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Trustgard Insurance Co. v. Brown

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

December 4, 2017

Trustgard Insurance Company, Plaintiff,
v.
Michael Brown, individually and d/b/a, Triple S Transport, and Sharon Collins, Dorothy L. Jackson as Executor of the Estate of Alfred Jackson, Sr., John A. Godfrey, Mattie E. Render and Dorothy L. Jackson Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION

         This matter is before the court pursuant to Plaintiff Trustgard Insurance Company's (“Trustgard”) Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 31). Specifically, Trustgard seeks an order of the court declaring that a commercial motor vehicle policy issued by Trustgard to Defendant Michael Brown (“Brown”) does not provide coverage to Brown for an underlying motor vehicle accident where neither Brown nor the insured vehicle were involved in that accident, and where the MCS-90 endorsement[1] attached to that policy is not implicated. (ECF No. 31 at 1.) Defendant Sharon Collins (“Collins”) opposes Trustgard's Motion. (ECF No. 34.) For the reasons set forth below, the court GRANTS Trustgard's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 31).

         I. JURISDICTION

         The court has jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Trustgard is a corporation organized and existing under the laws of the state of Ohio, with its principal place of business in the state of Ohio. (ECF No. 1 at 1.) Brown is a citizen and resident of Allendale County, South Carolina and Collins is a citizen and resident of the state of Georgia. (Id.) The amount in controversy in this matter exceeds $75, 000.00. (Id. at 2.)

         II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On November 27, 2014, Collins was injured in a motor vehicle accident in Lexington County, South Carolina. (ECF No. 43 at 2.) Collins was a passenger in a passenger van being operated by Dorothy Jackson (“Jackson”). (Id. at 3.) Jackson's van rear ended a car trailer being towed by a 2014 Dodge Tow Truck owned and operated by Jerome McWilliams (“McWilliams”). (Id.)

         Collins has filed a lawsuit in the Allendale County, South Carolina, Court of Common Pleas: Sharon Collin v. Michael McWilliams, James Moore, Gerroll Lingard, and Michael Brown d/b/a Tripe S Transport, a South Carolina Transport Company; One Stop Trucking Company and Kerion Murray Individually, Case No. 2016-CP-03-00124 (“Underlying Lawsuit”). (ECF No. 1-1.) The complaint makes clear that McWilliams was operating his own 2014 Dodge, towing a car trailer, when the accident took place. (Id. at 3.)

         In addition to suing McWilliams as the owner and operator of the Dodge tow truck, Collins sued Murray and One Stop Trucking Company as the owner of the car trailer McWilliams was towing. (ECF No. 31-1 at 2.) Murray was also a passenger in McWilliams's truck. (Id.) Collins also sued James Moore and Gerroll Lingard who were passengers in McWilliams's Dodge truck at the time of the accident. (Id.) Finally, and pertinent to this action, Collins sued Brown. (Id.) Collins does not allege that Brown's vehicle was involved in the accident or that he was present. (Id.) Instead, Collins contends that the underlying wreck involved McWilliams who was driving his own truck, but displaying Brown's Interstate Commerce Commission (“ICC”) Motor Carrier[2]number at the time of the collision. (ECF No. 34 at 1.)

         On September 15, 2017, Trustgard filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, asserting that there is no genuine issue of material fact because Brown's insurance policy does not provide coverage pursuant to its terms, and the MCS-90 endorsement in the policy is not applicable because McWilliams's vehicle which was actually involved in the accident has $1, 000, 000.00 in liability coverage, thus obviating the MCS-90 suretyship. (ECF No. 31.)

         On October 10, 2017, Collins filed a response in opposition to Trustgard's Motion, asserting: (1) Trustgard's Motion incorrectly contends that Trustgard would be relieved of its responsibility to satisfy a judgment against Brown as long as the people harmed by Brown's negligence can recover from McWilliams; and (2) the summary judgment motion is premature because it improperly presumes there is no possibility of a judgment against Brown as a motor carrier for hire even though Brown is a defendant in the underlying litigation concerning the accident and may yet have a judgment entered against him. (ECF No. 34.) On October 24, 2017, Trustgard filed a reply to Collins' response, largely reasserting its position in its Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 39.)

         Insurance Policies

         Trustgard issued policy number XA 2102843-00 to Brown d/b/a Triple S Transport providing coverage for the period 09/17/2014 to 09/17/2015 (“Brown policy”). (ECF No. 31-1 at 2.) On the date of the accident, the Brown Policy provided liability coverage for only one motor vehicle, a 2004 Ford Car Carrier, and for one driver, Brown. (Id. at 3.) Neither that 2004 Ford nor Brown were in or present for the motor vehicle accident.[3] (Id.)

         McWilliams's Dodge tow truck involved in the accident was, coincidentally, insured by Trustgard through policy number XA 2113522-00, policy period 9/30/13 to 9/30/15 (“McWilliams policy”). (Id.) The McWilliams policy provides $1, 000, 000.00 in liability coverage per accident. (Id.) Trustgard admitted that if McWilliams is found liable to Collins for negligent operation of his Dodge truck, the McWilliams policy provides coverage for the resulting judgment. (Id.)

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate “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). “[I]n ruling on a motion for summary judgment, ‘the evidence of the nonmovant[s] is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [their] favor.'” Tolan v. Cotton, U.S., 134 S.Ct. 1861, 1863 (2014) (per curiam) (brackets omitted) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)). A dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a ...


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