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Liberty Insurance Corp. v. "TLB"

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

January 14, 2020

LIBERTY INSURANCE CORPORATION, Plaintiff,
v.
"TLB," a minor, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          David J. Novak United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Liberty Insurance Corporation ("Liberty") brings this action seeking a declaration that it does not have an obligation to indemnify Defendant James A. Hayden ("Hayden") or to make payments to Defendant TLB ("TLB") arising from a default judgment obtained by TLB against Hayden in an earlier personal injury action. This matter comes before the Court on Liberty's Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing that the policy at issue did not cover Hayden, because he did not constitute a member of the insured's household at the time of the occurrence. Defendants have failed to put forth admissible evidence that raises a genuine issue of material fact that would prevent a reasonable factfinder from returning a verdict in Liberty's favor. Consequently, for the reasons set forth below, the Court hereby GRANTS Liberty's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 39).

         I. Factual Background [1]

         This action arises out of a dog bite that occurred at a property subject to a homeowner's insurance policy (the "Policy" (ECF No. 40-1)) issued by Liberty.

         A. The Policy.

         Liberty issued the Policy to Sharon Wheeler ("Wheeler"), identifying Wheeler as the "insured" and "951 Swan Lane, Ruther Glen VA 22546-1206" (the "Swan Lane House") as the "Insured Location." (Policy at 4.[2]) With respect to personal liability, the Policy provided:

If a claim is made or a suit is brought against an "insured" for damages because of "bodily injury" or "property damage" cause by an "occurrence" to which the coverage applies, we will... pay up to our limit of liability for the damages for which the "insured" is legally liable

(Policy at 19.) The policy provided for a coverage limit of $500, 000. (Policy at 4.) Further, the Policy covered certain medical expenses incurred by others:

We will pay the necessary medical expenses that are incurred or medically ascertained within three years of the date of an accident causing "bodily injury." ... [T]his coverage applies only: 1. To a person on the "insured location" with the permission of an "insured"

(Policy at 19.)

         The Policy defines "insured" as "you and residents of your household who are... [y]our relatives; or [o]ther persons under the age of 21 and in the care of any named person above." (Policy at 9.) "You" and "your," in turn, refer to the "'named insured' shown in the Declarations and the spouse if a resident of the same household." (Policy at 9.)

         B. Wheeler's Purchase and Use of the Swan Lane House.

         Wheeler and her current husband, Daniel Lee Wheeler, had lived together at 5907 Vista Court in Fredericksburg, Virginia (the "Vista Court House") for the duration of their 17-year marriage. (Dep. Tr. of Sharon Wheeler, May 25, 2017 ("Wheeler Dep.") (ECF No. 40-2) at 5:14-6:2.) At some point in 2013, Wheeler and her husband began experiencing marital difficulties. (Wheeler Dep. 8:4-11:17.) Wheeler occasionally stayed overnight with friends, taking only her clothes with her. (Wheeler Dep. 8:4-11:17.) Because of these marital problems, Wheeler purchased the Swan Lane House, closing the sale on October 18, 2013. (Wheeler Dep. 8:4-11:17.) By the time of the closing, Wheeler and her husband had begun discussions regarding reconciliation and the possibility of continuing to live together. (Wheeler Dep. 17:19-18:8.) Neither Wheeler nor her husband had filed for legal separation, nor had she contacted a lawyer. (Wheeler Dep. 38:19-23.)

         Following the closing on the Swan Lane House, Wheeler stayed there every night for a week, from October 19, 2013 to October 26, 2013. (Wheeler Dep. 18:19-19:12.) Wheeler had not yet determined whether she would reside at the Swan Lane House permanently or return to the Vista Court House to live with her husband. (Wheeler Dep. 22:25-23:8.) Wheeler brought some of her clothes with her to the Swan Lane House and purchased some dishes, utensils, sheets and towels, which she left at the Swan Lane House after the week. (Wheeler Dep. 20:7-12.) She also purchased a sofa that remained there. (Wheeler Dep. 29:11 -23.)

         After a week of staying at the Swan Lane House, Wheeler reconciled with her husband and returned to the Vista Court House. (Wheeler Dep. 19:9-12, 27:11-19.) She left the kitchen items and furniture at the Swan Lane House, but she did not leave any personal belongings there. (Wheeler Dep. 29:4-23, 39:5-12, 46:14-47:5, 60:8-21.) After that week, she did ...


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