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Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Co. v. Bible Baptist Church

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division

December 7, 2017

BROTHERHOOD MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
BIBLE BAPTIST CHURCH, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          THOMAS E. JOHNSTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court are the parties' cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. (ECF Nos. 73, 75, 80.) For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED. (ECF No. 80.) Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment are GRANTED. (ECF Nos. 73, 75.) The Court enters declaratory and injunctive relief in the manner set forth below.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This declaratory judgment action stems from two underlying complaints filed in Kanawha County Circuit Court by A.B., by and through his Guardian ad Litem, William Jesse Forbes, and K.R.L, by and through his parent and next friend, Jocelyn Gail Arbeiter, against Defendants, Bible Baptist Church (“Bible Baptist”), Blue Creek Academy (“BCA”), James Waldeck, and J.R. Thompson.[1]

         A. The Underlying Civil Complaints

         Plaintiff Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company (“Brotherhood Mutual”) provides insurance to Defendant Bible Baptist. Bible Baptist owns the boarding school BCA, which is managed by James Waldeck and run by J.R. Thompson. Plaintiffs, A.B. and K.R.L., were students at BCA for approximately two years and seventeen months respectively. (ECF No. 74 at 3-4.) Both A.B. and K.R.L. allege in separate pending, underlying actions filed in Kanawha County Circuit Court that they were subject to sexual and physical abuse as well as malnourishment and educational neglect. (See ECF Nos. 75-3, 75-4.) Specifically, A.B. alleges that the following:

22. During his two year tenure at BCA, Plaintiff A.B. suffered significant physical and emotional abuse.
23. BCA subjected A.B. to malnourishment, isolationism, corporal punishment, starvation, and physical abuse.
24. Plaintiff A.B. was sexually abused by another resident of the facility due to the lack of supervision and other improper standards utilized by the facility.
30. Aside from the starvation, physical abuse, extreme punishments, and various other maltreatments, BCA also committed educational neglect.

(ECF No. 75-3 at ¶¶ 22-24, 30.) K.R.L. specifically alleges the following:

21. During his seventeen (17) month tenure at BCA, Plaintiff K.R.L. suffered significant physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.
22. BCA exposed and subjected Plaintiff to malnourishment, isolationism, corporal punishment, starvation, and physical abuse.
25. Plaintiff K.R.L. was sexually abused by another staff member's son of the facility due to lack of supervision and other improper standards utilized by the facility.

(ECF No. 75-4 at ¶¶ 21-22, 25.) Both complaints further allege that BCA was negligent in its hiring and supervision of the staff. In response to the above complaints filed against them, Bible Baptist requests insurance coverage under their Brotherhood Mutual policy.

         B. Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Policy

         The Brotherhood Mutual policy at issue in this case was in effect from June 13, 2011, to June 13, 2014, and provided coverage for A.B. and K.R.L.'s claims.[2] Specifically, the policy provides a coverage limit of $1, 000, 000 per occurrence for Bodily Injury/Property Damage Liability, “Nursery Supervision, ” and “Nursery Corporal Punishment, with an Aggregate Coverage Limit of $3, 000, 000. (See ECF No. 32-3 at 6.) Additionally, there is a separate coverage limit of $100, 000 for “Sexual Acts Liability Coverage” with an Aggregate Coverage Limit of $100, 000. (See Id. at 7.)

         The policy defines an occurrence as “an accident and includes repeated exposure to similar conditions.” (See Id. at 77.) It further states the following:

If an occurrence to which any liability coverage of this policy applies consists of acts, errors, omissions, decisions, incidents, events, breaches of duty, damage or loss occurring on more than one date during any policy period or policy periods, such events or damage, together with any related loss, will constitute a single occurrence. . . .

(Id. at 100.) Regarding sexual acts, specifically, the policy states the following:

Any of the above acts or conduct will be considered a single sexual act if undertaken by the same perpetrator or perpetrators, even if such acts are directed against more than one person, happen over time, or take place during more than one policy period.

(Id. at 80.)

         C. Current Motions

         Citing the above definitions, Brotherhood Mutual filed an Amended Complaint on June 9, 2017, seeking a declaration, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2201 and Rule 57 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, that A.B. and K.R.L.'s claims constitute one occurrence under the insurance policy. (See ECF No. 70.) Subsequently, Defendants Bible Baptist and A.B. by William Jessie Forbes, together with K.R.L. by Jocelyn Gail Arbeiter, filed motions for summary judgment arguing that A.B. and K.R.L.'s claims count as at least two occurrences under the insurance policy as there were multiple causes for the claims. (See ECF Nos. 74, 76.) Brotherhood Mutual filed a cross-motion for summary judgment arguing that A.B. and K.R.L.'s claims count as a singular occurrence under the insurance policy as they stem from the single cause of negligent supervision by BCA. (See ECF No. 80.) All three motions have been fully briefed and are now ripe for consideration.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is warranted when “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute of material fact exists if, in viewing the record and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, a reasonable fact-finder could return a verdict for the non-movant. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). “Facts are ‘material' when they might affect the outcome of the case, and a ‘genuine issue' exists when the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” News & Observer Publ. Co. v. Raleigh-Durham Airport Auth., 597 F.3d 570, 576 (4th Cir. 2010).

         The moving party bears the initial burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23. “The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to come forward with facts sufficient to create a triable issue of fact.” Temkin v. Frederick Cty. Comm'rs, 945 F.2d 716, 718 (4th Cir. 1991). When determining whether there is an issue for trial, the Court must view all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Perini Corp. v. Perini Constr., Inc., 915 F.2d 121, 123 (4th Cir. 1990). The non-moving party must offer some “concrete evidence from which a reasonable juror could return a verdict in his favor.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986). “[A] party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon mere allegation or denials of his pleading, but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence” in support of the nonmoving party is not enough to withstand summary judgment; the judge must ask whether “the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.” Id. at 252.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Cross-motions for summary judgment are reviewed separately if material facts are in dispute. Rossignol v. Voorhaar, 316 F.3d 516, 523 (4th Cir. 2003). Here, the facts underlying Brotherhood Mutual's claim are undisputed-the parties merely dispute the legal significance of those facts. Furthermore, under West Virginia law, “determination of the proper coverage of an insurance contract when the facts are not in dispute is a question of law.” Norfolk S. Ry. Co. v. Nat'l Union Fire Ins. of Pittsburg, Pa., 999 F.Supp.2d 906, 910 (S.D. W.Va. 2014). Therefore, as stated above, the only issue in dispute is whether A.B. and K.R.L.'s claims constitute multiple occurrences under the Brotherhood Mutual insurance policy. Accordingly, summary judgment is proper after determining the number of occurrences under the insurance policy.

         A. Policy ...


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