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Sierfeld v. Sierfeld

April 23, 2010


On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, Docket No. L-5531-07.

Per curiam.


Argued January 20, 2010

Before Judges Fuentes, Gilroy and Simonelli.

Plaintiff Jamie Sierfeld sought damages against her parents, defendants Curtis N. Sierfeld and Michele Sierfeld (the Sierfelds) for injuries sustained as a result of a dog bite, which occurred in her parents' home. Plaintiff, who claimed to be temporarily living in her parents' home at the time of the incident, also sought a declaratory judgment against defendant Allstate Insurance Company (Allstate) compelling it to provide coverage and benefits under homeowners and umbrella insurance policies issued to the Sierfelds. Allstate denied coverage, claiming that plaintiff was a resident of the Sierfelds' household, and thus excluded from coverage as an "insured person."

The Sierfelds appeal from the January 20, 2009 Law Division order granting summary judgment to Allstate and dismissing plaintiff's declaratory judgment action. We affirm.

The following facts are adduced from a plenary hearing held on December 22, 2008. Plaintiff is the Sierfelds' adult daughter. She grew up in her parents' home located in Wood Ridge. From 1998 to 2002, plaintiff lived away at college in Scranton, Pennsylvania but used her parents' address as her permanent address. The Sierfelds' address appeared on plaintiff's driver's license until November 2008. Mr. Sierfeld owned and insured plaintiff's car, which was registered in his name at the Sierfelds' address. Plaintiff makes the car payments. She also pays for her own health insurance.

After graduating from college in 2002, plaintiff returned to her parents' home and lived there for approximately three months. In September 2002, she began living in a house in Rutherford. In September 2003, she began living in an apartment in Wallington.

In March 2005, plaintiff, then twenty-five years old, lost her job and moved back to her parents' home, bringing with her some of her furniture,*fn1 and her clothing and other personal items. Plaintiff claimed that she was starting her own business and intended to live with her parents no longer than six months. However, the time period was flexible and the Sierfelds would have permitted their daughter to stay longer. Plaintiff paid no rent and did not contribute financially to the household.

Plaintiff had access to the entire house without restriction. She had her own bedroom but shared a bathroom with her parents, where she kept her toiletries, and she shared the kitchen, using the refrigerator, kitchen cabinets and utensils. Plaintiff also did her laundry at the home and used her parents' cable account for her television without charge. She also occasionally cleaned the bathroom and kitchen, and cleaned the dining room more often.

Plaintiff purchased her own groceries because she is a vegetarian, unlike her parents. There was no prohibition on the three eating each other's food; however, plaintiff and her parents rarely shared food or ate dinner together, and they never ate lunch together because the parents were at work. The majority of the time, plaintiff ate with her boyfriend. Plaintiff did not socialize with her parents and they only occasionally watched television together.

Plaintiff held meetings at the home with individuals assisting her with her new business venture. She received business mail at a post office box in Wood Ridge but received her personal mail at her parents' address, including unemployment checks.

On July 22, 2005, approximately four months after plaintiff began living in her parents' home, the family dog bit her, causing a severe facial injury requiring several surgeries and psychological counseling. Plaintiff did not leave the home in six months as planned but continued living there until May 2006, allegedly to recuperate from her dog-bite injuries.

Plaintiff sought compensation for her injuries under the Sierfelds' homeowners and umbrella policies. The homeowners policy requires Allstate to "pay damages which an insured person becomes legally obligated to pay because of bodily injury... arising from an occurrence to which this policy applies, and is covered by this part of the policy." The policy excludes coverage for bodily injury to an "insured person," which is defined as the named ...

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