Admiral Ins. Co. v. Anderson

Citation529 F.Supp.3d 804
Decision Date29 March 2021
Docket NumberNo. 19 C 3468,19 C 3468
Parties ADMIRAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff, v. Alexandria ANDERSON, Alexandria Clemons, Cariana Chambers, Raven Smith, Bianca Valdez, Ava Thompson Greenwell, Ashanti Madlock-Henderson, and Felicia Hankins, personal representative of the estate of Jordan Hankins, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois

Dennis Michael Dolan, Christine Beaderstadt, Michael Paul Baniak, Litchfield Cavo LLP, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff.

Misty J. Cygan, Bellas & Wachowski, Park Ridge, IL, for Defendant Alexandria Clemons 2830 E. 4th Place, Apt. # 2037 Tulsa, OK 74104 213-595-4135.

Trent A. McCain, McCain Law Offices PC, Gary, IN, Douglas Hopson, The Hopson Firm, P.C., Chicago, IL, for Defendant Raven Smith.

Kevin John Moore, Law Office of Kevin J. Moore, Western Springs, IL, for Defendant Bianca Valdez.

Michael J. Grant, Amie Marie Bauer, Tabet DiVito & Rothstein, LLC, Chicago, IL, for Defendants Ava Thompson Greenwell, Ashanti Madlock-Henderson.

Brandon Edison Vaughn, Robins Kaplan LLP, Minneapolis, MN, Thomas Edison Vaughn, Thomas E. Vaughn & Associates, Chicago, IL, for Defendant Felicia Hankins.

Memorandum Opinion and Order

Elaine E. Bucklo, United States District Judge

This insurance dispute stems from the tragic suicide of Northwestern University student and Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority pledge Jordan Hankins in January of 2017. In the wake of Jordan's death, her mother Felicia filed a wrongful death action against the national sorority, two of its chapters, and a number of individuals including those named as defendants in this case. Felicia's sixteen count complaint, which asserts various theories of liability for Jordan's death, is currently proceeding in this district before Judge Chang. See Felicia Hankins, Personal Representative of the Estate of Jordan Hankins v. Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., et al., 19 CV 147 (N.D. Ill.).

At least two of the individuals sued in the underlying action as members and agents of the sorority — Ashanti Madlock-Henderson and Ava Thompson Greenwell — provided notice of the suit to plaintiff Admiral Insurance Company and sought coverage pursuant to the commercial general liability policy Admiral issued to the sorority (the "Admiral Policy").1

These defendants also tendered the suit to the issuers of their respective homeowner's insurance policies. Admiral disclaimed any duty to defend or indemnify the individual defendants against Felicia's claims and filed the instant suit for a declaration to that effect. Liberty Mutual Insurance Corporation has been defending Madlock-Henderson in the underlying suit, subject to a reservation of rights, pursuant to a homeowner's insurance policy it issued to Madlock-Henderson's husband, and it has intervened in this action with a counterclaim against Admiral. State Farm Fire and Casualty has undertaken Thompson Greenwell's defense, also under a reservation of rights, pursuant to her homeowner's policy. State Farm is not a party to this action. Madlock-Henderson and Thompson Greenwell have also filed joint counterclaims against Admiral.

Admiral's declaratory complaint asserts six grounds for its refusal to defend the underlying action. In Count I, it claims that defendants are not "insureds" under the Admiral Policy in relation to the underlying lawsuit. Count II asserts that the Admiral Policy's "hazing exclusion" bars coverage. In Count III, Admiral claims that there has been no "occurrence" for coverage purposes. Counts IV and V invoke exclusions for "expected or intended injury" and for "assault and/or battery," respectively. And Count VI invokes the "other insurance" clause of the Admiral Policy to claim that Admiral has no duty to defend any defendant to the extent she is covered by another valid and collectible insurance policy.

In its counterclaims, Liberty Mutual seeks a declaration that Admiral has a duty to defend its mutual insured, Madlock-Henderson, in the underlying case, and that Admiral's policy is primary to Liberty Mutual's own policy, which it claims is excess with respect to any losses arising out of Felicia's claims. In addition, Liberty Mutual claims equitable subrogation/equitable contribution from Admiral to recover the costs and expenses it has incurred in defending Madlock-Henderson in the underlying suit. Thompson Greenwell and Madlock-Henderson similarly counterclaim for a declaration of Admiral's duty to defend as well as for breach of contract.

