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Geico Indemnity Co. v. Dionisio

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 6, 2016

GEICO INDEMNITY COMPANY Plaintiff,
v.
GREGORY DIONISIO, JANET MCCALL FLEMING, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF THOMAS C. FLEMING, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION GRANTING PLAINTIFF GEICO INDEMNITY COMPANY’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [Dkt. #45]

Vanessa L. Bryant, United States District Judge

Plaintiff, GEICO Indemnity Company (“GEICO”), brings this action for a declaratory judgment against Defendants Gregory Dionisio (“Dionisio”) and Janet McCall Fleming (“Fleming”), in both her individual capacity and as administratrix of the estate of Thomas C. Fleming. This dispute arises out of a fatal motor vehicle accident which occurred in the morning hours of July 5, 2009, when Dionisio, while driving his father’s automobile under the influence, struck and killed Thomas Fleming. Dionisio subsequently was prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned. Currently before the Court is the Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment. The motion seeks an order declaring that Dionisio is not an insured under a family automobile policy the Plaintiff issued to Dionisio’s mother, Maryann Dionisio (“Ms. Dionisio”), who at the time of the accident resided at 221 Catalpa Road, in Wilton, Connecticut (the “Insured’s House”). For the reasons that follow, the Plaintiff’s motion is GRANTED.

I. Factual Background

From 2006 to May 31, 2009, Ms. Dionisio resided in an apartment in New Canaan, Connecticut, and rented the House to tenants. [Dkt. #45-1, Pl.’s Rule 56(a)(1) Statement at ¶¶ 20, 22; Dkt. #52-1, Def. Fleming’s Rule 56(a)(2) Statement at ¶¶ 20, 22]. On June 1, 2009, Ms. Dionisio resumed occupancy of the House. [Dkt. #45-1, Pl.’s Rule 56(a)(1) Statement at ¶ 20; Dkt. #52-1, Def. Fleming’s Rule 56(a)(2) Statement at ¶ 20].

Ms. Dionisio’s son, Defendant Gregory Dionisio, resided at the House while he was in high school, from which he graduated in 2006. [Dkt. #45-1, Pl.’s Rule 56(a)(1) Statement at ¶¶ 16, 23; Dkt. #52-1, Def. Fleming’s Rule 56(a)(2) Statement at ¶¶ 16, 23]. However, Ms. Dionisio ordered her son to leave the House when he turned eighteen years old, because he failed to follow house rules and was a bad influence on his sister. [Dkt. #45-1, Pl.’s Rule 56(a)(1) Statement at ¶¶ 24, 26; Dkt. #52-1, Def. Fleming’s Rule 56(a)(2) Statement at ¶¶ 24, 26].[1] After ejecting the Defendant from the House, Ms. Dionisio helped her son secure an apartment in Norwalk, Connecticut, where the Defendant lived with some friends. [Dkt. #45-1, Pl.’s Rule 56(a)(1) Statement at ¶ 25; Dkt. #52-1, Def. Fleming’s Rule 56(a)(2) Statement at ¶ 25; Dkt. #45-10, Ex. G to Pl.’s Mot. at 31:11-21]. From that point on, the Defendant was “on his own, ” aside from a single instance in which his mother acted as a cosigner on a transaction, and his practice of occasionally directing mail to the House. [Dkt. #45-1, Pl.’s Rule 56(a)(1) Statement at ¶ 27; Dkt. #52-1, Def. Fleming’s Rule 56(a)(2) Statement at ¶ 27; Dkt. #45-10, Ex. G to Pl.’s Mot. At 62:25-63:2].[2]

