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Auto Owners Insurance Co. v. Sapp

United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Albany Division

March 10, 2017

AUTO OWNERS INSURANCE CO., Plaintiff,
v.
BARBARA SAPP; BAINBRIDGE-DECATUR COUNTY KEEP AMERICA BEAUTIFUL, INC.; and DECATUR COUNTY, GEORGIA, Defendants.

          ORDER

          LESLIE J. ABRAMS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 29). For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff Auto-Owners Insurance Co. (“Auto-Owners”) seeks declaratory judgment that Defendant Bainbridge-Decatur County Keep America Beautiful, Inc. (“KAB”) is not entitled to coverage under the general commercial liability policy Plaintiff issued to KAB (“the Policy”) for an accident suffered by Defendant Barbara Sapp because KAB failed to comply with the Policy's notice provision. (Doc. 29-1, pp. 13-14).

         At the commencement of this action, KAB was a non-profit corporation in Decatur County, Georgia that oversaw the operation of recycling centers. (Doc. 41-2, ¶ 1). The Policy had an effective policy period of October 21, 2013 to October 24, 2014. Id. at ¶ 11. On May 15, 2014, Sapp fell, sustaining both bodily injuries and property damage to her vehicle, at the Climax, Georgia recycling center maintained by KAB and Defendant Decatur County, Georgia. Id. at ¶ 2.

         On November 13, 2015, Sapp filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of Decatur County, alleging that KAB and Decatur County, Georgia are liable for the damages she incurred as a result of her fall at the recycling center (“the underlying lawsuit”). Id. at ¶ 10. KAB seeks a defense and indemnity under the Policy for the claims asserted by Sapp in the underlying lawsuit. Id. at ¶ 12. Decatur County does not seek a defense or indemnity under the Policy for the claims asserted by Sapp in the underlying lawsuit and denies that it has an interest, financial or otherwise, with respect to the outcome of this action. Id. at 13.

         In pertinent part, the Policy states that the insured party “must see to it that [Plaintiff is] notified as soon as practicable of an ‘occurrence' or an offense which may result in a claim.” (Doc. 1-4, p. 23, Sec. IV, ¶ 2(a)). “Occurrence” is defined as “an accident, including continuous or repeated exposure to substantially the same general harmful conditions.” Id. at p. 28, Sec. V, ¶ 14. The Policy also states that “[n]o person or organization has a right” to “join us as a party or otherwise bring us into a ‘suit' asking for damages from an insured” or “to sue us on this Coverage Part unless all of its terms have been fully complied with.” Id. at p. 23, Sec. IV, ¶ 3.

         At the time of the incident, Suzanne Brandt served as the Executive Director of KAB and was employed full time with Decatur County as the Director of Environmental Services. Id. at ¶ 4. According to Brandt, she was informed of Sapp's fall within one day of the accident. (Doc. 48, at 44:7-21; 45:20-46:4). Brandt does not recall if she advised the KAB board about the accident, but she did not notify Plaintiff because she did not believe Sapp intended to file a claim against KAB. Id. at 50:4-8; 90:2-7. Instead, Brandt spoke directly to Sapp. Brandt testified that she communicated multiple times with Sapp regarding her injuries and submitted requests to the Decatur County Board of Commissioners to reimburse Sapp for her medical bills and the damage to her vehicle. Id. at 51:16-52:16; 62:14-25.

         On September 18, 2014, Sapp sent a demand letter to KAB indicating her intent to sue. (Doc. 43-1, at p. 50). KAB gave Plaintiff notice of Sapp's fall on September 22, 2014, four months after the accident. (Doc. 41-2, ¶ 17).

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On June 3, 2015, Plaintiff commenced this action against Defendants. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff moved for Summary Judgment on August 26, 2016. (Doc. 29). Three days later, on August 29, 2016, Plaintiff moved for entry of default against Defendants Sapp and KAB. (Docs. 30, 31). On October 14, 2016, Defendant Decatur County entered a stipulation that it was not seeking a defense or indemnification from Plaintiff and that it would be bound by any and all judgments entered by the Court. (Doc. 38). On January 10, 2017, the Court denied Plaintiff's Motions for Entry of Default (Docs. 30, 31) and ordered Defendants Sapp and KAB to respond to Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 39). Defendants Sapp and KAB responded on January 31, 2017, and Plaintiff replied on February 14, 2017 (Doc. 47). As such, Plaintiff's Motion is now ripe for review. See M.D. Ga. L.R. 7.3.1(a).

         SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 allows a party to move for summary judgment when the party contends no genuine issue of material fact remains and the party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. “Summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Maddox v. Stephens, 727 F.3d 1109, 1118 (11th Cir. 2013). “A genuine issue of material fact does not exist unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a reasonable jury to return a verdict in its favor.” Grimes v. Miami Dade Cnty., 552 F.App'x 902, 904 (11th Cir. 2014) citing Chapman v. AI Transp., 229 F.3d 1012, 1023 (11th Cir. 2000). “An issue of fact is ‘material' if it is a legal element of the claim under the applicable substantive law which might affect the outcome of the case.” Allen v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 121 F.3d 642, 646 (11th Cir. 1997) citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “It is ‘genuine' if the record taken as a whole could lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party.” Tipton v. Bergrohr GMBH-Siegen, 965 F.2d 994, 998 (11th Cir. 1992) citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         The movant bears the initial burden of showing, by reference to the record, that there is no genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323 (1986); Barreto v. Davie Marketplace, LLC, 331 F.App'x 672, 673 (11th Cir. 2009). The movant can meet this burden by presenting evidence showing there is no genuine dispute of material fact, or by demonstrating to the district court that the nonmoving party has failed to present ...


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