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Capitol Specialty Insurance Corp. v. Tayworsky LLC

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

January 25, 2019

TAYWORSKY LLC, et al, Defendants.



         Before the Court are Plaintiff Capitol Specialty Insurance Corporation (“Capitol Specialty”) and Defendant Frame Electric, Inc.'s (“Frame Electric”) cross-motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 76, 74.) For the reasons provided herein, Capitol Specialty's motion, (ECF No. 76), is GRANTED, and Frame Electric's motion, (ECF No. 74), is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This is a declaratory judgment action in which Capitol Specialty seeks a determination of its liability insurance coverage with respect to a case pending in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County, West Virginia (the “underlying suit”). The underlying suit arises from a gunshot wound Melissa Tate suffered at the Monkey Barrel Bar in Charleston, West Virginia, on July 4, 2015. (ECF No. 79-2 at 4-5 ¶¶ 17-19.) At the time of Ms. Tate's alleged injury, Kent Taylor, Matthew Dworsky, and Tayworsky LLC d/b/a Monkey Barrel Bar (collectively “Tayworsky”) operated the bar, (id. at 2 ¶¶ 5-7), and Frame Electric owned and managed the building occupied by the bar, (id. at ¶ 8; see also ECF No. 75 at 1.)

         Ms. Tate filed the underlying suit against Tayworsky and Frame Electric asserting claims of premises liability, negligence, and loss of consortium on the basis that these defendants allegedly failed to keep the bar in a safe condition and that her injury was a direct and proximate result thereof. (ECF No. 76-1 at 4-8 ¶¶ 14-33; see also ECF No. 79-2 at 5-8, ¶¶ 20-39.) Her amended complaint adds Capitol Specialty and Intervening Plaintiffs American States Insurance Company and Liberty Mutual Insurance Company as named defendants for the purpose of seeking declaratory relief regarding the insurance coverage dispute that is at issue in this matter. (Id. at 8-13 ¶¶ 40-49, 57-68.)

         At the time of the shooting, Tayworsky held a commercial general liability insurance policy issued by Capitol Specialty. (ECF No. 76-4 at 2.) Frame Electric was named an additional insured under the terms and conditions contained in the policy. (Id. at 5.) Under the policy, Capitol Specialty agreed to indemnify and “defend [Tayworsky and Frame Electric] against any ‘suit' seeking . . . damages [for bodily injury]” when such “‘bodily injury' . . . is caused by an ‘occurrence'” during the policy period. (Id. at 73.) The policy also contains an “Assault or Battery” exclusion from general liability coverage. (Id. at 12.) Capitol Specialty here seeks a declaration pursuant to the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act, West Virginia Code § 55-13-1, et seq., that it has no duty to defend or indemnify Tayworsky and Frame Electric for any claim asserted in the underlying suit.

         On August 20, 2018, Capitol Specialty and Frame Electric filed cross-motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 76, 74). On September 4, 2018, Capitol Specialty filed a response to Frame Electric's motion, (ECF No. 79), and Frame Electric and Tayworsky each filed timely responses to Capitol Specialty's motion, (ECF Nos. 78, 80). On September 10, 2018, Capitol Specialty filed replies to Frame Electric and Tayworsky's opposition briefs, (ECF Nos. 82, 83), and Frame Electric replied to Capitol Specialty's opposition, (ECF No. 81). As such, both motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for adjudication.


         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs motions for summary judgment. This rule provides, in relevant part, that summary judgment should be granted if “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact.” Summary judgment is inappropriate, however, if there exist factual issues that reasonably may be resolved in favor of either party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). “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). When evaluating such factual issues, the Court must view the evidence “in the light most favorable to the opposing party.” Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970).

         The moving party may meet its burden of showing that no genuine issue of fact exists by use of “depositions, answers to interrogatories, answers to requests for admission, and various documents submitted under request for production.” Barwick v. Celotex Corp., 736 F.2d 946, 958 (4th Cir. 1984). Once the moving party has met its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party 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.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). If a party fails to make a sufficient showing on one element of that party's case, the failure of proof “necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Id. at 323.

         On the intersection of the standards for summary judgment and contract interpretation, the Fourth Circuit has observed that the matter of “interpretation is a subject particularly suited for summary judgment . . . .” Bank of Montreal v. Signet Bank, 193 F.3d 818, 835 (4th Cir. 1999); see also Murray v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 509 S.E.2d 1, 6 ( W.Va. 1998) (stating “[t]he interpretation of an insurance contract, including the question of whether the contract is ambiguous, is a legal determination . . . .”) (internal citation omitted). It has also been observed, however, that “[a]n ambiguous contract that cannot be resolved by credible, unambiguous, extrinsic evidence discloses genuine issues of material fact . . . [and] summary judgment is inappropriate.” Sempione v. Provident Bank, 75 F.3d 951, 959 (4th Cir. 1996).


         Capitol Specialty argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on its declaratory judgment claims based upon the language of the insurance policy. First, Capitol Specialty contends that there is no liability coverage for the underlying claims because Ms. Tate's injury was the result of an intentional shooting rather than an “occurrence” as defined under the policy. (ECF No. 77 at 11-14.) Defendants respond that the shooter's intent is wholly irrelevant to whether Capitol Specialty has a duty to defend and/or indemnity. Rather, Defendants argue that the allegations against Defendants present issues of fact that render the underlying claims reasonably susceptible to coverage. (ECF No. 78 at 3-5.) Frame Electric further argues that Capitol Specialty has waived its right to assert an intentional act as a basis to deny coverage. (Id. at 5-6.) Capitol Specialty also argues the policy's “Assault or Battery” exclusion precludes coverage because the underlying claims arise from a shooting. (ECF No. 77 at 15-18.) Conversely, Defendants aver that there is no evidence of any contact, threatened or actual, between Ms. Tate and the shooter, and, therefore, the shooting does not qualify as an assault or battery under the terms of the policy. (ECF No. 78 at 7-8.)

         A. The Allegations Constitute An ...

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