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Drive New Jersey Insurance Company, Drive New Jersey Insurance Company v. Gennadiy Gisis

June 29, 2011

DRIVE NEW JERSEY INSURANCE COMPANY, DRIVE NEW JERSEY INSURANCE COMPANY AS SUBROGEE OF LUZDE MENDOZA, DRIVE NEW JERSEY INSURANCE COMPANY AS SUBROGEE OF ARMANDO M. RODRIGUEZ AND DRIVE NEW JERSEY INSURANCE COMPANY AS SUBROGEE OF ARACELY SAMBRANO, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
GENNADIY GISIS, MASORAS AVOS, INC., PHILADELPHIA INDEMNITY INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, Docket No. L-9545-09.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

APPROVED FOR PUBLICATION

Argued May 17, 2011

Before Judges Parrillo, Yannotti and Espinosa.

The opinion of the court was delivered by YANNOTTI, J.A.D.

Plaintiff Drive New Jersey Insurance Company (Drive New Jersey) appeals from an order entered by the trial court on August 27, 2010, granting summary judgment in favor of defendant Philadelphia Indemnity Insurance Company (Philadelphia Indemnity) and denying Drive New Jersey's cross-motion to compel arbitration. We reverse.

The relevant facts are undisputed. Defendant Masoras Avos, Inc. (Masoras) operates a religious school in Lakewood, New Jersey, and employed defendant Gennadiy Gisis (Gisis) as a school bus driver. On November 14, 2007, Gisis was operating a Masoras school bus and collided with a vehicle owned by Luzde Mendoza (Mendoza), causing personal injuries to Armando M. Rodriguez (Rodriguez) and Aracely Sambrano (Sambrano), who were passengers in the bus.

The Masoras school bus was insured under a policy issued by Philadelphia Indemnity, which provided medical expense benefits coverage to bus passengers. The Mendoza vehicle was insured under a policy issued by Drive New Jersey, which provided personal injury protection (PIP) benefits. Drive New Jersey paid $52,985.37 for the medical expenses incurred by Rodriguez and Sambrano as a result of the injuries that they sustained in the accident.

Thereafter, Drive New Jersey commenced this action against Gisis, Masoras and Philadelphia Indemnity seeking reimbursement of the PIP benefits it paid as a result of Gisis's alleged negligent operation of the school bus. Philadelphia Indemnity denied liability and asserted cross-claims for indemnification against Gisis and Masoras.

Drive New Jersey filed a motion to compel arbitration pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:6A-9.1, and defendants filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. The trial court filed an opinion on August 27, 2010, in which it concluded that N.J.S.A. 39:6A-9.1 precluded Drive New Jersey from seeking reimbursement of its PIP payments from Philadelphia Indemnity, Gisis or Masoras. The court entered an order dated August 27, 2010, dismissing Drive New Jersey's claims.

On appeal, Drive New Jersey argues that the trial court erred by finding that N.J.S.A. 39:6A-9.1 precluded it from pursuing recovery of its PIP payments from defendants. We agree.

N.J.S.A. 39:6A-9.1 provides in pertinent part that an "insurer, health maintenance organization or governmental agency" that pays benefits pursuant to subsection a., b. or d. of [N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4.3], personal injury protection benefits in accordance with [N.J.S.A. 39:6A-4 or 39:6A-10], medical expense benefits pursuant to [N.J.S.A. 39:6A-3.1] or benefits pursuant to [N.J.S.A. 39:6A-3.3], as a result of an accident occurring within this State, shall, within two years of the filing of the claim, have the right to recover the amount of payments from any tortfeasor who was not, at the time of the accident, required to maintain personal injury protection or medical expense benefits coverage, other than for pedestrians, under the laws of this State, including personal injury protection coverage required to be provided in accordance with [N.J.S.A. 17:28-1.4], or although required did not maintain personal injury protection or medical expense benefits coverage at the time of the accident.

Drive New Jersey contends that, because Masoras was not required to maintain PIP or medical expense benefits coverage for its school bus, it had a right under N.J.S.A. 39:6A-9.1 to seek recovery of the PIP benefits it paid for the injuries allegedly sustained by Rodriguez and Sambrano in the accident. In response, Philadelphia Indemnity contends that the statute should be read to bar Drive New Jersey from recovering its PIP payments because, although Masoras was not required to do so, it did maintain medical expense benefits coverage for persons injured while riding in the school bus.

When construing a statute, our goal is "to discern and implement" the Legislature's intent. State v. Smith, 197 N.J. 325, 332 (2009) (citing State v. Brannon, 178 N.J. 500, 505 (2004)). The statutory language provides "the best indicator" of legislative intent. DiProspero v. Penn, 183 N.J. 477, 492 (2005) (citing Frugis v. Bracigliano, 177 N.J. 250, 280 (2003)). "We ascribe to the statutory words their ordinary meaning and significance[.]" Ibid. (citing Lane v. Holderman, 23 N.J. 304, 313 (1957)). Furthermore, a court may not "'rewrite a plainly-written'" statute "'or presume that the ...


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