United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
MALCOLM J. HOWARD, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the court on plaintiff's motion for
summary judgment [DE #87] and motions for summary judgment
filed by three separate groups of defendants [DE #68, 89,
91]. Appropriate responses and replies have been filed, and
the time for further filings has expired. The parties'
positions were well-represented at oral argument on October
3, 2007. This matter is ripe for adjudication.
OF THE CASE
parties seek a declaration of plaintiff Western World
Insurance Company's obligation under a commercial general
liability policy ("the Crossroads Policy") issued
to defendant Jason Wilkie d/b/a Cross Roads Farms and/or
Crossroads Farm Petting Zoo ("Crossroads"), All of
the defendants but Crossroads are minors who were allegedly
injured as a result of exposure to E.coli 0157:H7
(''E.coli") during their visits to
Crossroads' petting zoo exhibit at the 2004 North
Carolina State Fair (and their guardians ad litem)
. Most if not all of these defendants
are pursuing negligence actions against Crossroads which are
currently pending in state court. The only issue now before
this court is whether the minor defendants' exposure to
E.coli constitutes a single occurrence or multiple
occurrences under the terms of the Policy. The Policy has a
limit of $1, 000, 000 per occurrence and a $2, 000, 000
general aggregate limit. In its complaint, as amended,
plaintiff seeks a declaration that the E.coli
"outbreak" was a single occurrence, and that the
$1, 000, 000 limit is therefore applicable. Through a variety
of counterclaims and cross-claims, defendants urge the court
to declare the minors' individual exposures to
E.coli to be multiple occurrences under the Policy,
requiring plaintiff to provide coverage up to the $2, 000,
000 aggregate limit. The case is before the court on
cross-motions for summary judgment.
OF THE FACTS
the confines of this case, plaintiff does not dispute
defendants' factual contentions, drawn largely from the
complaints in the underlying state court tort actions:
owned and operated a petting zoo at the North Carolina State
Fair from October 15-24, 2004. E.coli, a harmful
bacteria contained in animal feces, was detected at various
sites at the State Fair, including Crossroads' petting
zoo. Over the course of the ten-day fair, each minor
defendant was exposed to E.coli as a result of
contact with animals during visits to the petting zoo. Each
minor defendant's exposure to E.coli resulted in
injury, and the parties have agreed for the purposes of this
matter that crossroads' negligent acts and omissions
proximately caused the injuries.
Policy provides that `` [The] Each Occurrence Limit is the
most we will pay . . . because of all `bodily injury' and
`property damage' arising out of any one
`occurrence.'" (Compl. Ex. C. at 2S.) Under the
terms of the Policy, an "occurrence" is defined as
"an accident, including continuous or repeated exposure
to substantially the same general harmful conditions."
(Id. at 29.) As noted above, the Policy has an
"Each Occurrence Limit" of $1, 000, 000, and a
"General Aggregate Limit" of $2, 000, 000.
(Id. at 4.)
Standard of Review
judgment is appropriate pursuant to Rule 5 6 of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure when no genuine issue of material
fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 247 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment
bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a
genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986).
the moving party has met its burden, the non-moving party may
not rest on the allegations or denials in its pleading,
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, but "must come
forward with ` specific facts showing that there is a genuine
issue for trial.'" Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co.,
Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 4 7 5 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)
(quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). As this court has stated,
summary judgment is not a vehicle for the court to resolve
disputed factual issues. Faircloth v. United States,
837 F.Supp. 123, 125 (E.D. N.C. 1993) . Instead, a trial
court reviewing a claim at the summary judgment stage should
determine whether a genuine issue exists for trial.
Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.
making this determination, the court must view the inferences
drawn from the underlying facts in the light most favorable
to the non-moving party. United States v. Diebold,
Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962) (per curiam). Only
disputes between the parties over facts that might affect the
outcome of the case properly preclude the entry of summary
judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48. Accordingly,
the court must examine "both the materiality and the
genuineness of the alleged fact issues" in ruling on
this motion. Faircloth, 837 F.Supp. at 125.
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