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State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. v. Tully

Supreme Court of Connecticut

August 23, 2016

STATE FARM FIRE AND CASUALTY COMPANY
v.
MARK TULLY ET AL.

          Argued March 28, 2016

          Kirk D. Tavtigian, Jr., for the appellant-appellee (defendant Child Doe).

          Ron Murphy, for the appellee-appellant (named defendant).

          Jack G. Steigelfest, for the appellee in both appeals (plaintiff).

          Rogers, C. J., and Palmer, Zarella, Eveleigh, McDonald, Espinosa and Robinson, Js.

          OPINION

          ROBINSON, J.

         The principal issue in these appeals is whether evidence of an insured person’s voluntary intoxication may be used, when an insurance policy excludes coverage for intentional acts, to negate intent and thereby establish the insurer’s duty to defend the insured person against civil claims arising from sexual misconduct with a minor. The plaintiff, State Farm Fire and Casualty Company, brought this action seeking a declaratory judgment that it owed no duty to defend the named defendant, Mark Tully, under a homeowners insurance policy (policy), in a separate civil action filed on behalf of the defendant Child Doe.[1] The defendants appeal[2] from the judgment of the trial court granting the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on the ground that, because the policy excluded coverage for acts ‘‘intended’’ by the insured, Tully’s actions fell outside the scope of the policy and, thus, the plaintiff had no duty to defend him under the presumption of intent established in United Services Automobile Assn. v. Marburg, 46 Conn.App. 99, 104-105, 698 A.2d 914 (1997). On appeal, the defendants claim that the trial court improperly rendered summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff because evidence that Tully was intoxicated at the time of the incident created a genuine issue of material fact as to whether his actions were intentional. Specifically, the defendants assert that evidence of voluntary intoxication may negate the intent presumed under Marburg and thereby establish an insurer’s duty to defend. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The record reveals the following undisputed facts and procedural history. On July 2, 2012, Doe and two other girls were in the shower area of Winding Trails Park in Farmington. At that time, Doe was fourteen years old and the two other girls were, respectively, thirteen and eight years old. Tully, who was fifty-six years old and ‘‘under the influence of intoxicating liquor, ’’ approached the three girls and offered to buy them ice cream. After the girls refused, Tully grabbed Doe’s breast, nearly removing her bathing suit top. Tully then fondled the buttocks of the eight year old girl in Doe’s view.

         Doe, by and through her parent as next friend, subsequently filed a civil action against Tully alleging, inter alia, that he ‘‘negligen[tly]’’ sexually assaulted her while he was intoxicated.[3] The plaintiff had previously issued the policy, which provided that the plaintiff would defend Tully against claims resulting from an ‘‘occurrence, ’’ which is defined in the policy as an ‘‘accident, ’’ but not from claims resulting from his intentional actions. Tully claimed coverage under the policy, based on his intoxicated state, and requested that the plaintiff defend him in the action.[4] The plaintiff denied coverage, however, on the ground that Doe’s claim fell within the intentional act exclusion of the policy.

         In response to this complaint, the plaintiff initiated the present action seeking a declaratory judgment with regard to its duty to defend Tully.[5] The plaintiff moved for summary judgment on the ground that the complaint in the underlying action alleged an intentional act, which fell within the policy’s intentional act exclusion of coverage. In response, Tully submitted two affidavits, one from a physician and one from a psychologist, which opined that he was an alcoholic and so intoxicated on the day of the incident that he could not have formed the requisite intent to harm Doe, as well as his own affidavit attesting that he did-and still does- struggle with alcoholism. The defendants argued that this evidence raised a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Tully’s actions were intentional.[6] The trial court rendered summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff, concluding that the plaintiff was entitled to rely on Marburg, which established a presumption of intent in cases involving the sexual assault of a minor. See United Services Automobile Assn. v. Marburg, supra, 46 Conn.App. 104. The trial court then stated, more generally, that ‘‘voluntary intoxication does not establish a question of intent when defending against an exclusionary clause of an insurance policy.’’ These appeals followed. See footnote 2 of this opinion.[7]

