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Western World Insurance Co. v. Wilkie

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

November 1, 2007

WESTERN WORLD INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
JASON D. WILKIE, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          MALCOLM J. HOWARD, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This 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.

         STATEMENT OF THE CASE

         The 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) .[1] 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.

         STATEMENT OF THE FACTS

         Within the confines of this case, plaintiff does not dispute defendants' factual contentions, drawn largely from the complaints in the underlying state court tort actions:

         Crossroads 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.

         The 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.)

         COURT'S DISCUSSION

         I. Standard of Review

         Summary 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).

         Once 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.

         In 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.

         II. Standard For ...


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