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Catlin Specialty Insurance Group v. RFB, Inc.

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

June 8, 2017

Catlin Specialty Insurance Group, Plaintiff,
v.
RFB, Inc. d/b/a Max & Henry's a/k/a Henry's Sports Bar, Frank Clyburn, and Jess Bess, Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION

          RICHARD MARK GERGEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Catlin Specialty Insurance Group's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants the motion.

         I. Background

         Defendant Jesse Bass alleges that on December 6, 2012, Cedrick Price, a bouncer at a bar owned by Defendant Frank Clyburn and Defendant RFB, Inc. (together, "Henry's"), struck him with force sufficient to knock him unconscious and to inflict serious brain injury. (Dkt. No. 1-1 ¶ 23.) The bouncer was employed by Elite Security Services LLC, a business that provides nightclub security services. (Id. ¶ 14.) On June 15, 2015, Mr. Bass filed a federal lawsuit against Henry's, Elite Security, and Mr. Price. Bass v. RFB, Inc., Civ. No. 2:15-2410-RMG. In that matter, claims against Elite Security have settled and Mr. Price is in default. Regarding Henry's, Mr. Bass asserts a claim of negligence, alleging Henry's breached its duty to exercise reasonable car in the hiring, supervision, and retention of Elite Security.

         Plaintiff Catlin Specialty Insurance Group issued a commercial general liability ("CGL") policy to Henry's that was in effect at the time of the incident. (Dkt. No. 1-2.) Catlin is defending Henry's in the underlying lawsuit, subject to a reservation of rights. The policy limit is $1 million per occurrence. (Id. at 8.) It, however, has an Assault and Battery Endorsement that sets a sublimit of $25, 000 per occurrence. (Id.) On September 16, 2016, Catlin filed the present action seeking a declaration that the Assault and Battery Endorsement applies to Mr. Bass's claim against Henry's. (Dkt. No. 1.) The underlying litigation has been stayed pending resolution of the present action.

         II. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate if a party "shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact" and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In other words, summary judgment should be granted "only when it is clear that there is no dispute concerning either the facts of the controversy or the inferences to be drawn from those facts." Pulliam Inv. Co. v. Cameo Props., 810 F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir. 1987). "In determining whether a genuine issue has been raised, the court must construe all inferences and ambiguities in favor of the nonmoving party." Health South Rehab. Hosp. v. Am. Nat'l Red Cross, 101 F.3d 1005, 1008 (4th Cir. 1996). The party seeking summary judgment shoulders the initial burden of demonstrating to the court that there is no genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

         Once the moving party has made this threshold demonstration, the non-moving party, to survive the motion for summary judgment, may not rest on the allegations averred in his pleadings. Id. at 324. Rather, the non-moving party must demonstrate that specific, material facts exist that give rise to a genuine issue. Id. Under this standard, "[c]onclusory or speculative allegations do not suffice, nor does a 'mere scintilla of evidence'" in support of the non-moving party's case. Thompson v. Potomac Elec. Power Co., 312 F.3d 645, 649 (4th Cir. 2002) (quoting Phillips v. CSX Transp., Inc., 190 F.3d 285, 287 (4th Cir. 1999)).

         III. Discussion

         The sole question before the Court is whether the CGL policy's assault and battery sublimit applies to December 6, 2012 incident in which Mr. Bass was injured. The sublimit applies to claims for bodily injury, personal injury, advertising injury, or property damage

arising from an assault and battery or out of any act or omission in connection with the prevention, suppression, or failure to protect or suppress such acts including the failure to warn, train, or supervise, whether caused by or at the instigation or direction of the insured, his employees, patrons, or other person.

(Dkt. No. 1-2 at 6.) In South Carolina, an assault is conduct that places another "in reasonable fear of bodily harm, " and a battery is "the actual infliction of any unlawful, unauthorized violence on the person of another." Mellen v. Lane, 659 S.E.2d 236, 244 (S.C. Ct. App. 2008). Mr. Bass alleges he was struck in the head, knocking him unconscious by Mr. Price. (Dkt. No. 1-1 ¶ 23.) Witnesses to the incident have averred likewise. (Dkt. Nos. 31-2 & 31-3.) Mr. Bass has testified that he was "attacked." (Dkt. No. 23-2 at 3.) There is no genuine dispute that Mr. Bass's alleges his injuries arise from an assault and battery that occurred on December 6, 2012.

         Mr. Bass indeed does not contest that Mr. Price battered Mr. Bass, but he sue Henry's for negligence, not the intentional torts of assault and battery. (Dkt. No. 1-1.) That is a common pleading practice. Insurers who insure bars are reluctant to insure the bar against liability for barroom fights or for the actions of bouncers. In response, plaintiffs often attempt to plead into coverage by asserting negligence-attempts federal and state courts routinely reject. See, e.g., Mount Vernon Fire Ins. Co. v. Creative Hous. Ltd., 93 F.3d 63, 66 (2d Cir. 1996); Scottsdale Ins. Co. v. Moonshine Saloon, LLC, No. 2:16-CV-0797-DCN, 2017 WL 68794, at *4 (D.S.C. Jan. 6, 2017); Mt. Vernon Fire Ins. Co. v. Dobbs, 873 F.Supp.2d 762, 767 (N.D. W.Va. 2012); Versatility, Inc. v. Capitol Indem. Corp., No. 2;10-942-JCM-PAL, 2011 WL 3444187, at *3 (D. Nev. Aug. 5, 2011); Downtown Norfolk Entm 't, Inc. v. Penn-Am. Ins. Co., 660 F.Supp.2d 669, 675 (E.D. Va. 2008); St. Paul Reinsurance Co. v. Ollie 's Seafood Grille & Bar, LLC, 242 F.R.D. 348, 351 (D.S.C. 2007), off d sub nom. St. Paul Reinsurance Co. v. Riviello, 296 F.App'x 377 (4th Cir. 2008); Kamaki Skiathos, Inc. v. Essex Ins. Co., 396 F.Supp.2d 624, 629 (D. Md. 2005); Capitol Indem. Corp. v. Blazer, 51 F.Supp.2d 1080, 1088 (D. Nev. 1999); Hermitage Ins. Co. v. Dahms, 842 F.Supp. 319, 326 (N.D. 111. 1994); Eady v. Capitol Indem. Corp., 502 S.E.2d 514, 516 (Ga.Ct.App. 1998); Essex Ins. Co. v. Fieldhouse, Inc., 506 N.W.2d 772, 776 (Iowa 1993); Capitol Indem. Corp. v. Callis, 963 S.W.2d 247, 250 (Mo.Ct.App. 1997); Berg v. Schultz, 526 N.W.2d 781, 783 (Wis. Ct. App. 1994).

         Those cases express two principles that apply fully to the present case. First, "[a]lthough the injuries may have been caused by the negligent acts of the defendant, that does not necessarily mean that they did not arise out of an assault and/or battery." Callis, 963 S.W.2d at 250. Second, plaintiffs "cannot mischaracterize intentional acts as negligence claims in order to avoid the exclusions contained within the insurance policy." Dobbs, 873 F.Supp.2d at 766. In this case, even if Henry's was negligent, and even if that negligence proximately caused Mr. Bass's injuries, Mr. Bass's injury nonetheless arises out of an alleged battery. Mr. Bass cannot avoid a policy sublimit by mischaracterizing Mr. Price's admittedly intentional act as negligence. Simply put, if a sublimit ...


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