Danielson v. Tourist Vill. Motel, Inc., Civil No. 20-cv-782-JL

CourtUnited States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of New Hampshire
Writing for the CourtJoseph N. Laplante United States District Judge
Citation2021 DNH 096
PartiesKenneth Danielson v. Tourist Village Motel, Inc., Tourist Village Motel, Inc. v. Androscoggin Valley Hospital
Docket NumberCivil No. 20-cv-782-JL
Decision Date04 June 2021

2021 DNH 096

Kenneth Danielson
Tourist Village Motel, Inc.,

Tourist Village Motel, Inc.
Androscoggin Valley Hospital

Civil No. 20-cv-782-JL


June 4, 2021


This case involves insurance coverage and indemnification for a slip-and-fall incident that occurred on residential premises rented by an employer for occupancy by an employee. In early 2018, Plaintiff Kenneth Danielson allegedly slipped and fell on snow and ice that accumulated on the stairs outside of his apartment building, which was owned by Defendant Tourist Village Motel, Inc. Danielson asserts one claim of negligence against Tourist Village. Tourist Village, in turn, has brought a contract-based third-party claim against Androscoggin Valley Hospital, the lessee of the subject property and Danielson's employer. In its third-party complaint, Tourist Village seeks to enforce the indemnification and insurance procurement provisions in its lease with AVH.

Under the terms of the lease, AVH was to use the property to house its employees like Danielson. The lease contained a clause in which AVH agreed to indemnify Tourist Village against claims for personal injury to people on the premises, "except for those claims arising out of the negligence of [Tourist Village] . . . ." The lease also required AVH to maintain liability insurance, in which Tourist Village "shall be named co-insured."

Page 2

Tourist Village alleges in its third-party complaint that AVH breached both of these provisions by refusing to indemnify Tourist Village in the event that Tourist Village is found liable in the underlying slip-and-fall case, and by placing limitations on Tourist Village's coverage under AVH's liability insurance policy. AVH moves for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). AVH argues that Tourist Village fails to allege facts stating a claim for indemnification under the lease. As to the insurance-related claim, AVH contends that the limited coverage extended to Tourist Village under AVH's liability insurance policy satisfied the lease requirement.

The court has subject-matter jurisdiction over the underlying slip-and-fall case under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1) (diversity) because Danielson is a citizen of Vermont, Tourist Village is a New Hampshire corporation, and the alleged amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. It follows that the court also has subject-matter jurisdiction over Tourist Village's third-party claims. See Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Ditmore, 729 F.2d 1, 9 (1st Cir. 1984) ("Third-party claims, being by definition logically dependent on the resolution of the original suit, fall within the court's ancillary jurisdiction over that suit.").

After reviewing the parties' submissions and holding oral argument, the court denies AVH's motion. First, it is premature to dismiss AVH's indemnification claim because resolution of the claim requires a determination as to Tourist Village's negligence in the underlying slip-and-fall case, which is still in the discovery phase. Second, AVH fails to meet the burden for judgment on the pleadings as to the insurance claim because the language in the pertinent lease provision is ambiguous. Further factfinding is necessary to determine the meaning of the insurance procurement provision and, accordingly, whether AVH violated it, as Tourist Village claims.

Page 3

I. Applicable legal standard1

A motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) is evaluated under essentially the same standard as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. See Simmons v. Galvin, 575 F.3d 24, 30 (1st Cir. 2009). Under this standard, Tourist Village must plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that [AVH] is liable for the misconduct alleged." Martinez v. Petrenko, 792 F.3d 173, 179 (1st Cir. 2015). When assessing a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the court must "separate the complaint's factual allegations (which must be accepted as true) from its conclusory legal allegations (which need not be credited)." Kando v. Rhode Island State Bd. of Elections, 880 F.3d 53, 58 (1st Cir. 2018) (quoting Morales-Cruz v. Univ. of P.R., 676 F.3d 220, 224 (1st Cir. 2012)). AVH is entitled to judgment on the pleadings "only if the uncontested and properly considered facts

Page 4

conclusively establish [AVH's] entitlement to a favorable judgment." Id. (citing R.G. Fin. Corp. v. Vergara-Nuñez, 446 F.3d 178, 182 (1st Cir. 2006)).

