United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
ANNEMARIE CARNEY AXON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Northfield Insurance Company (“Northfield”) asks
the court to declare that under the terms of a commercial
general liability insurance policy issued to Defendant
Browning Timber & Saw Mill, LLC (“Browning
Timber”), Northfield does not have a duty to defend or
indemnify Browning Timber or Defendants Colin Browning and
Jonathan “Bo” Darnell in an underlying state
court action filed by Defendant Brad Wilson. Currently before
the court is Northfield's motion for summary judgment.
(Doc. 56). For the reasons explained below, the court GRANTS
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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. 56(a). “The moving party bears the initial
burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute of
material fact.” FindWhat Inv'r Grp. v.
FindWhat.com, 658 F.3d 1282, 1307 (11th Cir. 2011)
(citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323
(1986)). A “material fact” is one that
“might affect the outcome of the suit under the
governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
light most favorable to the Defendants, the facts are set
Underlying Incident and Complaint
spring of 2016, Mr. Browning hired Mr. Wilson and his
company, Pier One Pile Driving, LLC, to build a pier on Mr.
Browning's property. (Doc. 57-2 at 8, 18; Doc. 57-3 at
21-22). While Mr. Wilson was building the pier, Mr. Wilson
and Mr. Browning discussed Mr. Browning's sawmill
business, Browning T imber. (Doc. 57-2 at 19). Mr. Wilson
mentioned that he and his wife were clearing some land they
owned in order to build a house, and he asked Mr. Browning if
he would be interested in cutting and hauling off trees from
Mr. Wilson's property. (Doc. 57-2 at 19; Doc. 57-3 at 22,
25). In exchange for his work, Mr. Wilson agreed that Mr.
Browning could take any pine trees from the Wilson property
that Mr. Browning wanted for his sawmill business. (Doc. 57-2
at 21; Doc. 57-3 at 22, 25, 58).
Wilson and Mr. Browning disagree about the scope of the work
that Mr. Browning was to perform. Mr. Wilson intended that
Mr. Browning would take the pine trees off the property and
prune the oak trees on the property. (Doc. 57-2 at 65). Mr.
Browning disputes that he was going to prune or trim any
trees. (Doc. 57-3 at 21, 31; Doc. 57-4 at 12). Mr. Browning
understood that Mr. Wilson would let him cut down and take
any pine tree logs that interested him. (Doc. 57-3 at 22, 31;
Doc. 57-4 at 12).
Browning went to Mr. Wilson's property on April 3, 2016.
(Doc. 57-4 at 12). On the way there, Mr. Browning ran into a
friend, Mr. Darnell, who asked if he could accompany Mr.
Browning and help him remove the trees and load the lo gs .
(Doc. 57-3 at 48; Doc. 57-4 at 14; Doc. 57-5 at 13-14). Mr.
Darnell was not an employee of Mr. Browning or Browning
Timber. (Doc. 57-3 at 48-50; Doc. 57-5 at 14).
Browning testified that upon arriving at Mr. Wilson's
property, he discovered that there were only five or six
trees that he could use for his sawmill business, and those
trees were surrounded by trees that Mr. Wilson had already
pushed down with a bulldozer. (Doc. 57-3 at 58-59; Doc. 57-4
at 12-13; Doc. 57- 5 at 16-17 Doc. 57-6 at 11). To reach the
trees that Mr. Browning wanted for his sawmill business, Mr.
Darnell testified that he needed to cut down a standing oak
tree. (Doc. 57-5 at 22).
Darnell used a chainsaw to “notch” the tree at
the base of the trunk so that he could control the direction
in which it would fall. (Doc. 57-5, pp. 23-27; Doc. 57-6 at
7-8). As Mr. Darnell was cutting the trunk of the tree, the
chainsaw became stuck. (Doc. 57-5 at 20-21, 27-28; Doc. 57-6
at 7). Mr. Darnell planned to use Mr. Browning's skid
steer to push the tree over and free the chainsaw, but the
skid steer had mechanical problems and would not crank. (Doc.
57-3 at 70-73; Doc. 57-4 at 13; Doc. 57-5 at 29-30).
Browning and Mr. Darnell left Mr. Wilson's property so
that Mr. Browning could pick up a mechanic to repair the skid
steer. (Doc. 57-3 at 72-73; Doc. 57-4 at 14; Doc. 57-5 at 32;
Doc. 57-6 at 8). Mr. Browning dropped off Mr. Darnell at his
car and went to meet the mechanic at Browning T imber's
business location. (Doc. 57-3 at 74). Mr. Darnell then
returned to Mr. Wilson's property to try to get the
chainsaw out of the tree. (Doc. 57-5 at 33). When Mr. Darnell
arrived, he learned that the tree had fallen on Mr. Wilson.
(Doc. 57-5 at 33). Mr. Darnell called Mr. Browning to tell
him what happened. (Doc. 57-4 at 14; Doc. 57-5 at 37; Doc.
57-6 at 8).
Browning, as the sole member of Browning Timber, did not
report the incident to Northfield or report a claim to
Northfield at that time. (Doc. 57-4, p. 17; see Doc.
57-4 at 20, 59). Mr. Darnell ...