Lancer Ins. Co. v. Newman Specialized Carriers, Inc.

Decision Date04 October 2012
Docket NumberCase No. CV–11–J–1541–NW.
PartiesLANCER INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff, v. NEWMAN SPECIALIZED CARRIERS, INC., et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Alabama

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Jeffrey E. Friedman, Jess S. Boone, Friedman Leak Dazzio Zulanas & Bowling, PC, Birmingham, AL, for Plaintiff.

Charles A. Langley, Holder Moore Lawrence & Langley, PC, Fayette, Clay J. Thomason, Thomason–Maples, LLC, Bessemer, Craig L. Lowell, Dennis George Pantazis, Jr., Wiggins Childs Quinn & Patazis, LLC, Birmingham, AL, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

INGE PRYTZ JOHNSON, District Judge.

Pending before the court in this action for declaratory judgment are motions for summary judgment and related pleadings: first, intervenor plaintiff QBE Insurance Corporation's (“QBE”) motion for summary judgment (doc. 52), a brief in support (doc. 53) and evidentiary submission (doc. 55) in support thereof, defendants Jimmy and Sheila Fowler's response (doc. 62), defendant Newman Specialized Carriers Inc.'s (Newman) response (doc. 66), and intervenor plaintiff's replies (doc. 63 & 68); and second, plaintiff Lancer Insurance Company's (Lancer) motion for summary judgment (doc. 56), defendants Jimmy and Sheila Fowler's response (doc. 62), defendant Newman Specialized Carriers Inc.'s response (doc. 65), and plaintiff's replies (doc. 64 & 69). Lancer moves for summary judgment on the Claim for Relief in its Complaint (doc. 1). QBE moves for summary judgment on Count I of its Complaint. (doc. 30).

Factual Background
A. Underlying Litigation

On April 23, 2010, the Fowlers filed a lawsuit against Newman and Atlantic–Meeco, Inc. (“Atlantic–Meeco”), a non-party, as a result of personal injuries Mr. Fowler sustained while unloading “floating boat docks” from a flatbed tractor trailer. (doc. 56, Ex. A); Fowler v. Newman Specialized Carrier's, Inc., CV 10–900022 (Ala.). The boat docks were originally loaded on the flatbed trailer by Atlantic–Meeco on April 7, 2010, for delivery to California. ( Id. at ¶¶ 7, 8). Mr. Fowler unstrapped the load of docks after reaching his destination on April 9, 2010. ( Id. at ¶ 11). While Mr. Fowler was unstrapping the docks, the docks fell on top of him resulting in personal injuries. ( Id. at ¶ 12).

The Fowlers assert negligence, wilfulness, and wantonness claims against Newman and Atlantic–Meeco. ( Id. at ¶¶ 8, 9 & 12). The complaint also asserts loss of consortium on behalf of Mrs. Fowler.

B. Relationship Between Jimmy Fowler and Newman

Newman is a trucking company meeting the definition of a “carrier” as defined by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (“FMCSR”). ( See Newman Depo. (doc. 56–9) 62–63). Mr. Fowler entered into a lease agreement to provide Newman a 2006 Kenworth Tractor and the labor to operate the tractor. ( See Lease Agreement (doc. 56–11)). The lease requires Mr. Fowler to purchase and maintain worker's compensation insurance and for Newman to provide and maintain liability and cargo insurance as required by the Interstate Commerce Commission (“ICC”). ( Id.) The lease also contains the following provision:

The parties intend to create by this contract the relationship of CARRIER [Newman] and independent CONTRACTOR [Mr. Fowler] and not an employer/employee relationship. Neither the CONTRACTOR nor its employees are or are to be considered the employees of the CARRIER at any time, under any circumstances.

(Lease Agreement (doc. 56–11 at ¶ 12)). At the time of the accident, Newman owned the flatbed trailer and Mr. Fowler owned the tractor. ( See Fowler Depo. (doc 56–10) at 136).

Standard of Review

A moving party is entitled to summary judgment if there is no genuine issue of material fact, leaving final judgment to be decided as a matter of law. SeeFederal Rules of Civil Procedure 56; Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986). As the Supreme Court has explained the summary judgment standard:

[T]he plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. In such a situation, there can be no genuine issue as to any material fact, since the complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the non-moving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.

Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322–23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the pleadings or filings which it believes demonstrates the absence of genuine issues of material fact. Id. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to “go beyond the pleadings and by ... affidavits, or by the ‘depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file’ designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.’ Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548. The nonmoving party “must do more than simply show that there is a metaphysical doubt as to the material facts” to meet their burden Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., 475 U.S. at 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348. The non-movant must “demonstrate that there is indeed a material issue of fact precluding summary judgment.” Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir.1991).

The court is to construe the evidence and factual inferences arising therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party when deciding motions for summary judgment. See Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157, 90 S.Ct. 1598, 26 L.Ed.2d 142 (1970). The substantive law will identify which facts are material and which are irrelevant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). All “reasonable doubts” about the facts and all justifiable inferences are resolved in favor of the non-movant. Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1115 (11th Cir.1993). However, all “doubts” need not be so resolved. Barnes v. Southwest Forest Industries, Inc., 814 F.2d 607, 609 (11th Cir.1987). “The moving party is entitled to ‘judgment as a matter of law’ when the nonmoving party fails to make a sufficient showing of an essential element of the case to which the nonmoving party has the burden of proof.” Everett v. Napper, 833 F.2d 1507, 1510 (11th Cir.1987) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548).

There is a genuine dispute “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505. When the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted. Id. at 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505. “The basic issue before the court on a motion for summary judgment 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.’ Nat'l Mining Ass'n v. Apfel, 97 F.Supp.2d 1070, 1076 (N.D.Ala.1999) (quoting Holcombe v. Alabama Dry Dock & Shipbuilding, 1998 WL 758012 (S.D.Ala.1998)) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251–252, 106 S.Ct. 2505). Summary judgment is appropriate where the moving party shows an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the nonmoving party's case. Weiss v. School Board of Hillsborough County, 141 F.3d 990, 994 (11th Cir.1998).

Legal Analysis

Under Alabama law, an insurance company's duty to defend its insured is determined by the language of the insurance policy and by the allegations in the complaint about the facts which gave rise to the cause of action against the insured. American States Ins. Co. v. Cooper, 518 So.2d 708, 709 (Ala.1987). The insurer is obligated to defend if the allegations of the injured party's complaint show an accident or an occurrence within the coverage of the policy. Hartford Cas. Ins. Co. v. Merchants & Farmers Bank, 928 So.2d 1006, 1009 (Ala.2005), citing Ladner & Co. v. Southern Guar. Ins. Co., 347 So.2d 100, 102 (Ala.1977). Exclusions must be interpreted as narrowly as possible, so as to provide maximum coverage for the insured, and are to be construed most strongly against the insurance company that drafted and issued the policy. Cincinnati Ins. Co. v. Lee Anesthesia, P.C., 641 So.2d 247, 249 (Ala.1994). The burden of proving applicability of a policy exclusion rests with the insurer. Acceptance Ins. Co. v. Brown, 832 So.2d 1, 12 (Ala.2001).

When interpreting an insurance contract, Alabama law provides that [t]he issue whether a contract is ambiguous or unambiguous is a question of law for a court to decide.... If the terms within a contract are plain and unambiguous, the construction of the contract and its legal effect become questions of law for the court.” Nationwide Ins. Co. v. Rhodes, 870 So.2d 695, 696–97 (Ala.2003). A court must enforce the insurance policy as written if the terms are unambiguous. Safeway Ins. Co. of Alabama v. Herrera, 912 So.2d 1140, 1143 (Ala.2005). Whether a clause in an insurance policy is ambiguous is a question of law to be decided by the court. Auto–Owners Ins. Co. v. American Cent. Ins. Co., 739 So.2d 1078, 1081 (Ala.1999).

There are two insurance policies at issue in this case. The insurers both seek a declaratory judgment that there is no obligation for them to defend or indemnify Newman against the Fowlers claims in underlying state court litigation. The court must, therefore, analyze the QBE and Lancer policies separately to determine whether there is coverage under either policy.

A. Coverage under the QBE policy

The QBE policy is a general liability policy that contains certain exclusions. QBE asserts that one of the exclusions, the “auto exclusion,” bars coverage of Mr. Fowler's claims against...

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