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Caitlin Speciality Insurance Co. v. Johnson

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division

August 3, 2018

CATLIN SPECIALTY INSURANCE CO., Plaintiff
v.
JOSEPH J. JOHNSON, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HERMAN N. JOHNSON, JR., UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This declaratory judgment action proceeds before the court on plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and Amended Motion for Summary Judgment. (Docs. 19 & 22). For the reasons set out herein, the court GRANTS the summary judgment motions.

         SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         Pursuant to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment 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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. Rule 56(a). The party seeking summary judgment 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, which it believes demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991) (quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)).

         If the movant sustains its burden, a non-moving party demonstrates a genuine issue of material fact by producing evidence by which a reasonable fact-finder could return a verdict in its favor. Greenberg v. BellSouth Telecomms., Inc., 498 F.3d 1258, 1263 (11th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). The non-movant sustains this burden by demonstrating “that the record in fact contains supporting evidence, sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion.” Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1116 (11th Cir. 1993). In the alternative, the non-movant may “come forward with additional evidence sufficient to withstand a directed verdict motion at trial based on the alleged evidentiary deficiency.” Id. at 1116-17; see also Doe v Drummond Co., 782 F.3d 576, 603-04 (11th Cir. 2015), cert. denied, 136 S.Ct. 1168 (2016).

         The “court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, and it may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence.” Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000) (citations omitted). “‘Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge.'” Id. (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)). “Thus, although the court should review the record as a whole, it must disregard all evidence favorable to the moving party that the jury is not required to believe.” Reeves, 530 U.S. at 151 (citation omitted). “That is, the court should give credence to the evidence favoring the nonmovant as well as that ‘evidence supporting the moving party that is uncontradicted and unimpeached, at least to the extent that that evidence comes from disinterested witnesses.'” Id. (citation omitted).

         Rule 56 “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.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. “In such a situation, there can be ‘no genuine issue as to any material fact,' since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Id. at 322-23. In addition, a movant may prevail on summary judgment by submitting evidence “negating [an] opponent's claim, ” that is, by producing materials disproving an essential element of a non-movant's claim or defense. Id. at 323 (emphasis in original).

         Because the plaintiff bears the burden of proof on its claims, its status as the summary-judgment movant requires it to establish there is no genuine dispute of material fact as to all of the elements of its claim and, concomitantly, that it deserves judgment as a matter of law on the claims. See Fitzpatrick v. City of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1115 (11th Cir. 1993) (“The movant must show . . . on all the essential elements of its case on which it bears the burden of proof at trial, no reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party.”).

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Catlin Specialty Insurance Company (Catlin) issued a commercial general liability insurance policy to Joseph J. Johnson d/b/a JJ's Fun & Recreational Center (Johnson or JJ's), effective May 25, 2014, through May 25, 2015. The named insured on the policy is Joseph J. Johnson d/b/a JJ's Fun & Recreational Center. Johnson is a defendant in two actions pending in the Madison County Circuit Court: Khloe Walker, by and through her mother and next friend, Tunishia Monique Armstrong v. Joseph J. Johnson d/b/a JJ's Fun & Recreation Center, et al., Civil Action No. CV-2016-902040, and Larry Malone, as Administrator of the Estate of Larneal Donell McDonald v. Joseph J. Johnson d/b/a JJ's Fun & Recreation Center, et al., Civil Action No. 2017-900307.

         The Walker action alleges JJ's served Terrance Walker alcoholic beverages on March 1, 2015, despite his visible intoxication. After Walker left the establishment, he was involved in a motor vehicle accident which caused his death. The Walker action asserts an Alabama Alcoholic Beverages Control Board Rule No. 20-X-6-.02[1] claim; a Dram Shop Act[2] claim; negligent or wanton hiring, supervision, [3] and/or training; negligent performance of a voluntary undertaking; and negligent/wanton security.

         The McDonald action alleges that McDonald died in the same accident that resulted in Walker's death. The McDonald action asserts claims under Alabama Alcoholic Beverages Control Board Rule No. 20-X-6-.02 and the Dram Shop Act, negligence, and wantonness.

         Catlin seeks a declaration it owes no duty to defend or indemnify Johnson in the underlying state court actions based on the Total Liquor Liability exclusion in the pertinent policy. Catlin indicates that Johnson does not oppose its summary judgment motion, and only Walker and Armstrong filed an opposition to Catlin's summary judgment motion. Further, in answer to the complaint, Johnson admitted Catlin has no duty to defend or indemnify because of the Total Liquor Liability Exclusion. (Doc. 1 at ¶ 16; Doc. 3 at ¶ 16).

         The policy at issue obligates Catlin to pay “those sums that the insured becomes legally obligated to pay as damages because of ‘bodily injury'…to which this insurance applies”; Catlin “will have the right and duty to defend the insured against any ‘suit' seeking those damages”; and Catlin “will have no duty to defend the insured against any ‘suit' seeking ...


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