PHILADELPHIA -- A federal court granted a motion of partial summary judgment to State Farm Fire & Casualty Company, which sought to establish it had no obligation to defend a policyholder involved in an underlying lawsuit related to a bar fight.
Judge Gerald J. Pappert of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania ruled May 25 that Mark Massi was not entitled to defense or reception of indemnity of insurance coverage from State Farm, in response to the bar fight incident.
“Ronald Mannon sued Massi, alleging Massi violently assaulted and injured him at R.P. McMurphy’s in Holmes, a case currently proceeding in the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas. Mannon’s complaint alleges that Massi was 'visibly intoxicated and acting in a violent, uncivilized, unruly and inappropriate manner,'” Pappert said.
“Before assaulting Mannon, Massi was purportedly involved in multiple verbal and physical confrontations with other bar patrons. At approximately 1:33 a.m., security asked Massi to deescalate 'an altercation with other patrons inside [the bar],'” Pappert added.
Massi allegedly then punched Mannon in the face and knocked him unconscious, before striking him in the face with a billiard ball.
Mannon’s subsequent lawsuit contained counts of negligence (Count I) and assault and battery (Count II) against Massi, and exemplary punitive damages against Massi (Count III), among other claims.
“When the alleged incident occurred, Massi was insured under a homeowner’s policy issued by State Farm. State Farm is currently defending Massi in the underlying suit pursuant to a reservation of rights,” Pappert explained. “State Farm filed this declaratory judgment action on Jan. 14 and its motion for partial summary judgment on March 16.”
The judge began his analysis by examining both the case and the State Farm policy.
“In determining whether State Farm owes a duty to defend Massi in the underlying lawsuit, the Court must examine the allegations in Mannon’s complaint and the language of the State Farm policy,” Pappert said.
“Massi’s policy provides coverage for ‘bodily injury’ resulting from an ‘occurrence. The parties do not dispute that Mannon’s alleged injuries constitute ‘bodily injury' within the meaning of the policy. The issue is whether Mannon’s injuries were caused by an ‘occurrence,’ which the policy defines as an ‘accident.'”
State Farm claims precedent in State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Estate of Mehlman “commands a finding that it has no duty to defend Massi since the allegations as a whole portray an intentional assault and battery.”
“In Mehlman, the Third Circuit held that an insurer had no duty to defend its insured because 'the injured party [did] not make allegations indicating that [the] insured’s intoxication prevented him from intending the consequences of his violent behavior,'” Pappert said.
“Massi contends that the Court should instead follow IDS Prop. Cas. Ins. Co. v. Schonewolf, which found a duty to defend where the plaintiff alleged that the defendant’s 'negligence, carelessness and recklessness… consisted of… consuming alcoholic beverages… knowing that it would cause significant impairment and lapse of judgment and control.'”
Pappert said in this particular case Massi’s actions constituted “intentional conduct” and “portray an intentional act for which there is no coverage under the policy” -- namely, punching Mannon in the face and rendering him unconscious, then striking him in the face with a billiard.
“Mannon’s negligence claim states that his injuries ‘were caused solely by the intentional act of Massi combined with’ his carelessness and negligence; even the negligence claim alleges intentional conduct. The complaint is not just ‘thin on detailed facts’ supporting negligence or a lack of intent, it lacks such facts entirely,” the judge wrote.
“State Farm also contends that it has no duty to defend against Mannon’s claim for punitive damages. Pennsylvania public policy provides that punitive damages are not covered under insurance policies,” Pappert said. “Massi concedes that the policy cannot cover a punitive damage claim. State Farm owes no duty to defend Massi in the underlying lawsuit. Because there is no duty to defend, there is no duty to indemnify.”
The plaintiff is represented by Bradley J. Mortensen and Elizabeth A. Sutton of Carroll McNulty & Kull in Philadelphia.
The defendants are represented by John R. O’Rourke of McTighe Weiss & O’Rourke in Norristown.
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:16-cv-00169
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at firstname.lastname@example.org.