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State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. v. Mitchell

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division

September 30, 2016

State Farm Fire and Casualty Company, Plaintiff,
Travis Cruise Mitchell and Christopher Harry, Defendants.



         The Plaintiff, State Farm Fire and Casualty Company (hereinafter “State Farm” or “Plaintiff”), filed the above-captioned declaratory judgment action pursuant to the Federal Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201, and Fed.R.Civ.P. 57 on April 17, 2015. (Doc. #1). In this action, Plaintiff State Farm seeks to obtain a determination and declaration by this Court of the rights and legal obligations of the parties arising out of a Homeowner's Insurance Policy issued by Plaintiff State Farm to the parents of Defendant Travis Cruise Mitchell (hereinafter “Defendant Mitchell”). (Doc. #1). This matter is now before the Court for consideration of cross-motions for summary judgment; Plaintiff State Farm's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. #20) and Defendant Christopher Harry's (hereinafter “Defendant Harry”) Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. #22). On February 19, 2016, Defendant Mitchell responded to Defendant Harry's motion for summary judgment indicating that Defendant Mitchell is not filing any memorandum in response to the motion. (Doc. #23). On the same day, Defendant Mitchell filed a Response opposing Plaintiff State Farm's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. #24), to which Plaintiff replied on February 29, 2016 (Doc. #27).

         After full briefing by the parties on these motions, the Court held a hearing on June 29, 2016, wherein counsel for all three parties presented arguments. (Doc. #36). The Court has carefully considered the arguments, pleadings, motions, memoranda, and exhibits of the parties. The Motions for Summary Judgment are now ripe for disposition.


         The following facts are drawn from the parties' motions, memoranda, and other relevant filings, as well as the June 29, 2016 hearing and the record in this matter. Generally, this declaratory judgment action arises out of an altercation between Defendant Mitchell and Defendant Harry that occurred on October 6, 2012 in Columbia, South Carolina at a University of South Carolina - University of Georgia football game tailgate in an area that was been jointly leased by two fraternities. (Doc. #1, Hearing Transcript at p. 3 lns. 1-4). During that altercation, Defendant Mitchell punched Defendant Harry in the face, allegedly resulting in substantial damages to Harry. Defendant Mitchell asserts he acted in self-defense. Harry subsequently filed a lawsuit in South Carolina state court against Defendant Mitchell seeking to recover damages that Harry asserts he sustained as a result of the altercation. Plaintiff State Farm then filed the above-captioned matter on April 17, 2015, in which it asks this Court to declare the rights and legal relations of the parties based on a homeowner's insurance contract that was issued by Plaintiff State Farm to Defendant Mitchell's parents. (Doc. #1).

         It is undisputed that Plaintiff State Farm issued a Homeowner's Insurance Policy to James C. Mitchell and Kathleen D. Mitchell, the parents of Defendant Travis Mitchell, Policy Number 40-EJ-7696-9, and that this Policy was in force and effect on October 6, 2012, the date of the altercation at issue. (See Doc. #1). It is undisputed that Defendant Mitchell qualifies as an “insured” under the Policy. As noted above, a lawsuit was filed by Defendant Harry against Defendant Mitchell in the Court of Common Pleas for Richland County, South Carolina, Civil Action No.: 2014-CP-40-5984, based on the October 6, 2012 incident between Defendant Mitchell and Defendant Harry, in which Harry alleges to have sustained serious injuries and seeks to recover damages against Defendant Mitchell. Plaintiff State Farm is currently defending Defendant Mitchell in the state court case. (Hearing Transcript at p. 15 lns. 21-25, p. 16 lns. 1-7).

         In the instant case, Plaintiff State Farm argues in its motion for summary judgment that the October 6, 2012 incident is not covered by the Homeowner's Insurance Policy based on certain exclusions in Mitchell's Policy, Homeowner's Insurance Policy Number 40-EJ-7696-9 (hereinafter the “Policy”). The Policy at issue in this case contains the following relevant provisions:


         Coverage L - Personal Liability

         If a claim is made or a suit is brought against an insured for damages because of bodily injury or property damage to which this coverage applies; caused by an occurrence, we will:

         1. pay up to our limit of liability for damages for which the insured is legally liable; and 2. provide a defense at our expense by counsel for our choice . . .


         We will pay the necessary medical expenses incurred or medically ascertained within three years from the date of an accident causing bodily injury. Medical expenses, means reasonable charges for medical, surgical, x-ray, dental, ambulance, hospital, professional nursing, prosthetic devices and funeral services. This coverage applies only: . . .

         2. to a person off the insured location, if the bodily injury:

         b. is caused by the activities of an insured.

1. Coverage L and Coverage M do not apply to: a. bodily injury or property damage:
(1) which is either expected or intended by the insured; or
(2) which is the result of the willful and malicious acts of the insured; In addition to the provisions listed above, the following definitions of terms appear in the policy: 1. “bodily injury” means physical injury, sickness or disease to a person. This includes required care, loss of services and a death resulting therefrom.
Bodily injury does not include . . .
c. emotional distress, mental anguish, humiliation, mental distress, mental injury or similar injury unless it arises out of actual injury to some person. 4. “insured” means you and, if residents of your household:
a. your relatives . . .
7. “occurrence” when used in Section II of this policy, means an accident, including exposure to ...

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