After graduating high school, Defendant Dionisio enrolled in college in the state of Colorado, but while there, he was arrested and expelled from the school. [Dkt. #45-1, Pl.’s Rule 56(a)(1) Statement at ¶¶ 28-29; Dkt. #52-1, Def. Fleming’s Rule 56(a)(2) Statement at ¶¶ 28-29]. Defendant Dionisio then returned to Connecticut, but not the House; instead, he resided with his grandmother for one-and-a-half years, in a home in Norwalk, Connecticut, which was also owned by Ms. Dionisio. [Dkt. #45-1, Pl.’s Rule 56(a)(1) Statement at ¶ 30; Dkt. #52-1, Def. Fleming’s Rule 56(a)(2) Statement at ¶ 30]. Relying on deposition testimony from the Defendant and his mother, Plaintiff contends that the Defendant moved out of his grandmother’s home and into a cottage located behind the home of his landlord, with two housemates he found on the website craigslist.org (“Craigslist”). [Dkt. #45-1, Pl.’s Rule 56(a)(1) Statement at ¶ 31; Dkt. #52-1, Def. Fleming’s Rule 56(a)(2) Statement at ¶ 31; Dkt. #45-11, Ex. H to Pl.’s Mot. at 23:9-11]. The three housemates each had their own room. [Dkt. #45-11, Ex. H to Pl.’s Mot. at 23:20-21]. Defendant Fleming appears to agree that Defendant Dionisio moved to Stamford. [Dkt. #45-1, Pl.’s Rule 56(a)(1) Statement at ¶ 33; Dkt. #52-1, Def. Fleming’s Rule 56(a)(2) Statement at ¶ 33].[3] The parties dispute the length of time Defendant Dionisio resided in Stamford, but the testimony offered by the Defendant and his mother indicates that he lived there for at least several months, and for no more than one year. [Dkt. #45-1, Pl.’s Rule 56(a)(1) Statement at ¶¶ 31, 35; Dkt. #52-1, Def. Fleming’s Rule 56(a)(2) Statement at ¶¶ 31, 35; Dkt. #52-1, Statement of Disputed Issues, at ¶ 1].

While Defendant Dionisio was living in Stamford, he did not see his family often, and his mother visited the cottage just once. [Dkt. #45-1, Pl.’s Rule 56(a)(1) Statement at ¶¶ 32-33; Dkt. #52-1, Def. Fleming’s Rule 56(a)(2) Statement at ¶¶ 32-33; Dkt. #45-10, Ex. G to Pl.’s Mot. at 30:6-13]. His sister never visited the cottage. [Dkt. #45-11, Ex. H to Pl.’s Mot. at 26:20-22]. While living in Stamford, Defendant Dionisio was the executive chef of a restaurant, where he routinely worked fifteen hours per day. [Dkt. #45-11, Ex. H to Pl.’s Mot. At 27:10, 33:9-14].[4]

On Friday, July 3, 2009, the day before the July 4th holiday weekend, Defendant Dionisio discovered that some of his belongings were missing, argued with his roommates over the missing items, and left the cottage, taking with him approximately 90% of his personal belongings. [Dkt. #45-1, Pl.’s Rule 56(a)(1) Statement at ¶ 35; Dkt. #52-1, Def. Fleming’s Rule 56(a)(2) Statement at ¶ 35; Dkt. #52-1, Statement of Disputed Issues, at ¶ 4]. After leaving the cottage, Defendant Dionisio took his personal belongings to the House, and stored them in the garage. [Dkt. #45-1, Pl.’s Rule 56(a)(1) Statement at ¶ 36; Dkt. #52-1, Def. Fleming’s Rule 56(a)(2) Statement at ¶ 36; Dkt. #52-1, Statement of Disputed Issues, at ¶ 6; Dkt. #45-10, Ex. G to Pl.’s Mot. at 40:23-41:1]. Defendant Dionisio also left some large pieces of furniture, such as dressers, at the cottage. [Dkt. #45-11, Ex. H to Pl.’s Mot. at 28:16-22]. In addition, the Defendant testified that at the time he moved his personal items into his mother’s garage, he was actively looking for a new place to live. [Dkt. #45-1, Pl.’s Rule 56(a)(1) Statement at ¶ 36; Dkt. #52-1, Def. Fleming’s Rule 56(a)(2) Statement at ¶ 36; Dkt. #52-1, Statement of Disputed Issues, at ¶ 6; Dkt. #45-10, Ex. G to Pl.’s Mot. at 41:2-5, 15-16].[5]

Defendant Dionisio went to work on July 3, and afterward, he returned to his mother’s home, in the early morning hours of July 4, 2009. [Dkt. #45-11, Ex. H to Pl.’s Mot. at 40:12-19]. After returning to the House, the Defendant consumed some alcohol and drugs, but he believed he took the latter in his car because his “[m]om didn’t allow drugs in the house.” [Id. at 41:24-42:13]. The Defendant slept over the house that night, but by 9:00 AM on July 4, he had already left for work, where he stayed until around midnight, and returned to the House thereafter. [Id. at 33:4-14, 34:10-14; Dkt. #45-1, Pl.’s Rule 56(a)(1) Statement at ¶¶ 41-42; Dkt. #52-1, Def. Fleming’s Rule 56(a)(2) Statement at ¶¶ 41-42].[6] At the House, the Defendant consumed six to eight beers, and at 3:00 AM, he left to go to a friend’s house. [Dkt. #45-1, Pl.’s Rule 56(a)(1) Statement at ¶¶ 42-43; Dkt. #52-1, Def. Fleming’s Rule 56(a)(2) Statement at ¶¶ 42-43].

