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Herman and Christine Wenzel v. Nautilus Insurance Company

April 18, 2011

HERMAN AND CHRISTINE WENZEL, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
NAUTILUS INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chesler, U.S.D.J.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on the motion to dismiss, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, by Defendant Nautilus Insurance Company ("Nautilus.") For the reasons stated below, the motion will be granted.

BACKGROUND

This dispute arises out of a general commercial liability insurance policy (the "Policy") issued by Nautilus to non-party K&C Conversions ("K&C"), a manufacturer. K&C fabricated and sold a mobile home and trailer to Plaintiffs Herman and Christine Wenzel. Plaintiffs allege that the mobile home and trailer were defectively manufactured, and that they caught fire and were damaged because of these defects. Plaintiffs sued K&C in the Superior Court of New Jersey, and the case was resolved by the entry of a consent judgment. As part of the consent judgment, K&C assigned its claims against Nautilus to Plaintiffs. On December 3, 2010, Plaintiffs, as assignees, filed suit against Nautilus in this Court. The Complaint asserts five counts: 1) declaratory judgment of Nautilus' duty to indemnify K&C; 2) breach of contract; 3) unfair trade practices and bad faith; 4) intentional misrepresentation; and 5) breach of fiduciary duty. Nautilus has now moved to dismiss the Complaint or, in the alternative, for summary judgment on all counts in the Complaint.

ANALYSIS

I. Relevant legal standard

A. Motions for summary judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate under FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a) when the moving party demonstrates that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the evidence establishes the moving party's entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). A factual dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-movant, and it is material if, under the substantive law, it would affect the outcome of the suit. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). "In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party's evidence 'is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.'" Marino v. Indus. Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).

"When the moving party has the burden of proof at trial, that party must show affirmatively the absence of a genuine issue of material fact: it must show that, on all the essential elements of its case on which it bears the burden of proof at trial, no reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party." In re Bressman, 327 F.3d 229, 238 (3d Cir. 2003) (quoting United States v. Four Parcels of Real Property, 941 F.2d 1428, 1438 (11th Cir. 1991)). "[W]ith respect to an issue on which the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof . . . the burden on the moving party may be discharged by 'showing' -- that is, pointing out to the district court -- that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325.

Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the party opposing the motion must establish that a genuine issue as to a material fact exists. Jersey Cent. Power & Light Co. v. Lacey Township, 772 F.2d 1103, 1109 (3d Cir. 1985). The party opposing the motion for summary judgment cannot rest on mere allegations and instead must present actual evidence that creates a genuine issue as to a material fact for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Siegel Transfer, Inc. v. Carrier Express, Inc., 54 F.3d 1125, 1130-31 (3d Cir. 1995). "[U]nsupported allegations . . . and pleadings are insufficient to repel summary judgment." Schoch v. First Fid. Bancorporation, 912 F.2d 654, 657 (3d Cir. 1990). "A nonmoving party has created a genuine issue of material fact if it has provided sufficient evidence to allow a jury to find in its favor at trial." Gleason v. Norwest Mortg., Inc., 243 F.3d 130, 138 (3d Cir. 2001).

If the nonmoving party has failed "to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial, . . . there can be 'no genuine issue of material fact,' since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Katz v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 972 F.2d 53, 55 (3d Cir. 1992) (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23).

II. Defendant's motion to dismiss or for summary judgment

The parties do not dispute certain fundamental facts. K&C filed a claim for coverage for the property damage sustained by Plaintiffs when the mobile home and trailer caught fire (the "Claim"), and Nautilus denied coverage under the Policy. Defendant now moves for summary judgment on Counts I and II of the Complaint. Defendant contends that the Claim is not ...


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