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John Hiester Chrysler Jeep, LLC v. Greenwich Insurance Co.

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

December 8, 2017

JOHN HIESTER CHRYLSER JEEP, LLC and HIESTER AUTOMOTIVE GROUP, INC., Plaintiffs,
v.
GREENWICH INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          LOUISE W. FLANAGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the court on defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings (DE 8) which the court converted to a motion for summary judgment by its order issued October 18, 2017, (DE 20). In this posture, the issues raised are ripe for review. For the reasons that follow, the court grants defendant's motion for summary judgment.

         STATEMENT OF THE CASE

         Plaintiffs filed this case on February 17, 2017, in the Superior Court of Harnett County, asserting declaration of coverage of claims under two employment practices liability insurance policies issued to plaintiffs by defendant on November 29, 2014 (“Harris policy”) and February 8, 2015 (“Davis policy”) and asserting breach of contract claims due to defendant's denial of plaintiffs' request for coverage. (See Compl. (DE 1) ¶¶ 11-14, DE 21-6, DE 21-8).[1]

         Defendant removed this matter on March 23, 2017, filed a timely answer on March 30, 2017, including as attachments thereto: 1) the Harris and Davis policies; 2) Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) charges filed by Harris and Davis; 3) complaints filed by Harris and Davis; and 4) notice received by defendant from plaintiff regarding Harris and Davis's EEOC charges.

         On March 30, 2017, defendant filed the instant motion for judgment on the pleadings wherein defendant argues that plaintiffs failed to provide timely notice of plaintiffs' claims to defendant. On October 18, 2017, the court converted defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings to one for summary judgment and provided notice to the parties. The court additionally directed plaintiffs to show cause within 21 days of issuance of the court's order why summary judgment should not be granted to defendant based on documentation submitted by defendant in conjunction with defendant's answer, the authenticity of which is undisputed.

         On November 7, 2017, plaintiffs filed their response with reliance upon the following exhibits: 1) June 22, 2016 letter from defendant to plaintiff John Hiester Chrysler Dodge Jeep, LLC concerning a certain EEOC charge filed by Brandy M. Boylan; 2) June 27, 2016 letters from defendant to plaintiffs denying claim coverage for Harris and Davis's EEOC charges; 3) letters from the EEOC terminating claims for Harris and Davis; 4) the Harris and Davis policies; and 5) policies issued by defendant for both plaintiffs for 2016-2017. On November 27, 2017, defendant filed its reply.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review Summary judgment is appropriate where “the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The party seeking summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

         Once the moving party has met its burden, the non-moving party must then “come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986) (internal quotation omitted). Only disputes between the parties over facts that might affect the outcome of the case properly preclude the entry of summary judgment. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986) (holding that a factual dispute is “material” only if it might affect the outcome of the suit and “genuine” only if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party).

         “[A]t the summary judgment stage the [court's] function is not [itself] to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 249. In determining whether there is a genuine issue for trial, “evidence of the non-movant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [non-movant's] favor.” Id. at 255; see United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962) (“On summary judgment the inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts contained in [affidavits, attached exhibits, and depositions] must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.”).

         Nevertheless, “permissible inferences must still be within the range of reasonable probability, . . . and it is the duty of the court to withdraw the case from the [factfinder] when the necessary inference is so tenuous that it rests merely upon speculation and conjecture.” Lovelace v. Sherwin- Williams Co., 681 F.2d 230, 241 (4th Cir. 1982) (quotations omitted). Thus, judgment as a matter of law is warranted where “the verdict in favor of the non-moving party would necessarily be based on speculation and conjecture.” Myrick v. Prime Ins. Syndicate, Inc., 395 F.3d 485, 489 (4th Cir. 2005). By contrast, when “the evidence as a whole is susceptible of more than one reasonable inference, a [triable] issue is created, ” and judgment as a matter of law should be denied. Id. at 489-90.

         B. Analysis

         The policies ...


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