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Horn v. Chubb Insurance Company

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

October 26, 2018


         SECTION “R” (3)



         Before the Court is defendant Progressive Insurance Company's motion for judgment on the pleadings, on the ground that coverage for plaintiffs' injuries is excluded under the terms of its insurance policy.[1]Because the insurance coverage exclusion Progressive invokes does not apply to injuries sustained in the boating accident at the center of this litigation, the Court denies the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of a boating accident on Lake Pontchartrain.[2]Plaintiff Muriel Van Horn served as a volunteer race official for a sailing regatta held on the lake.[3] On November 26, 2016, Ms. Van Horn boarded a boat operated by defendant David Rubin, who was assigned to transport her to her official's position.[4] According to the complaint, Rubin suddenly accelerated the vessel over the swells of Lake Pontchartrain, causing the boat to leave the water's surface, assume a nearly vertical position in the air, and slam back down onto the water.[5] This incident allegedly caused Ms. Van Horn to fracture her right tibial plateau, requiring major surgery and continuing medical care.[6]

         On November 21, 2017, Ms. Van Horn and her husband Mark Van Horn sued for damages under general maritime law and Louisiana law.[7] Ms. Van Horn alleges that her injuries were caused by Rubin's negligence and by the negligence of the regatta organizers, the United States Optimist Dinghy Association, Inc. and the Southern Yacht Club.[8] Mr. Van Horn asserts a claim for loss of consortium and society as a result of Ms. Van Horn's injuries.[9] Progressive provided a boat and personal watercraft insurance policy to Rubin.[10] Progressive now moves for a judgment on the pleadings on the ground that the liability insurance it issued to Rubin excludes coverage for any injuries sustained during the accident.[11] Rubin and plaintiffs have each filed briefs in opposition to Progressive's motion.[12]


         A motion for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) is appropriate if the matter can be adjudicated by deciding questions of law rather than factual disputes. Brittan Commc'ns Int'l Corp. v. Sw. Bell Tel. Co., 313 F.3d 899, 904 (5th Cir. 2002). It is subject to the same standard as a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Doe v. MySpace, Inc., 528 F.3d 413, 418 (5th Cir. 2008). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead enough facts “to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is facially plausible when the plaintiff pleads facts that allow the court to “draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A court must accept all well-pleaded facts as true and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Lormand v. U.S. Unwired, Inc., 565 F.3d 228, 239 (5th Cir. 2009). But the Court is not bound to accept as true legal conclusions couched as factual allegations. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         A legally sufficient complaint must establish more than a “sheer possibility” that the plaintiff's claim is true. Id. It need not contain detailed factual allegations, but it must go beyond labels, legal conclusions, or formulaic recitations of the elements of a cause of action. Id. In other words, the face of the complaint must contain enough factual matter to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of each element of the plaintiff's claim. Lormand, 565 F.3d at 257. If there are insufficient factual allegations to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, or if it is apparent from the face of the complaint that there is an insuperable bar to relief, the claim must be dismissed. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.


         Both parties agree that Louisiana law governs the interpretation of Progressive's insurance policy. The Louisiana Civil Code sets forth the guiding principles for construing contracts in Louisiana. See In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litig., 495 F.3d 191, 206 (5th Cir. 2007); Cadwallader v. Allstate Ins. Co., 848 So.2d 577, 580 (La. 2003). “Interpretation of a contract is the determination of the common intent of the parties.” La. Civ. Code art. 2045. Such intent is to be derived from the language of the contract itself. If that language is “clear and explicit and lead[s] to no absurd consequences, no further interpretation may be made in search of the parties' intent.” Id. art. 2046. Words “must be given their generally prevailing meaning, ” and terms of art are interpreted as such only when a technical matter is at stake. Id. art. 2047. Furthermore, “[e]ach provision in a contract must be interpreted in light of the other provisions so that each is given the meaning suggested by the contract as a whole.” Id. art. 2045.

         “Exclusionary provisions in insurance contracts are strictly construed against the insurer, and any ambiguity is construed in favor of the insured.” Garcia v. St. Bernard Par. Sch. Bd., 576 So.2d 975, 976 (La. 1991); see also La. Civ. Code art. 2056 (“In case of doubt that cannot be otherwise resolved, a provision in a contract must be interpreted against the party who furnished its text. A contract executed in a standard form of one party must be interpreted, in case of doubt, in favor of the other party.”); Arctic Slope Reg'l Corp. v. Affiliated FM Ins. Co., 564 F.3d 707, 709-10 (5th Cir. 2009) (ambiguities in insurance contracts are “to be construed against the insurer and in favor of coverage”) (quoting Sher v. Lafayette Ins. Co., 988 So.2d 186, 193 (La. 2008)).

         Progressive argues that its insurance policy does not cover any injuries sustained in the accident because of an exclusion that exempts from coverage

bodily injury or property damage resulting from, or sustained during practice or preparation for: (a) any pre-arranged or organized racing, stunting, speed, or demolition contest or activity; or (b) any driving, riding, navigation, piloting, or boating ...

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