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Holy Trinity Church of God In Christ v. Aetna Cas. and Sur. Co.

Supreme Court of Connecticut

March 20, 1990

HOLY TRINITY CHURCH OF GOD IN CHRIST et al.
v.
AETNA CASUALTY AND SURETY COMPANY et al.

Page 108

Argued Jan. 11, 1990.

Page 109

William F. Gallagher, with whom, on the brief, was Roger B. Calistro and Gwen B. Weltman, New Haven, for appellants (plaintiffs).

Ronald D. Williams, with whom was Ronald D. Williams, Jr., Bridgeport, for appellee (named defendant).

Paul C. Fassler, Hartford, for appellee (defendant Connecticut Ins. Placement Facility).

Before SHEA, CALLAHAN, GLASS, COVELLO and HULL, JJ.

[214 Conn. 217] COVELLO, Associate Justice.

This is an appeal from the judgment of the trial court that concluded that the defendants, Aetna Casualty and Surety Company (Aetna) and Connecticut Insurance Placement Facility (CIPF), had no duty to defend and indemnify the plaintiffs, Holy Trinity Church of God in Christ (Holy Trinity) and the Reverend Alton Barnes (Barnes) in a pending personal injury action. The dispositive issue is whether the trial court erred in finding that the plaintiffs' building was in the process of being demolished when an injury to Craig Green, the third party claimant in the underlying personal injury action occurred, and that therefore, due to the exclusionary provisions in the defendants' policies, the defendants owed no duty to defend or indemnify the plaintiffs. Because the findings of the trial court were clearly supported by the evidence, we find no error.

The following facts are undisputed. On March 5, 1987, Craig and Terri Green commenced a personal injury action against Holy Trinity and its pastor, Barnes. Green v. Holy Trinity Church of God in Christ, Superior Court judicial district of New Haven, Docket No. CV-87-256068. In their complaint they alleged that Craig Green was seriously injured when a garage door fell onto a container of caustic alkali, causing the substance to splash onto his face and body. The complaint further alleged that Craig Green was injured while performing "repairs, improvements and/or renovations on the garage" located at 135 Winthrop Avenue in New Haven. The garage was owned by Barnes and used by Holy Trinity. In their complaint, the Greens alleged [214 Conn. 218] negligence and recklessness on the part of Holy Trinity and also Barnes, both individually and as agent of Holy Trinity. [1]

At the time of the alleged incident, Holy Trinity was insured by Aetna under a comprehensive insurance policy specifically designed for churches, with limits of liability in the amount of $1,000,000 for bodily injury and property damage. Aetna initially refused to defend or indemnify Holy Trinity for any liability arising out of Green v. Holy Trinity Church of God in Christ, supra. Aetna based its refusal upon a policy provision that excluded "bodily injury and property damage arising out of demolition operations performed by or on behalf of the insured." On August 18, 1987, however, Aetna notified Barnes that it would defend the claim of Craig and Terri Green under a reservation of rights. [2]

At the time of the alleged incident, Barnes also maintained a comprehensive dwelling insurance policy with CIPF, covering the premises at 135 Winthrop Avenue, with limits of liability for bodily injury in the amount of $50,000. On May 13, 1987, CIPF agreed to defend Barnes in Green v. Holy Trinity Church of God in Christ, supra, under a reservation of rights, on the basis of upon a policy provision that excluded coverage for "bodily injury or property damage arising out of structural alterations which involve changing the size of or moving buildings or other structures, new construction or demolition operations performed by or on behalf of the named insured."

On February 1, 1988, Holy Trinity and Barnes brought a declaratory judgment action against Aetna and CIPF, [3] seeking a

Page 110

finding that the insurers had the [214 Conn. 219] duty to defend and indemnify Holy Trinity and Barnes in Green v. Holy Trinity Church of God in Christ, supra, and to pay costs and attorney's fees. On March 3, 1988, Aetna filed an answer and special defense, alleging that the claims asserted by the Greens against the insured, Holy Trinity, were excluded by the "demolition operations" provision. On August 16, 1988, CIPF filed its answer and a special defense, alleging, inter alia, that the claims asserted by the Greens against Holy Trinity were excluded by the "structural alterations" policy provision in Barnes' dwelling policy.

On May 2, 1989, the trial court, Dunnell, J., concluded that Aetna's demolition exclusion and CIPF's structural alterations exclusion applied and that neither insurer had a duty to defend or indemnify Holy Trinity or Barnes against the claims brought by the Greens. [4] On May 12, 1989, Holy Trinity and Barnes filed this appeal with the Appellate Court. We thereafter transferred this appeal to ourselves, pursuant to Practice Book § 4023.

On appeal the plaintiffs claim that the trial court erred: (1) in considering postinjury events, i.e., the overall project, to conclude that Green was engaged in demolition operations or structural alterations; and (2) in failing to consider the actions of the injured party only on the date of the accident in determining that the plaintiffs were engaged in the excluded activity. We do not agree.

The trial court found that Barnes was the pastor of Holy Trinity, that had been located at 85 Greenwood [214 Conn. 220] Street for over ten years. In September, 1986, Holy Trinity was forced to vacate those premises when the property was taken for a new road. Because Holy Trinity was unable to find an appropriate new facility within its budget, the congregation was forced to share space with Mt. Calvary Holy Church while seeking a suitable location.

Barnes personally owned property located at 135 Winthrop Avenue, where there was a two family house and a five car garage. In September, 1986, Barnes told the congregation that they could use the garage, without cost, as a temporary church and storage facility. Around this time, Barnes solicited ...


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