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Nationwide Affinity Insurance Co. v. Rutledge

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

January 10, 2017




         Plaintiff Nationwide Affinity Insurance Company (“Nationwide”) seeks a declaratory judgment that it has no duty to defend or indemnify Defendant Rebekah Rutledge (“Rutledge”) in a state court personal injury lawsuit maintained by Defendant Joseph P. Ludwinski (“Ludwinski”). Nationwide submitted a motion for default judgment against Rutledge and a motion for summary judgment against both Defendants. Based upon a review of the record before the court, I will grant both motions in Nationwide's favor.

         I. Background

         The facts in this matter are undisputed. Ludwinski, Rutledge, and Ethan Muffett (“Muffett”) were students at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri (“Westminster”). On September 20, 2013, Ludwinski, Rutledge, and Muffett attended a party at Sigma Chi-Delta Tau Fraternity on the Westminster campus. At the party, Muffett allegedly seriously assaulted and battered Ludwinski, causing extensive injuries. Ludwinski brought the underlying personal injury lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Callaway County, Missouri, Joseph P. Ludwinski v. Ethan Muffett, et al., Case No. 15CW-CV00699 (the “underlying suit”) against several parties, including Muffett and Rutledge. Ludwinski asserts that Rutledge caused the assault by falsely telling Muffett that Ludwinski had behaved inappropriately towards her and her friends. Ludwinski's Petition for Damages in the underlying suit specifically alleges that Rutledge “instigated, encouraged and caused the assault, ” was “negligent and/or willful, wanton and showed a reckless indifference to or conscious disregard” for Ludwinski's rights, “knew or should have known” that Muffett was likely to cause serious damage and injury, and directly and proximately caused Ludwinski's damages. Ludwinski's alleged damages include serious and permanent injuries, medical expenses and treatment, lost wages, and his withdrawal from Westminster.

         Rutledge is insured under three Nationwide insurance policies issued to her parents, John and Susan Rutledge (collectively, the “Insurance Policies”). Nationwide has defended Rutledge in the underlying suit, subject to a reservation of its rights to discontinue its defense. Nationwide brought this action seeking a declaratory judgment that the Insurance Policies do not establish any duty to defend or indemnify Rutledge in the underlying suit. Nationwide also moved for summary judgment as a matter of law. Nationwide asserts that there is no reasonable likelihood of a covered judgment being taken against Rutledge under any of the Insurance Policies, given the initial allegations in the underlying suit and the plain and unambiguous language of the Insurance Policies. Ludwinski submitted opposition to Nationwide, requesting that this court abstain from and decline to exercise jurisdiction and decline to enter judgment. Ludwinski argues that the Insurance Policies obligate Nationwide to defend and indemnify Rutledge. To date, Rutledge has not entered an appearance, submitted responsive pleadings, or otherwise provided any defense in this action. The Clerk of Court entered an order of default against Rutledge in this action on May 27, 2016.

         The state circuit court dismissed Rutledge from the underlying suit, without prejudice. However, this matter remains ripe for judgment since Ludwinski reported that he still intends to pursue his claims against Rutledge by appeal or amended pleadings. Ludwinski also continues to pursue related damages claims against other parties in the underlying suit. Muffett pleaded guilty to felony charges in a state court criminal action related to the incident.

         The Insurance Policies provide for coverage as follows:

         1. Homeowner's Policy. Homeowner's liability policy number HOA 0040504853 (the “Homeowner's Policy”) insures a property located at 1499 Heritage Valley Dr., High Ridge, Missouri and provides general personal property and personal liability coverage. The Homeowner's Policy's effective policy period was from January 9, 2013 to January 9, 2014. The Homeowner's Policy includes the following terms and conditions:


         * * *

         2. “Bodily injury” means bodily harm, sickness or disease, including required care, loss of services and death that results.

         * * *

         8. Under Section II “Occurrence” means an accident, including continuous or repeated exposure to substantially the same general harmful conditions, which results, during the policy period, in:

a. “Bodily injury” or
b. “Property damage”.

[Doc. # 18-3 at 15-16].


         A. COVERAGE E - Personal Liability

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

1. Pay up to our limit of liability for the damages for which an “insured” is legally liable. Damages include prejudgment interest awarded against an “insured”; and
2. Provide a defense at our expense by counsel of our choice, even if the suit is groundless, false or fraudulent.
* * *

         B. COVERAGE F - Medical ...

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