Four motions are currently pending, all of which revolve around the central issue of whether Admiral has a duty to defend defendants in the underlying suit. Admiral and Liberty Mutual raise this issue in cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings, which also address the secondary issue of which of these insurers’ obligations, if any, are primary and which are excess with respect to the other. Defendant Bianca Valdez, an individual sued in the underlying suit as a member and agent of the sorority, also moves for judgment on the pleadings as to Admiral's duty to defend. And Madlock-Henderson and Thompson Greenwell jointly move for partial summary judgment on Admiral's duty to defend claims and their corresponding counterclaims. For the reasons that follow, I conclude that Admiral does have a duty under the Admiral Policy to defend defendants and resolve the pending motions as set forth below.

I. The Underlying Lawsuit

Felicia Hankins's operative complaint alleges that in October of 2016, Jordan attended a "rush" event hosted by the sorority's undergraduate chapter, Gamma Chi, under the direction of its graduate chapter, Delta Chi Omega. Underlying Complaint ("UC"), Compl. Exh. A at ¶¶ 4, 7, 57. Greenwell Thompson and Madlock-Henderson served as the graduate and assistant graduate advisors to Gamma Chi during the relevant time periods, were members of Delta Chi Omega, and acted as agents of the sorority with respect to member initiation. Id. at ¶¶ 29, 31, 153. Bianca Valdez was a sorority member and also acted as an agent of the sorority with respect to initiation. Id. at ¶¶ 26-27, 153.

The underlying complaint states that Jordan completed the sorority membership intake process in October and November of 2016. Id. at ¶ 60. On November 20, 2016, she was advised by members of the sorority that for her membership to be accepted, she had to agree to a post-initiation pledge process. Id. at ¶¶ 63-64. She was then subjected to "several instances of severe hazing." Id. at ¶ 66. Jordan allegedly "was subjected to physical abuse including paddling, verbal abuse, mental abuse, financial exploitation, sleep deprivation, items being thrown and dumped on her, and other forms of hazing intended to humiliate and demean her." Id. at ¶ 67. The underlying complaint asserts that Jordan communicated to sorority members, including the individually named defendants, that these actions triggered her PTSD and caused her to have suicidal thoughts and develop a plan for suicide. Jordan died by suicide in her dorm room on January 7, 2017. Id. at ¶ 70.

Counts XI-XVI of the UC raise six theories of liability against the individual defendants: Counts XI and XII claim wrongful death and survival damages based on negligence. Counts XIII and XIV claim wrongful death and survival damages based on intentional infliction of emotional distress. And Counts XV and XVI claim wrongful death and survival damages based on negligent infliction of emotional distress. Id. at ¶¶ 210-253. The paragraphs in support of the negligence counts allege, inter alia , that the individual defendants:

(a) Planned and promoted multiple hazing activities, in which Gamma Chi initiates, including Jordan Hankins, as a condition to membership in the sorority, had to be subjected to various forms of hazing including physical abuse, mental abuse, verbal abuse, financial exploitation, and sleep deprivation;
(b) Required Jordan Hankins, as a condition to membership in the sorority, to call sorority members at specific times to be subjected to verbal abuse;
(c) Required Jordan Hankins, as a condition to membership in the sorority, to subject herself to physical abuse;
(d) Failed to seek medical attention for Jordan Hankins when she advised that she was "mentally unstable" and having suicidal thoughts;
(e) Failed to report the hazing activities to agents, officers, and/or members of the sorority; and
(f) were otherwise careless and negligent.

Id. at ¶¶ 211, 216.

In allegations supporting the claim of negligent infliction of emotional distress, the UC pleads that defendants breached their duty of reasonable care "to protect Hankins from the dangers of hazing" when they hazed her "individually, and as agents, officers, and member of AKA Sorority." Id. at ¶¶ 237, 246. "Illustrations of said hazing, cited by way of example but not limitation, are as follows":

(a) Verbal abuse;
(b) Physical abuse;
(c) Emotional abuse;
(d) Mental abuse; and
(e) Financial exploitation.

Id. at ¶ 230.

II. Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) allows a party to move for judgment on the pleadings after the complaint and answer have been filed. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). "When a plaintiff moves for judgment on the pleadings, the motion should not be granted unless it appears beyond doubt that the nonmovant cannot prove facts sufficient to support its position, and that the plaintiff is entitled to relief." Scottsdale Ins. Co. v. Columbia Ins. Grp., Inc. , 972 F.3d 915, 919 (7th Cir. 2020). Although this standard is the same as the one that applies to motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), Federated Mut. Ins. Co. v. Coyle Mech. Supply Inc. , 983 F.3d 307, 313 (7th Cir. 2020), "[w]hen the movant seeks to ‘dispose of the case on the basis of the underlying substantive merits ... the appropriate standard is that applicable to summary judgment, except that the court may consider only the contents of the pleadings.’ " U.S. Specialty Ins. Co. v. Vill. of Melrose Park , 455 F. Supp. 3d 681, 687 (N.D. Ill. 2020) (quoting ...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT