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Catenacci v. Gonzalez

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION


October 19, 2007

JEFFREY P. CATENACCI, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
CHRISTOPHER D. GONZALEZ, DEFENDANT/THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
WALTER ANDEROCCI, ELAINE ANDEROCCI, ALLSTATE NEW JERSEY INSURANCE COMPANY, THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.
JEFFREY P. CANTENACCI, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
CHRISTOPHER D. GONZALEZ, DEFENDANT/THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
WALTER ANDEROCCI, ELAINE ANDEROCCI, ALLSTATE NEW JERSEY INSURANCE COMPANY, THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hunterdon County, Docket No. L-510-03.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued October 1, 2007

Before Judges S.L. Reisner, Gilroy and Baxter.

Plaintiff Jeffrey Catenacci and defendant/third-party plaintiff Christopher D. Gonzalez both appeal from a grant of summary judgment to third-party defendant Allstate New Jersey Insurance Company, in which the court determined that Allstate had no duty to provide insurance coverage and indemnification to Gonzalez for injuries he caused to Catenacci. Although the appeals by Catenacci and Gonzalez are separate, both raise the same issues and we therefore consolidate them for purposes of disposition.

Catenacci and Gonzalez contend that the trial court erred when it granted summary judgment because there were genuine issues of material fact concerning whether the injury Gonzalez inflicted on Catenacci was an occurrence for which Allstate was required to provide coverage. Both parties argue that the trial court improperly considered police reports and Gonzalez's guilty plea, documents which they contend were not evidential. They further argue that the judge improperly ignored critical facts in the record, thereby "rendering [his] own independent findings of fact, [even though those findings] conflict[ed] with material facts of record."

The undisputed facts establish that both men were guests at a party during which Gonzalez slapped the teenage hostess of the party after she told him to leave. When Catenacci came to her defense, Gonzalez punched him in the face, and broke his nose and two teeth. The homeowner's policy issued by Allstate to Gonzalez's parents contains the following exclusion:

We do not cover any bodily injury or property damage intended by, or which may reasonably be expected to result from the intentional acts or omissions of, the insured person.

In a cogent and well-reasoned opinion, Judge Buchsbaum concluded that there were no genuine issues of material fact and that despite Gonzalez's "self-serving" statement that he intended no harm to Catenacci when he punched him, a "hard punch aimed at one's opponent is an intentional rather than a negligent act and . . . the injury resulting from such a punch is not an accident."

Relying on State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Connolly, 371 N.J. Super. 119, 129 (App. Div. 2004), Judge Buchsbaum held that as a matter of law, Gonzalez's act of punching Catenacci was intended to cause the injury actually inflicted. He determined that such conduct could have had no other purpose, thereby entitling Allstate to summary judgment. Judge Buchsbaum also observed that no self-defense exception to the intentional acts exclusion existed in the policy issued by Allstate. He relied on Harleysville Ins. Cos. v. Garitta, 170 N.J. 223, 240 (2001) when he held that any claim Gonzalez was acting in self-defense when he punched Catenacci was irrelevant as a matter of law.

We have carefully considered the arguments raised by both Catenacci and Gonzalez. We conclude that those arguments lack sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion, and affirm substantially for the reasons expressed by Judge Buchsbaum in his written opinion of March 10, 2006. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(A) and (E).

We add only the following comments. Both Catenacci and Gonzalez point to portions of the record they contend Judge Buchsbaum ignored when he granted summary judgment. They maintain that a myriad of factual disputes were present and that Judge Buchsbaum improperly ignored these disputes and resolved factual disputes that should have been presented to a jury for its determination. We disagree. As the Court observed in Brill v. Guardian Life Insurance Co. of America: By its plain language, Rule 4:46-2 dictates that a court should deny a summary judgment motion only where the party opposing the motion has come forward with evidence that creates a "genuine issue as to any material fact challenged." That means a non-moving party cannot defeat a motion for summary judgment merely by pointing to any fact in dispute. [142 N.J. 520, 529 (1995).]

As the Court pointedly observed, facts which are "immaterial" or "of an insubstantial nature" are not sufficient to defeat a motion. Ibid.

Our review of the claims advanced by Gonzalez and Catenacci, in light of the record on appeal, demonstrates that none of the factual disputes they point to are material. The factual disputes of whether Gonzalez punched Catenacci while the two were still standing or while Catenacci lay on the ground; whether the injury was inflicted while the two were in the kitchen or outside on the lawn; or whether Gonzalez, at his deposition, disclaimed any intent to injure Catenacci, are all immaterial to the central issue of whether the injury to Catenacci "may reasonably [have] be[en] expected to result from the intentional acts" of Gonzalez. There was no dispute that Gonzalez used his dominant hand to punch Catenacci "hard" and "with a closed fist."

We agree with Judge Buchsbaum's conclusion that as a matter of law, a person who deliberately strikes another with a closed fist must reasonably expect that an injury will result from his conduct. Under these circumstances, none of the facts pointed to by Gonzalez and Catenacci raise a genuine issue of material fact as to that question.

Affirmed.

20071019

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