         On appeal, the defendants reiterate their claim that evidence of Tully’s voluntary intoxication raises a genuine issue of material fact as to whether his actions were intentional and, thus, fall within the intentional act exclusion of the policy.[8] The defendants first claim that the trial court improperly applied the presumption established in Marburg because this court overruled that presumption in Allstate Ins. Co. v. Barron, 269 Conn. 394, 409, 848 A.2d 1165 (2004), which held that the standard for determining whether an insured’s intent may be negated for the purposes of an intentional act exclusion is whether the insured was able to understand the wrongfulness of his conduct. Thus, the defendants claim that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Tully was able to understand the wrongfulness of his conduct as a result of his intoxication. Alternatively, should this court apply the Marburg presumption, the defendants argue that this court should, as a policy matter, allow evidence of voluntary intoxication to be used to negate that intent. Lastly, the defendants claim that the trial court improperly decided ‘‘that an insured’s intoxication can never, as a matter of law, negate the intent required to invoke the intentional acts exclusion.’’ (Emphasis in original.)

         In response, the plaintiff contends that the trial court properly applied the Marburg presumption and, thus, there is no genuine issue of material fact that Tully’s acts fell within the intentional acts exclusion. The plaintiff also argues that Barron clarified the Marburg pre- sumption, rather than overruled it, given that the two cases are factually distinguishable. Finally, the plaintiff argues that this court should not allow evidence of Tully’s voluntary intoxication to rebut the Marburg presumption, as it would be against public policy to allow evidence of voluntary intoxication to negate intent for the purposes of an intentional exclusion act in an insurance policy.

         We agree with the plaintiff and conclude that: (1) the Marburg presumption of intentional conduct based on an insured’s sexual misconduct with a minor remains good law after Barron; (2) the trial court properly applied the Marburg presumption in the present case; and (3) evidence of voluntary intoxication may not be used to negate intent in duty to defend cases in which the insured’s intent is inferred from the underlying complaint that alleges that the insured committed sexual misconduct with a minor. We, therefore, conclude that the plaintiff satisfied its burden of demonstrating that no genuine issue of material fact exists insofar as the complaint in the underlying civil action alleges intentional acts and, thus, the plaintiff has no duty to defend Tully.

         ‘‘In seeking summary judgment, it is the movant who has the burden of showing the nonexistence of any issue of fact. The courts are in entire agreement that the moving party for summary judgment has the burden of showing the absence of any genuine issue as to all the material facts, which, under applicable principles of substantive law, entitle him to a judgment as a matter of law. The courts hold the movant to a strict standard. To satisfy his burden the movant must make a showing that it is quite clear what the truth is, and that excludes any real doubt as to the existence of any genuine issue of material fact. . . . As the burden of proof is on the movant, the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the opponent. . . . When documents submitted in support of a motion for summary judgment fail to establish that there is no genuine issue of material fact, the nonmoving party has no obligation to submit documents establishing the existence of such an issue. . . . Once the moving party has met its burden, however, the opposing party must present evidence that demonstrates the existence of some disputed factual issue. . . . It is not enough, however, for the opposing party merely to assert the existence of such a disputed issue. Mere assertions of fact . . . are insufficient to establish the existence of a material fact and, therefore, cannot refute evidence properly presented to the court under Practice Book [§ 17-45] . . . . Our review of the trial court’s decision to grant [a] motion for summary judgment is plenary.’’ (Citations omitted; footnote omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Allstate Ins. Co. v. Barron, supra, 269 Conn. 405-406.