II. Background

The court gathers the following facts from the operative third-party complaint, "documents central to [Tourist Village's] claim[s]; and documents sufficiently referred to in the complaint[,] even when the documents are incorporated into the movant's pleadings." Lambert v. Fiorentini, 949 F.3d 22, 25 (1st Cir. 2020) (alterations omitted) (quoting Curran, 509 F.3d at 44). Here, that includes the lease agreement and the insurance policy in question. As it is obligated to do in the context of a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the court construes "all well-pleaded facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party," in this case, Tourist Village, "and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in [Tourist Village's] favor." Najas Realty, LLC v. Seekonk Water Dist., 821 F.3d 134, 140 (1st Cir. 2016).

This case arises from an alleged slip-and-fall incident. Danielson claims that on January 11, 2018, he slipped and fell on ice and snow that accumulated on the stairs leading to the front door of his apartment building, located at 144 Main Street in Gorham, New Hampshire. Danielson further claims that the stairs had not been shoveled or treated with ice melting products or sand. Tourist Village owns the property at 144 Main Street, and leased the premises to AVH for use as a residence for AVH's employees like Danielson. The lease provides that Tourist Village, as the lessor, "shall be responsible for the repair and maintenance of the demised premises."2

Page 5

Danielson filed a negligence complaint in this court, alleging that Tourist Village breached its duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition and caused his fall and resulting injuries and losses.3 Tourist Village answered the complaint and denied any negligence, also filing a third-party complaint against AVH—the operative complaint for the instant motion. Tourist Village asserts one claim for contractual indemnification and one claim of breach of contract, based on AVH's alleged failure to satisfy the lease's indemnification and insurance procurement provisions. The indemnification provision in the lease provides as follows:

The LESSEE [AVH] hereby agree[s] to hold harmless and indemnify the LESSOR [Tourist Village] against all losses and claims (including those of the LESSEE and its agents, employees, licensees, invitees and guests) for death, personal injury, or property damage to any person or persons on or about the demised premises or otherwise arising out of the use or condition of the demised premises, except for those claims arising out of the negligence of LESSOR, its servants and employees[.]4

And the insurance procurement provision provides:

LESSEE [AVH] annually shall provide LESSOR [Tourist Village] with a certificate of insurance with liability coverage in the amount of One Million Dollars ($1,000,000) per incident. LESSEE shall maintain such insurance in full force and effect for the duration of this lease, and LESSOR shall be named co-insured in any such policy of insurance[.]5

AVH maintained a commercial liability insurance policy that was effective at the time of the slip-and-fall incident. An endorsement6 to the policy entitled "Additional Insureds

Page 6

Endorsement - Leased Equipment and Premises" ("AI Endorsement") extended coverage to Tourist Village as a "person or entity that . . . provides equipment or premises to an Insured [AVH] pursuant to a written lease agreement[.]"7 This coverage applies if the Additional Insured "is named in a claim solely as a result of the acts or omissions of an Insured [AVH] in the maintenance, operation, or use of the equipment or premises leased to an insured business [AVH]."8

III. Analysis

As mentioned above, Tourist Village asserts two claims against AVH—one claim for contractual indemnification and one claim of breach of contract with respect to both the indemnification and insurance procurement provisions in the lease. As explained below, the court denies as premature AVH's motion for judgment on the pleadings as to the indemnification-related claims. The court also denies AVH's motion as to the insurance-related breach of contract claim because the record before the court does not conclusively establish--as AVH claims--that AVH satisfied the lease's insurance procurement provision.

A. Indemnification-related claims

The indemnification provision in the lease provides in pertinent part that AVH agrees to indemnify Tourist Village "against all losses and claims . . . for death, personal injury, or property damage to any person or persons on or about the demised premises . . . , except for

Page 7

those claims arising out of the negligence of LESSOR [Tourist Village], its servants and employees." The parties' dispute centers on the sufficiency of Tourist Village's allegations regarding the negligence exception.

AVH argues that the indemnification claims should be dismissed because Tourist Village does not, and cannot, allege that Danielson's claim arises out of AVH's negligence. Without such factual allegations, AVH avers, the indemnification obligation cannot be triggered. AVH's argument is misplaced. Under New Hampshire law, where "there is an express contract providing for indemnity, . . . the right to indemnity is determined by the specific terms of the contract for indemnity." Gray v. Leisure Life Industries, 165 N.H. 324, 328 (2013). Furthermore, the terms of indemnity agreements are strictly construed. Id. (citing Kessley v....

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