United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
IRENE S. BRYANT, et al., Plaintiffs,
STATE FARM FIRE AND CASUALTY COMPANY, Defendant.
Glen E. Conrad Chief United States District Judge
insurance coverage dispute, Irene S. Bryant
("Bryant") seeks a declaratory judgment that a
homeowner's insurance policy issued by State Farm Fire
and Casualty Company ("State Farm") covers both
Norman E. Barker and Norman P. Barker for any liability
arising from a personal injury action that Bryant filed
against the Barkers in Virginia state court. The case is
presently before the court on cross-motions for summary
judgment filed by Bryant and State Farm. For the reasons set
forth below, Bryant's motion will be denied and State
Farm's motion will be granted.
E. Barker ("Norman Barker" or "Norman")
lives with his wife at 750 Estates Road, Roanoke, Virginia.
Dec. of Norman E. Barker, Docket No. 25-1. He has lived at
that location for the last twenty years. Id. No one
has resided with him and his wife for the past seven years.
Id. Previously, Norman Barker and his wife lived at
3317 Ventnor Road, Roanoke, Virginia. However, since their
move twenty years ago, they have not owned any personal
property which is kept inside the house located at 3317
Ventnor Road. They do keep an RV at 3317 Ventnor Road, which
is parked outside the fence that surrounds the house. Dep. of
Norman E. Barker 11, Docket No. 11-2. The distance between
the 3317 Ventnor Road house and the 750 Estates Road house is
approximately 1.3 miles. Dec. of Norman E. Barker, Docket No.
P. Barker ("Preston Barker" or "Preston")
is Norman Barker's son. Preston lives at 3317 Ventnor
Road with his son, Norman's grandson. The property is
still owned by Norman, but Norman does not collect rent from
Preston. Preston has lived at 3317 Ventnor Road for his
entire life. Dep. of Norman E. Barker 20, Docket No. 11-2.
Preston Barker pays the utilities and performs any repairs to
the 3317 Ventnor Road house. Dep. of Norman E. Barker 20-21.
Norman rarely visits Preston at 3317 Ventnor Road. Dec. of
Norman E. Barker, Docket No. 25-1. However, Norman goes to
the 3317 Ventnor Road property approximately once a month to
work on the RV. Dep. of Norman E. Barker 12, Docket No. 11-2.
Preston's son also visits Norman at 750 Estates Road
approximately once a month. Id. at 9.
alleges that, on the evening of September 9, 2014, she was
walking in her neighborhood and approached the house at 3317
Ventnor Road, where Preston Barker's son was struggling
to control a pit bull. See State Court Compl. ¶ 1-2,
Docket 1-3. The pit bull ran to Bryant, jumped on her, and
caused significant injuries. Id. On September 16,
2015, Bryant initiated a state-court tort suit against Norman
and Preston Barker arising out of that incident.
declarations of Norman and Preston Barker suggest that Norman
has never acted as a custodian of the pit bull, Hercules, nor
has he ever provided any care for Hercules. Preston Barker
further declared that Norman has never been in the house at
3317 Ventnor Road when Hercules was in the house. Dec. of
Norman P. Barker, Docket No. 25-3. At the time of the
accident, neither Norman nor Preston Barker considered
Preston to be a resident of Norman's household. Id; Dec.
of Norman E. Barker, Docket No. 25-1.
times relevant, Norman Barker maintained a homeowner's
insurance policy with State Farm (the "Policy").
The Policy defines "insured" as "you, "
meaning the named insured, "and, if residents of your
household, your relatives and any other person under the age
of 21 who is in the care of a person described above."
"Insured" also means, "with respect to animals
. . . the person or organization legally responsible for
them. However, the animal. . . must be owned by you or a
person included [in the definition of
'insured'.]" State Farm Homeowner's Policy
1, Docket No. 25-4. Norman Barker and his wife are the
"named insureds" on the Policy. See id
addition to the tort suit, Bryant filed the instant
declaratory action against Norman Barker, Preston Barker, and
State Farm in state court. The declaratory action seeks a
determination that Norman Barker is the legal owner of the
pit bull by operation of Roanoke City Ordinance § 6-22,
that the Policy covers both Norman Barker and Preston Barker,
and that, pursuant to the Policy, State Farm must indemnify
Preston Barker for any judgment against him in the underlying
state-court tort suit. State Farm removed to this court, and
on December 21, 2016, the court granted the parties'
joint motion to realign. See Docket No. 19. Accordingly, the
court possesses jurisdiction to hear the matter pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1332. The parties have filed cross motions
for summary judgment, and the court understands that the only
issues in dispute are whether the Policy gives rise to a duty
to indemnify Preston Barker and whether Norman Barker is an
owner of the pit bull. These issues have been fully heard and
are ripe for review.
judgment is appropriate when "the pleadings, the
discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any
affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any
material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as
a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). For a party's
evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact, it must
be "such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict
for the non-moving party." Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). When deciding
whether to grant a motion for summary judgment, the court
must view the record in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in his
favor. Id. at 255; see also Terry's Floor
Fashions, Inc. v. Burlington Indus., Inc., 763 F.2d 604,
610 (4th Cir. 1985).
a declaratory judgment action, an insurance carrier may
appropriately move for summary judgment to determine whether
it is obligated to provide coverage to an insured, where . .
. there are no material ambiguities in the policy."
St. Paul Reinsurance Co. Ltd. v. Ollie's Seafood
Grille and Bar, LLC, 242 F.R.D. 348, 352 (D.S.C. 2007)
(citing Highlands Ins. Co. v. Gerber Prods. Co., 702
F.Supp. 109, 110 (D. Md. 1988)). In fact, "[s]ummary
judgment is particularly well-suited for the resolution of
insurance coverage disputes because the construction of
insurance contracts is a legal question." Nationwide
Mut. Ins. Co. v. Overlook, LLC, 785 F.Supp.2d 502, 512
(E.D. Va. 2011); see also Transcontinental Ins. Co. v.
RBMW, Inc., 551 S.E.2d 313, 317 (Va. 2001)
("[Interpretation of the provisions of an insurance
contract presents a question of law . . . .").