         ‘‘The principles governing our determination of [whether an insurer has a duty to defend] are well settled. [A]n insurer’s duty to defend . . . is determined by reference to the allegations contained in the [underlying] complaint. . . . The obligation of the insurer to defend does not depend on whether the injured party will successfully maintain a cause of action against the insured but on whether he has, in his complaint, stated facts which bring the injury within the coverage. If the latter situation prevails, the policy requires the insurer to defend, irrespective of the insured’s ultimate liability. . . . It necessarily follows that the insurer’s duty to defend is measured by the allegations of the complaint. . . . Hence, if the complaint sets forth a cause of action within the coverage of the policy, the insurer must defend. . . . Indeed, [i]f an allegation of the complaint falls even possibly within the coverage, then the insurance company must defend the insured. . . . On the other hand, if the complaint alleges a liability which the policy does not cover, the insurer is not required to defend.’’ (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Community Action for Greater Middlesex County, Inc. v. American Alliance Ins. Co., 254 Conn. 387, 398-99, 757 A.2d 1074 (2000).

         Specifically, ‘‘[w]here . . . the policy excludes coverage for damages resulting from intentional acts, the court examines the factual allegations to decide whether both intentional acts and intended results are present.’’ Middlesex Ins. Co. v. Mara, 699 F.Supp.2d 439, 449 (D. Conn. 2010). ‘‘Moreover . . . Connecticut courts have long eschewed the notion that pleadings should be read in a hypertechnical manner. . . . They thus read the complaint in a manner that advances substantial justice, construing it reasonably to contain all that it may fairly mean.’’ (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) Id., 450. ‘‘The result is that even when an action is [pleaded] as an unintentional tort [such as negligence], the court examines the alleged activities in the complaint to determine whether the insured intended to commit both the acts and the injuries that resulted. If so, regardless of the title of the action, the court holds the action to be outside the coverage of the policy.’’ Id.

         ‘‘Furthermore, harmful intent may be inferred at law in circumstances where the alleged behavior in the underlying action is so inherently harmful that the resulting damage is unarguably foreseeable.’’ Id. ‘‘Case law is clear that where the provisions in the insurance policy expressly exempt intentional acts of an insured from coverage, the court will grant summary judgment in favor of the insurer who relies upon such exemption.’’ Id., 450-51; see also United Services Automobile Assn. v. Marburg, supra, 46 Conn.App. 104. When an insurer relies on an exclusionary clause to deny coverage, the initial burden is on the insurer to demonstrate that all the allegations within the complaint fall completely within the exclusion. Community Action for Greater Middlesex County, Inc. v. American Alliance Ins. Co., supra, 254 Conn. 398-99. If the complaint alleges liability that falls completely within the exclusion, the insurer is not required to defend. Id., 399.

         The plaintiff argues that Tully’s intent may be presumed in this case as a matter of law under Marburg because the complaint in the underlying civil action alleged sexual misconduct with a minor. This requires us to consider the defendants’ argument that intent may not be presumed because Allstate Ins. Co. v. Barron, supra, 269 Conn. 394, overruled the Marburg presumption.

         In United Services Automobile Assn. v. Marburg, supra, 46 Conn.App. 100-101, our Appellate Court considered whether an insurer had a duty to defend the defendant, Bonita Marburg, a woman accused of sexually abusing a minor during tutoring sessions. In its motion for summary judgment, the insurer argued that no genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether the allegations fell within the homeowners insurance policy’s ‘‘ ‘expected-or-intended injury’ ’’ exclusion. Id., 102. The minor and his mother alleged, however, that Marburg’s sexual misconduct was a result of a mental disease or defect that negated her intent to harm the minor. Id., 103. The Appellate Court, following an American Law Reports annotation, recognized a presumption of intent for acts of sexual molestation of minors because that act itself is ‘‘so heinous that intent to cause harm is presumed as a matter of law.’’ Id., 104, citing annot., 31A.L.R.4th 957, § 5(b) (1984); see, e.g., Gearing v. Nationwide Ins. Co., 76 Ohio St.3d 34, 37, 665 N.E.2d 1115 (1996) (observing that, by ‘‘1993, the inferred intent standard in cases of sexual molestation of a minor was characterized as the unanimous rule, ’’ and that minority approach of considering subjective intent has ‘‘largely been abandoned, having been criticized as logically untenable’’ [internal quotation marks omitted]); see also Twin City Fire Ins. Co. v. Doe, 163 Ariz. 388, 390, 788 P.2d 121 (App. 1989) (concluding that public policy ...


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