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Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company v. Raiford

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

February 6, 2017

AMY JO RAIFORD, Administrator of the Estate of Nancy Sue Walton, and JOSEPH EARL WALTON, Jr. Defendants.


          Robert E. Payne Senior United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court following a bench trial on a stipulated record held on the Complaint for Declaratory Judgment (''Complaint") filed by Plaintiff Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company ("Nationwide") (ECF No. 1) . For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant declaratory judgment for Nationwide, and order that it has no duty to defend or to indemnify Joseph Walton in the lawsuit that underlies this case.


         Nationwide's Complaint seeks a judicial determination, under 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 1332, that it owes no duty to defend or indemnify Joseph Earl Walton ("Walton") in an action filed in state court against Walton by Amy Jo Raiford, Administrator of the Estate of Nancy Sue Walton (the "underlying action").[1] For purposes of this declaratory judgment action, the parties have stipulated to the facts respecting Nationwide's insurance policy and the allegations in the complaint in the underlying action (ECF 13) ("Stipulated Facts"). Based on the stipulated facts, NATIONWIDE'S OPENING PRETRIAL BRIEF (ECF No. 14) ("Pi. Br."), the OPPOSITION BRIEF OF DEFENDANT JOSEPH EARL WALTON JR. (ECF No. 18)("Def. Resp."), and NATIONWIDE'S REPLY BRIEF (ECF No. 19) ("PI. Reply") were filed, and a bench trial (ECF No. 22) was held on January 31, 2017.


         Walton and Nancy Sue Walton, his wife, were the named insureds in the homeowners insurance policy issued by Nationwide for the period of May 15, 2014 to May 15, 2015. (Stipulated Facts 1) . At all times leading up to January 19, 2015, the Waltons were husband and wife and shared the insured home. Id. On January 19, 2015, Mrs. Walton died. Id.

         Amy Jo Raiford, daughter of Mrs. Walton, subsequently became administrator of Mrs. Walton's estate and brought a tort suit against Walton on behalf of the estate. Id. at 1-2. After receiving notice of the suit, Nationwide began defending Walton under a full and complete reservation of rights and filed this declaratory judgment action seeking a declaration that it had no duty to defend, and therefore no duty to indemnify, Walton in the underlying action. Id. at 2.

         In Virginia, it is well-settled that an "insurer's duty to defend ... is broader than [the] obligation to pay, and arises whenever the complaint alleges facts and circumstances, some of which would, if proved, fall within the risk covered by the policy." Copp v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 279 Va. 675, 682 (2010) . Consequently, the parties agreed at trial that there is no duty to indemnify if the Court determines that there is no duty to defend. They also agreed that, if the Court decides that there exists a duty to defend, a decision on the duty to indemnify must be deferred until after the underlying action is determined. The analysis in this case therefore rests on the content of the insurance policy and the facts and circumstances alleged in the complaint in the underlying action. .Id. Both documents are part of the stipulated record. (Stipulated Facts, Exhibit A-B).

         A. The Complaint In the Underlying Action (ECF No. 13-2)

         In relevant part, the underlying complaint ("UC") alleges that Mrs. Walton's death was caused by the intentional and negligent conduct of Walton. (UC ¶¶ 26-27). Specifically, it alleges that Walton intentionally and severely abused Mrs. Walton in the days leading up to and including January 3, 2015, thereby causing an "exacerbation of a treatable medical condition from which she died." (UC ¶ 27). The UC further alleges that, on January 8, 2015, the date on which the decedent "became physically sick and incapacitated, " Walton was instructed by Raiford to take Mrs. Walton to Patient First, but that Walton "negligently allowed the decedent to remain unattended." (UC ¶ 9).

         Later that same day, after being told of Walton's refusal to seek medical treatment, Raiford allegedly went to the Walton's home and found her mother in a serious state. (UC ¶ 11). Mrs. Walton was flown to VCU Medical Center, where she was diagnosed as having suffered a stroke and where a forensic nurse allegedly "took photographs of all the bruises caused by [Mr. Walton's] beatings." (UC ¶ 12-13). After being returned to hospice care at home, Mrs. Walton passed away on January 19, 2015. (UC ¶ 14). The underlying action seeks damages for the wrongful death, pain, and mental anguish suffered by Mrs. Walton. (UC ¶¶ 25-27). It also alleges that the decedent's daughter, Raiford, has suffered "severe mental anguish, sorrow, loss of solace, companionship and comfort of the decedent as well as loss of her company and love and has otherwise suffered decedent's medical expenses and funeral expenses which Defendant has refused to pay." (UC ¶ 24) .

         B. The Insurance Policy (ECF No. 13-1)

         The insurance policy is also a part of the stipulated record, and Nationwide argues that it has no duty to defend primarily on the strength of three of its provisions: Paragraphs 1(a) and l(i) on pages HI of the policy, and Paragraph 2(f) on page H2. (PI. Br. 9-18). The relevant provisions state:

         1. Coverage E - Personal liability and Coverage F - Medical Payments to others do not apply to ...

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