United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division
WILLIAM T. MOORE, Jr., District Judge.
Before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 53.) Defendants Madd Transportation, LLC ("Madd") and IPSCO Koppel Tubulars, Inc. ("IPSCO") have filed responses in opposition (Doc. 57, Doc. 59), to which Plaintiff has filed a reply (Doc. 61). For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED. All other pending motions in this case are DISMISSED AS MOOT. The Clerk of Court is DIRECTED to close this case.
This action arises out of an injury sustained by Ted Owens, a truck driver for Defendant Madd. (Doc. 58 ¶ 1.) Defendant Madd is a Georgia-based interstate motor carrier in the business of transporting goods for other companies on its tractor-trailers. (Id. ¶¶ 1-2.) However, Defendant Madd does not own its own tractor-trailers, but rather leases them from its President Mark Williams and Operational Manager Andre Doyle. (Id. ¶ 3.) These tractor-trailers are then used by drivers-such as Mr. Owens-who pick up and transport loads pursuant to assignments from Defendant Madd. (Id. ¶¶ 3, 11.) Drivers have the option of either accepting or rejecting an assignment from Defendant Madd. (Id. ¶ 13.) Defendant Madd does not withhold taxes from their drivers' wages or pay premiums for the driver's worker's compensation coverage. (Id. ¶ 10.)
The incident from which this case arises occurred on or about May 15, 2012. (Id. ¶¶ 17-18.) Mr. Owens had accepted an assignment from Defendant Madd to transport several bundles of large metal pipes from Defendant IPSCO's facility in Ambridge, Pennsylvania to another destination. (Id. ¶¶ 16-18.) Pursuant to that assignment, Mr. Owens drove from Georgia and arrived at Defendant IPSCO's facility to pick up the load. (Id. ¶ 17-18.) After Mr. Owens positioned the tractor-trailer next to a loading platform, one of Defendant IPSCO's employees used a crane to load eight bundles of metal pipe onto Mr. Owens's tractor-trailer. (Id. ¶ 19-22.) After the eighth bundle of pipe was loaded, Mr. Owens moved between the loading platform and the trailer flatbed to throw securernent straps over the bundles. (Id. ¶¶ 23-24, 32.) The eighth bundle remained stationary for roughly forty-five to sixty seconds, but eventually fell off the trailer and struck Mr. Owens. (Id. ¶¶ 26, 33.) As a result, Mr. Owens suffered significant injuries. (Id. ¶ 33.)
At the time of the incident, Defendant Madd held a Commercial Auto Policy with Plaintiff (the "Policy"). (Id. ¶ 34.) The Policy stated, in part, that "[if] an insured auto is involved in an accident or loss for which this insurance may apply, the accident or loss must be reported to [Plaintiff] as soon as practicable...." (Id. ¶ 35.) The Policy also provided an exclusion from coverage for [b]cdily injury to an employee of any insured arising out of or within the course of that employee's employment by any insured; or [p]erforming duties related to the conduct of any insured's business...." (Id.) The Policy further stated that the exclusion applied "whether the insured may be liable as an employer or in any other capacity." (Id.) In addition, the policy provided an exclusion for [b]odily injury or property damage resulting from or caused by the movement of property by a mechanical device, other than a hand truck, not attached to an insured auto." (Id.)
On or about May 7, 2013, Mr. Owens's sister and guardian Vickie Robinson filed suit against Defendant IPSCO in Pennsylvania state court. (Id. ¶ 38.) Defendant IPSCO in turn joined Defendant Madd as a third-party defendant in the underlying suit and asserted a crossclaim alleging that Defendant Madd negligently trained and supervised Mr. Owens. (Id. ¶¶ 39-40.) Defendant Madd subsequently notified Plaintiff of the accident and the underlying suit in July of 2013. (Id. ¶ 37.)
Plaintiff provided Defendant Madd a defense in the underlying suit under a reservation of rights. (Id. ¶¶ 42-43.) Plaintiff then filed suit in this Court seeking a declaratory judgment that, under the terms of the Policy, it had no duty to defend or indemnify Defendant Madd in the underlying suit. (Doc. 24.) In its Motion for Summary Judgment, Plaintiff argues that Defendant Madd failed to provide timely notice of the incident to Plaintiff-a condition precedent for the Policy to apply. (Doc. 53, Attach. 1 at 11.) In addition, Plaintiff argues that even if the Policy is effective, coverage for the incident is precluded by either the mechanical device or employee exclusions referenced above. (Id. at 13, 16) Defendants respond that Defendant Madd had no reason to suspect or believe that the incident would lead to any potential claim against Madd, excusing any delay in reporting the incident. (Doc. 57 at 4; Doc. 59, Attach. 1 at 5.) Furthermore, Defendants contend that the mechanical device exclusion is inapplicable because it is presently impossible to determine the cause of the pipe bundle's fall. (Doc. 57 at 7; Doc. 59, Attach. 1 at 11.) Finally, Defendants argue that the employee exclusion does not preclude coverage because Mr. Owens was an independent contractor and, in any case, the determination of Mr. Owens's employment status should be left for the underlying suit (Doc. 57 at 9; Doc. 59, Attach. 1 at 14-16.)
I. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
According to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), "[a] party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense-or the part of each claim of defense-on which summary judgment is sought." Such a motion must be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Id . The "purpose of summary judgment is to pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.'" Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 advisory committee notes)
Summary judgment is appropriate when the nonmovant "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." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) The substantive law governing the action determines whether an element is essential. DeLong Equip. Co. v. Wash. Mills Abrasive Co., 887 F.2d 1499, 1505 (11th Cir. 1989).
As the Supreme Court explained:
[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, ...