casey Punturo, Bryan Punturo's son, operated a parasailing business from ParkShore in competition with Boyer's business. (Id. at PageID.11.) According to the Punturos, in 2014, Boyer began attempting to limit competition in the parasailing business by, among other things, purchasing the assets of Casey Punturo's business and obtaining non-compete agreements with other potential competitors. However, that same year, Boyer became financially overextended and defaulted on his purchase agreement with Casey Punturo and on his lease agreement with Bryan Punturo. (Id. at PageID.12.) Bryan Punturo thereafter filed suit against Boyer to collect the amount due on the lease.

         Instead of responding to Bryan Punturo's lawsuit, Boyer sought advice from Defendant Kern, a lawyer practicing in the Traverse City area. Upon Kern's advice, Boyer contacted the Grand Traverse County Prosecutor's Office and, subsequently, the Michigan Attorney General, accusing Punturo of violating Michigan's Antitrust Reform Act. In 2016, the Michigan Attorney General and the Michigan State Police raided ParkShore's offices and seized the hard drive from Punturo's computer. Eventually, the Michigan Attorney General filed a criminal case against Punturo charging him with extortion, instead of antitrust violations. In addition, earlier in 2016, Kern, representing Boyer, sued Punturo and ParkShore in state court alleging antitrust violations and other claims and seeking $781, 500 in damages plus attorney's fees. The state court dismissed Boyer's civil suit against Punturo without Punturo or ParkShore filing a responsive pleading. (Id. at PageID.13.) The Grand Traverse County District Court ultimately dismissed the criminal extortion case against Punturo following the preliminary examination. (Id. at PageID.14.)

         While the criminal extortion case and Boyer's civil antitrust case against Punturo were pending, Kern and the Boyers made numerous statements to the media regarding both cases, some of which expressly accused Punturo of violating state anti-trust laws by engaging in unfair competition and extortion. (Id. at PageID.14-17.) In February 2017, the Punturos' counsel sent Kern and Boyer demands for retraction, but Kern and Boyer failed to retract their statements. (Id. at PageID.22.)

         B. The Allstate Policy

         Allstate issued a Business Owners Policy, No. 648239769, to Bek Law, PLC. Kern, as an employee of Bek Law, is an insured under the Policy. After receipt of the Punturos' complaint in the underlying litigation, Kern tendered the defense to Allstate and his errors and omissions insurance carrier. The Punturos' claims in the underlying litigation fall within the Policy's coverage period. Allstate agreed to defend Kern and Bek Law, PLC, subject to a reservation of rights. (ECF No. 1 at PageID.3.)

         II. Motion Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Material facts are facts which are defined by substantive law and are necessary to apply the law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510 (1986). ...


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