United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Beaufort Division
ORDER AND OPINION
RICHARD MARK GERGEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Lighthouse Property
Insurance Corporation's motion for summary judgment.
(Dkt. No. 19.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court
grants the motion.
an insurance coverage declaratory action. On December 21,
2014, a dog owned by Defendant Victoria Rogers allegedly bit
Ms. Norwood's daughter while she was at Ms. Rogers's
home, inflicting facial injuries requiring emergency medical
treatment. Ms. Norwood has filed an action in the Beaufort
County Court of Common Pleas against Ms. Rogers, asserting
negligence and strict premises liability claims and seeking
indeterminate actual and punitive damages (the
"Underlying Litigation"). (Dkt. No. 1-1.)
Lighthouse Property Insurance Corporation issued a
homeowner's policy for Ms. Roger's home with a $300,
000 per occurrence liability limit. Lighthouse has defended
Ms. Rogers in the Underlying Litigation under a full
reservation of rights. Ms. Roger's policy has an
exclusion for '"Bodily injury' or 'property
damage' caused by any dog . . . owned or kept, including
temporary supervision, by you or any insured, resident,
tenant or guest whether or not the injury occurs on your
premises or any other location." (Dkt. No. 1-2 at 14.)
Lighthouse filed the present action seeking a declaration
that it has no obligation to defend or indemnify Ms. Rogers
in the Underlying Litigation. Ms. Norwood has not
participated in this coverage action.
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."
HealthSouth 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.
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)).
South Carolina law, insurance policies are subject to the
general rules of contract construction. Nationwide Mutual
Ins. Co. v. Commercial Bank, 479 S.E.2d 524 (S.C. 1996).
Where the policy terms are ambiguous, conflicting, or capable
of multiple reasonable interpretations, the interpretation
most favorable to the insured will be adopted. Diamond
State Ins. Co. v. Homestead Indus. Inc., 456 S.E.2d, 912
(S.C. 1995); State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v.
Barrett, 530 S.E.2d 132, 135 (S.C. Ct. App. 2000). The
insurance company "bears the burden of establishing the
exclusion's applicability." Owners Ins. Co. v.
Clayton, 614 S.E.2d 611, 614 (S.C. 2005).
it is undisputed that Ms. Rogers owned the dog that injured
Ms. Norwood's child. It is undisputed that Ms. Norwood
seeks to recover damages for bodily injury caused by the dog.
(Dkt. No. 20-1 ¶ 8.) It is undisputed that Ms.
Rogers's homeowners' policy had at the time of the
attack an exclusion from coverage for '"Bodily
injury' or 'property damage' caused by any dog .
.. owned or kept, including temporary supervision, by you or
any insured, resident, tenant or guest whether or not the
injury occurs on your premises or any other location."
(Dkt. No. 1-2 at 14.) The Court finds that the terms of the
exclusion are not ambiguous, conflicting, or capable of
multiple reasonable interpretations. Therefore, the only
reasonable conclusion is that Plaintiff has met its burden to
show that the exclusion applies to claims against Ms. Rogers
arising from the dog attack on Ms. Norwood's child.
Because those facts are not subject to genuine dispute,
summary judgment for Plaintiff is appropriate.
In favor of coverage, Defendant argues,
Lighthouse's reliance on the Exclusion in seeking summary
judgment is misguided because Defendant/Plaintiff J.N.'s
injuries were not caused solely by Ms. Roger[s]'s dog but
also by Ms. Roger[s]'s failure to maintain control over
the dog. The Exclusion does not exclude coverage for losses
caused by the negligence of Ms. Rogers. Instead, the
Exclusion applies only to losses "caused by any
argument is illogical. A dog has no liability in tort, so a
dog bite exclusion from liability coverage necessarily refers
to the conduct of the person responsible for the dog. Ms.
Rogers had a duty to control her dog and for that reason, she
is potentially liable for damages caused by her dog.
Defendant argues as if a policy exclusion for dog bites