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Lopez v. State Farm Insurance Co.

August 4, 2008

ANGEL M. LOPEZ, JR. AND ZENAIDA LOPEZ, ADMINISTRATORS AD PROSEQUENDUM AND GENERAL ADMINISTRATORS OF THE ESTATE OF ANGEL M. LOPEZ, III, DECEASED, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
STATE FARM INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT, AND STATE FARM FIRE AND CASUALTY COMPANY, DEFENDANT/THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF,
v.
ALEX S. LEVINE, TOWNSHIP OF PISCATAWAY POLICE DEPARTMENT, TOWNSHIP OF PISCATAWAY, RIVER ROAD RESCUE SQUAD, INC., ULMER DASH, ANDREW MARUCCI, ROBERT WOOD JOHNSON UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL, ROBERT WOOD JOHNSON EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICE, JEFFREY W. (LAST NAME UNKNOWN), LEE TAYLOR VAUGHN, THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANTS.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Docket No. L-7648-06.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued July 21, 2008

Before Judges Graves and Yannotti.

Plaintiffs Angel M. Lopez, Jr. and Zenaida Lopez, Administrators Ad Prosequendum and General Administrators of the Estate of Angel M. Lopez, III, appeal from an order entered on August 31, 2007, which granted summary judgment in favor of defendant State Farm Fire and Casualty Company*fn1 and dismissed plaintiffs' complaint with prejudice. We affirm.

On October 6, 2002, Alex S. Levine (Levine) and Angel Lopez, III (Lopez) were engaged in a physical altercation. Levine claimed that he was being assaulted by Lopez, Clayton VanNess and Philip Geiger, although VanNess and Geiger disputed that assertion and stated that there was only one altercation between Lopez and Levine. It is, however, undisputed that Levine reached for a knife and stabbed Lopez three times, in the neck, chest and upper back, causing his death.

Plaintiffs filed an action on behalf of Lopez's estate against Levine and other defendants. Plaintiffs alleged that Levine willfully, maliciously and/or intentionally assaulted Lopez without justification and provocation, and as a result, killed Lopez. Thereafter, Levine requested that State Farm provide coverage to him under his parents' homeowner's policy for the claims arising from the October 6, 2002 incident.

State Farm denied coverage on the ground that the claims asserted against Levine did not arise from an "occurrence," which is defined in the policy as "an accident" that results in bodily injury or property damage. State Farm also denied coverage because the policy excludes coverage for claims of bodily injury that are either "expected or intended by the insured," or are the result of the insured's "willful and malicious acts."

Levine assigned his claims under the policy to plaintiffs, who commenced this action against State Farm, seeking a declaratory judgment requiring State Farm to provide coverage to Levine for the damages arising from the incident of October 6, 2002.

On July 13, 2007, State Farm filed a motion for summary judgment. State Farm asserted that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on plaintiff's coverage claim. State Farm argued, among other things, that Lopez's injuries arose from intentional, willful and malicious acts by Levine and, therefore, the policy did not provide Levine coverage for the claims asserted by plaintiffs.

Plaintiffs opposed the motion, and argued that there were genuine issues of material fact relevant to the coverage issues. Plaintiffs asserted that the facts were "not sufficiently clear" to justify denying coverage to Levine. Plaintiffs additionally argued that Levine's acts did "not rise to a level where they [could] be considered so egregious as to overcome the obligation of an insurer to provide coverage to its insured for the unintended consequences of an intentional act[.]"

The trial court considered State Farm's motion on August 31, 2007. The judge placed his decision on the record on that date. The judge concluded that there were no genuine issues of material fact and, pursuant to Haryleysville Ins. Cos. v. Garitta, 170 N.J. 223 (2001), State Farm was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The judge entered an order dated August 31, 2007, memorializing his decision. This appeal followed.

Plaintiffs argue that the trial court erred by finding that State Farm did not have an obligation under the policy to provide coverage to Levine. Plaintiffs maintain that Levine's actions do not rise to the level of "willful and wanton" or "reprehensible" acts and therefore coverage is not excluded under the policy. Plaintiffs assert that State Farm should be required to provide coverage to Levine. We reject these contentions and affirm.

When reviewing an order granting summary judgment, we apply the same standard that is applied by the trial court. Liberty Surplus Ins. Corp. v. Nowell Amoroso, P.A., 189 N.J. 436, 445-46 (2007). Therefore, we must determine whether the evidential materials before the court "show that there is no genuine issue of material fact challenged and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment or order as a matter of law." R. 4:46-2(c); Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 540 (1995). ...


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