Later that morning, at approximately 7:30 AM, Defendant Dionisio was involved in a fatal car collision, which killed Thomas Fleming. [Dkt. #45-1, Pl.’s Rule 56(a)(1) Statement at ¶ 1; Dkt. #52-1, Def. Fleming’s Rule 56(a)(2) Statement at ¶ 1; Dkt. #52-1, Statement of Disputed Issues, at ¶ 14; Dkt. #45-11, Ex. H to Pl.’s Mot. at 37:13-16]. The Defendant had no memory of his intended destination at the time of the collision, but testified that he was on a route that could have taken him “back home” to 221 Catalpa Road. [Dkt. #45-11, Ex. H to Pl.’s Mot. at 44:18-20, 45:4-6; Dkt. #52-1, Statement of Disputed Issues, at ¶ 15]. Following the collision, Defendant Dionisio pled guilty to vehicular manslaughter and illegal operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence, and was sentenced to ten years in prison, suspended after five years served. [Dkt. #45-1, Pl.’s Rule 56(a)(1) Statement at ¶ 48; Dkt. #52-1, Def. Fleming’s Rule 56(a)(2) Statement at ¶ 48].

While the Defendant testified that he slept at the home from July 3 to July 4, 2009, his mother testified that he was not staying with her and she did not know where he was staying at that time. [Dkt. #45-10, Ex. G to Pl.’s Mot. at 41:18-21; Dkt. #45-11, Ex. H to Pl.’s Mot. at 71:25-72:2]. Although she acknowledged the Defendant was “probably” at her home at some point during the holiday weekend. [Dkt. #45-10, Ex. G to Pl.’s Mot. at 42:17-18]. Some of her uncertainty stemmed from her belief that she was at her boyfriend’s home in Lake Peekskill, New York, during some of that weekend, and not at the House. [Id. at 55:23-56:2]. She further testified that her three adult children, including the Defendant, had keys to the House, which permitted them to “come and go as they please[d].” [Dkt. #45-10, Ex. G to Pl.’s Mot. at 42:20-22].[7]

On October 20, 2009, Defendant Fleming, the wife of the decedent, filed suit in Connecticut Superior Court against Defendant Dionisio and his father, non-party John Dionisio, who was the owner of the vehicle which struck and killed Mr. Fleming (the “Connecticut Suit”). [Dkt. #45-1, Pl.’s Rule 56(a)(1) Statement at ¶ 2; Dkt. #52-1, Def. Fleming’s Rule 56(a)(2) Statement at ¶ 2]. Plaintiff GEICO was not a party to this suit. See [Dkt. #45-1, Pl.’s Rule 56(a)(1) Statement at ¶¶ 1-2; Dkt. #52-1, Def. Fleming’s Rule 56(a)(2) Statement at ¶¶ 1-2].[8]

The Dionisios held several policies issued by Plaintiff GEICO: (i) a policy with a liability limit of $300, 000 issued to John Dionisio; (ii) a policy with a liability limit of $1 million issued to John Dionisio; (iii) a policy issued to Gregory Dionisio with a $20, 000 bodily injury liability for each person /$40, 000 per occurrence; and (iv) a family auto insurance policy with a $250, 000 bodily injury liability per person/$500, 000 per occurrence issued to Maryann Dionisio (the “Family Policy”). [Dkt. #45-1, Pl.’s Rule 56(a)(1) Statement at ¶¶ 3-5; Dkt. #52-1, Def. Fleming’s Rule 56(a)(2) Statement at ¶¶ 3-5]. At issue in the present case, is the Family Policy. Under the terms of the Family Policy, coverage was extended to the insured and any “relative, ” defined as any “person related to [the insured] who resides in [the insured’s] household with [the insured].” [Dkt. #45-9, Ex. F to Pl.’s Mot. at 6, ¶ 8]. At all times, Plaintiff GEICO has maintained that Defendant Dionisio did not qualify as an insured under the Family Policy. [Dkt. #45-1, Pl.’s Rule 56(a)(1) Statement at ¶ 6; Dkt. #52-1, Def. Fleming’s Rule 56(a)(2) Statement at ¶ 6].

