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Sisolak v. Briarwood Sportsman's Club

November 10, 2010

JOHN SISOLAK, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BRIARWOOD SPORTSMAN'S CLUB, BOB HOUSEDORF AND TIMBERJACK FORESTRY GROUP, DEFENDANTS, AND ROBERT G. HOUSEDORF, DEFENDANT/THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
NORTHLAND INSURANCE COMPANY, THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Middlesex County, Docket No. L-2702-06.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued October 4, 2010

Before Judges Lisa, Sabatino, and Alvarez.

Northland Insurance Company ("Northland") appeals the Law Division's award to Robert G. Housedorf ("Housedorf") of $47,546.24 in counsel fees and costs that were incurred in the defense of a now-settled personal injury action brought by John Sisolak against Housedorf and other defendants. Northland argues that Housedorf lacked standing to sue it for fees, that the counsel fee application was untimely, that its insurance policy did not cover the underlying incident, and that the award is otherwise improper and excessive. We affirm.

The pertinent chronology is as follows. On April 18, 2004, Sisolak was injured while he was performing chores on a sixty-five-acre farm in Asbury. The farm was owned by Housedorf and subject to the terms of a lease arrangement between Housedorf and Briarwood Sportsmen's Club ("Briarwood"). Pursuant to that arrangement, Housedorf permitted Briarwood's members, including Sisolak, to hunt game on the property, in exchange for chores performed on site periodically by Briarwood's members at Housedorf's direction.

The arrangement for Briarwood's use of the farm was memorialized in a one-page lease agreement in April 1994, which was signed by Housedorf and by Briarwood's president. Among other things, the agreement specified that "[Briarwood] will provide proof of liability insurance coverage in the amount of $300,000.00." In addition, Briarwood's members' permitted use of Housedorf's property was "expressly for the purpose of pursuing and taking of game, except as may be mutually agreed upon by both parties to this contract." The specified lease term was "[f]rom Apr[il] 1, 1994 to Apr[il] 1, 1995." Thereafter, the lease was not formally renewed in writing, but Briarwood's members continued to use the property on the same terms and conditions through the time of Sisolak's accident.

In accordance with the agreement, Briarwood maintained a commercial general liability ("CGL") policy issued by Northland. The CGL policy provided liability coverage for claims seeking the recovery of damages arising out of bodily injury during the applicable period of coverage. The policy in force at the time of Sisolak's accident was effective August 7, 2003 through August 7, 2004 and named Housedorf as an additional insured.

On the day of the accident, Sisolak and other members of Briarwood were working at Housedorf's farm, splitting and stacking firewood. According to his complaint, Sisolak injured his right hand and index finger while he was using a log-splitting machine provided by Housedorf.

In March 2006, Sisolak filed a complaint in the Law Division, seeking recovery of damages for the bodily injuries that he sustained in the log-splitting accident. The complaint named as defendants Briarwood, Housedorf,*fn1 and the manufacturer of the log-splitter. Briarwood filed an answer denying liability for Sisolak's injuries. Housedorf, who was initially represented in the lawsuit by counsel retained through his homeowners' insurance company, Countryway Insurance Company ("Countryway"), likewise filed an answer denying liability.

By letter dated February 15, 2007, counsel for Housedorf requested Northland to "take over the defense and indemnify [Housedorf] in connection with the claims filed in this matter." When Northland failed to do so, Housedorf filed a third-party complaint for defense and indemnification against Briarwood and Northland in December 2007. Northland, in turn, filed an answer and a counterclaim for declaratory judgment.

In May 2008, Housedorf filed a motion for summary judgment, seeking an order directing Northland to assume Housedorf's defense and indemnification. Northland opposed the motion and filed a cross-motion for summary judgment, seeking dismissal of the third-party complaint.

The summary judgment motion was argued before Judge Mathias

E. Rodriguez. In an oral ruling on June 6, 2008, Judge Rodriguez granted summary judgment in favor of Housedorf and denied Northland's counterclaim. The ruling was memorialized in a corresponding order entered that same day. The order specifically provided that Northland "shall assume the defense and indemnify defendant Housedorf in accordance with the terms of the [Northland] [i]nsurance policy[.]" The order further specified that "Robert Housedorf ...


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