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State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. v. Estate of Mehlman

December 16, 2009

STATE FARM FIRE & CASUALTY CO., APPELLANT IN NO. 08-2220
v.
THE ESTATE OF THOMAS W. MEHLMAN; WILLIAM F. MEHLMAN, EXECUTOR OF THE ESTATE OF THOMAS MEHLMAN; MARIA IACONO STATE FARM FIRE & CASUALTY CO.
v.
ESTATE OF THOMAS W. MEHLMAN; WILLIAM F. MEHLMAN, EXECUTOR OF THE ESTATE OF THOMAS MEHLMAN; MARIA IACONO MARIA IACONO APPELLANT IN NO. 08-2261
STATE FARM FIRE & CASUALTY CO.
v.
ESTATE OF THOMAS W. MEHLMAN; WILLIAM F. MEHLMAN, EXECUTOR OF THE ESTATE OF THOMAS MEHLMAN; MARIA IACONO THE ESTATE OF THOMAS W. MEHLMAN AND WILLIAM F. MEHLMAN, APPELLANTS IN NO. 08-2262



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civ. No. 06-2960) Honorable Thomas M. Golden, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Greenberg, Circuit Judge

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued November 3, 2009

BEFORE: SCIRICA, Chief Judge, and JORDAN and GREENBERG, Circuit Judges.

OPINION OF THE COURT

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes on before this Court on an appeal and cross-appeals from a final order of the District Court dated March 27, 2008, and entered March 28, 2008, in a declaratory judgment action initiated by the State Farm Fire & Casualty Company.*fn1 See State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Estate of Mehlman, 2008 WL 863969 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 28, 2008) ("State Farm"). Both the District Court and this Court have been asked to decide whether two insurance policies, the "Homeowners Policy" and the "Umbrella Policy," that Dr. Thomas W. Mehlman purchased from State Farm required it to defend or indemnify Mehlman's estate and its executor, William F. Mehlman (collectively, "the Mehlman Estate"), in an action that Maria Iacono brought against them (the "Underlying Action").

In the order from which the parties have appealed and cross-appealed, the District Court granted in part and denied in part their respective cross-motions for summary judgment, as it concluded that State Farm did not have a duty to defend or indemnify the Mehlman Estate under the Homeowners Policy, but that it did have the duty to defend but not necessarily indemnify the Mehlman Estate under the Umbrella Policy. State Farm appeals from the portion of the District Court's order holding that it has a duty to defend the Mehlman Estate under the Umbrella Policy, and Iacono and the Mehlman Estate cross-appeal from the portion of the order holding that State Farm does not have a duty to defend or indemnify the Mehlman Estate under the Homeowners Policy. Id. at *8.

The dispositive question in this Court is whether Mehlman's alleged drunkenness on the afternoon of March 5, 2005, may have rendered "accidental" under Pennsylvania law, which the parties agree is applicable, his attempts to shoot and possibly kill Iacono, for unless they did so, State Farm did not have a duty to defend or indemnify the Mehlman Estate under either policy.*fn2 Because we answer this question in the negative, we hold that State Farm does not owe a duty under either policy to defend or indemnify the Mehlman Estate in the Underlying Action. Accordingly, we will affirm in part and will reverse in part the order of the District Court and will remand the case to the District Court for entry of judgment in State Farm's favor.

II. BACKGROUND

A. The Events of March 5, 2005

The events giving rise to this dispute are tragic and bizarre.*fn3 On the afternoon of March 5, 2005, Mehlman entered Ristorante La Locanda in Edgemont, Pennsylvania, and began drinking at the restaurant's bar. After consuming a number of alcoholic drinks within a short time, Mehlman became visibly intoxicated and cognitively impaired. He then left the restaurant, and, at approximately 4:30 p.m., walked one and one-half miles to the residence owned by his girlfriend or former girlfriend Phyllis Sauter. Iacono was present at Sauter's residence because she resided in a suite that she rented on its second floor. When Mehlman went to Sauter's residence he brought a backpack containing a .45 caliber handgun. Upon arriving at Sauter's residence, Mehlman let himself in, and upon encountering Iacono, asked to see Sauter. Iacono explained that Sauter was in Colorado, but Mehlman became increasingly agitated and aggressive, threatening Iacono with loud, abusive language, and demanding to see Sauter. After Mehlman refused Iacono's requests to leave, Iacono left the house and walked toward her car.

As Iacono entered her car and prepared to leave, Mehlman, now armed with the handgun, approached Iacono's vehicle in a rage, raised his gun, aimed the weapon at Iacono's head, and pulled the trigger, but the gun did not discharge. Iacono attempted to flee, but was unsuccessful as she stalled her car and then crashed it into a tree as she tried to drive away. Mehlman then jumped up on the front of Iacono's car, laid his body flat on the hood, aimed his gun at Iacono's head through the front windshield, and pulled the trigger. The gun, however, again misfired. Mehlman, undeterred, then approached the passenger side of Iacono's car, attempted to break the passenger-side window with his elbow, and for a third time tried to shoot Iacono but the gun again misfired. When Iacono finally escaped and drove away, Mehlman chased after her and fired at least one shot in the direction of her vehicle but fortunately his shot or shots missed.

Mehlman then returned to Sauter's residence and went inside. Shortly thereafter, police arrived and attempted to negotiate Mehlman's surrender. At approximately 11:30 p.m., a SWAT team entered the residence and found Mehlman dead. A police report indicated that he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head, and placed the time of death at approximately 5:00 p.m. According to a toxicology report, Mehlman's blood-alcohol level at the time the police found his body was 0.21 percent. Mehlman did not ingest any alcohol between the time he left Ristorante La Locanda and the time of his death.*fn4

B. The Insurance Policies

Mehlman's Homeowners Policy provides $500,000 in liability coverage "[i]f a claim is made or a suit is brought against an insured for damages because of bodily injury . . . caused by an occurrence."*fn5 App. at 22. The policy defines "bodily injury" as "physical injury, sickness, or disease to a person," but states that "bodily injury does not include . . . emotional distress, mental anguish, humiliation, mental distress, mental injury, or any similar injury unless it arises out of actual physical injury to some person." Id. at 8. The policy defines an "occurrence" as "an accident, including exposure to conditions, which results in" bodily injury. Id. at 9. The Homeowners Policy further limits coverage because it contains an exclusion that states ...


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