On August 2, 2012, Defendant Fleming and John Dionisio reached a settlement, whereby John Dionisio agreed to pay Fleming $1.3 million in exchange for a full release from liability. [Dkt. #45-1, Pl.’s Rule 56(a)(1) Statement at ¶ 9; Dkt. #52-1, Def. Fleming’s Rule 56(a)(2) Statement at ¶ 9]. The agreement also provided GEICO with a limited release of liability, as to those policies GEICO had issued to John Dionisio. [Id.]. The suit against the remaining defendant, Gregory Dionisio, went to trial, and on April 11, 2013, the jury returned a verdict for Fleming, in the amount of $2, 517, 695.56. [Dkt. #45-1, Pl.’s Rule 56(a)(1) Statement at ¶ 10; Dkt. #52-1, Def. Fleming’s Rule 56(a)(2) Statement at ¶ 10]. However, the judgment entered by the court, which took into account the separate settlement reached with John Dionisio, consisted of statutory and common law punitive/exemplary damages totaling $1, 550, 084.87, and damages for negligence totaling just $2. [Dkt. #45-1, Pl.’s Rule 56(a)(1) Statement at ¶ 13; Dkt. #52-1, Def. Fleming’s Rule 56(a)(2) Statement at ¶ 13].

The parties agree that none of the policies issued by GEICO provide coverage for statutory or common law punitive damages. [Dkt. #45-1, Pl.’s Rule 56(a)(1) Statement at ¶ 14; Dkt. #52-1, Def. Fleming’s Rule 56(a)(2) Statement at ¶ 14]. In her Opposition, Defendant Fleming further concedes that “coverage is not available under the [Family] Policy for judgments based on reckless conduct . . . .” [Dkt. #52, Def.’s Opp. at 9]; see also [Dkt. #45-9, Ex. F to Pl.’s Mot. at 4, ¶ 2]. Accordingly, the sole live issue between the parties is whether Defendant Dionisio was a “relative” of the insured, Maryanne Dionisio, under the terms of the Family Policy at the time of the collision.

II. Legal Standard

Summary judgment should be granted “if 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 moving party bears the burden of proving that no factual issues exist. Vivenzio v. City of Syracuse, 611 F.3d 98, 106 (2d Cir. 2010). “In determining whether that burden has been met, the court is required to resolve all ambiguities and credit all factual inferences that could be drawn in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought.” Id. (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986); Matsushita Electric Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986)). “If there is any evidence in the record that could reasonably support a jury's verdict for the nonmoving party, summary judgment must be denied.” Am. Home Assurance Co. v. Hapag Lloyd Container Linie, GmbH, 446 F.3d 313, 315-16 (2d Cir. 2006) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). In addition, determinations of the weight to accord evidence or assessments of the credibility of witnesses are improper on a motion for summary judgment, as such are within the sole province of the jury. Hayes v. New York City Dep’t of Corr., 84 F.3d 614, 619 (2d Cir. 1996).

“A party opposing summary judgment cannot defeat the motion by relying on the allegations in his pleading, or on conclusory statements, or on mere assertions that affidavits supporting the motion are not credible. At the summary judgment stage of the proceeding, Plaintiffs are required to present admissible evidence in support of their allegations; allegations alone, without evidence to back them up, are not sufficient.” Welch-Rubin v. Sandals Corp., No. 3:03-cv-481 (MRK), 2004 WL 2472280, at *1 (D. Conn. Oct. 20, 2004) (citing and quoting Gottlieb v. Cnty. of Orange, 84 F.3d 511, 518 (2d Cir. 1996)); Martinez v. State of Connecticut, No. 3:09cv1341 (VLB), 2011 WL 4396704 at *6 (D. Conn. Sept. 21, 2011). Where there is no evidence upon which a jury could properly proceed to find a verdict for the party producing it and upon whom the onus of proof ...


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