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USM, Inc. v. Barretta Enterprises, LLC

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 21, 2016

USM, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
BARRETTA ENTERPRISES, LLC, and PEERLESS INDEMNITY INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendants.

          RULING ON MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          DOMINIC J. SQUATRITO, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The plaintiff, USM, Inc. (“USM”), brings claims of common law indemnification, contractual indemnification, and breach of contract against the defendants, Barretta Enterprises, LLC (“Barretta”) and Peerless Indemnity Insurance Company (“Peerless”). Both defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the defendant Barretta's motion (doc. # 37)[1] is granted in part and denied in part, and Peerless's motion (doc. # 20) is granted.

         A. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In a prior, separate action, the plaintiff, Linda Hawkins brought suit against Target Corporation (“Target”), alleging that injuries she suffered as the result of a slip and fall on a walkway at a Target store in Orange, Connecticut were “caused by Target's negligence . . . . At the time of the accident, Target had contracted with [USM] to provide snow and ice removal services at the store. USM, in turn, asked its subcontractor Barretta to provide such services there.” Hawkins v. Target Corp., Civil No. 12cv319 (AWT), 2015 WL 533260, at *1 (D. Conn. Feb. 10, 2015) (“Hawkins”). Target subsequently joined Barretta as a third-party defendant in Hawkins, raising claims of contractual indemnification and common law indemnification. A motion for summary judgment filed by Barretta was granted as to the contractual indemnification claim and denied as to the common law indemnification claim. The plaintiff Linda Hawkins subsequently entered into a settlement agreement with Target, which then voluntarily dismissed its claim against Barretta.

         In the instant action, USM brings a common law indemnification claim against Barretta for the costs to defend and indemnify Target in Hawkins, as well as breach of contract claims. USM has also brought a claim against Peerless, which had issued a commercial general liability insurance policy to Barretta, alleging that in the Hawkins action, Peerless breached a duty to defend and indemnify USM and/or Target as additional insureds under the policy issued to Barretta. The caption of the Complaint lists USM as the plaintiff “individually and for the benefit of Target Corporation/Target Stores, Inc.” (Doc. # 1, at 9). The Complaint further represents that, since USM agreed to defend and indemnify Target in Hawkins, it “has stepped into the shoes of Target” for purposes of this action. (Id. at 12, ¶ 10).

         The defendants' motions for summary judgment are based entirely on their argument that the present claims are barred by virtue of the previous decision of the court in Hawkins granting partial summary judgment to Barretta. More specifically, the defendants contend that one or both of the doctrines of collateral estoppel and res judicata preclude USM from pursuing these claims.

         B. SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

         A motion for summary judgment may 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). A “material fact” is one whose resolution will affect the ultimate determination of the case. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute concerning a material fact is genuine “if evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. The Court “accept[s] as true facts that [are] undisputed by the parties, and resolve[s] disputed facts in favor of the non-moving plaintiff where there [is] evidence to support [its] allegations.” Sousa v. Roque, 578 F.3d 164, 166 n.1. “Only when reasonable minds could not differ as to the import of the evidence is summary judgment proper.” Bryant v. Maffucci, 923 F.2d 979, 982 (2d Cir. 1991).

         Summary judgment is appropriate if, after discovery, the nonmoving party “failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). “The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate the absence of any material factual issue genuinely in dispute.” American International Group, Inc. v. London American International Corp., 664 F.2d 348, 351 (2d Cir. 1981) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         C. DISCUSSION

         As previously noted, the defendants' summary judgment motions are based entirely on their argument that the present claims are barred by virtue of the decision in Hawkins. The Court will now consider how that argument applies to each of the four counts in USM's Complaint.

         i. Count One: Common Law Indemnification (Barretta)

         In Count One of its Complaint, USM alleges that: (1) “At all times relevant hereto, Barretta was in control of snow and ice removal of the parking lot at Target, at the Premises, to the exclusion of USM”; (2) “USM had no reason to know that Barretta would be negligent in the snow and ice removal in the parking lot at Target resulting in injury”; and (3) “Accordingly, Barretta is obligated to USM for the costs to defend and indemnify Target and the settlement in the Federal Action [Hawkins].” (Doc. # 1, at 13, ¶¶ 16, 17, 19).

         The third-party complaint against Barretta in Hawkins included a common law indemnification claim. Barretta's motion for summary judgment in that case was denied as to the common law indemnification claim:

[A] reasonable jury could conclude that despite the poorly designed drain pipe the dangerous condition that caused the slip and fall was the ice on the walkway, and that Barretta had exclusive control over that walkway. Genuine issues of material fact exist as to what is the dangerous condition and whether Barretta had exclusive control over that condition. Therefore, summary judgment is being denied with respect to the common law indemnification claim.

Hawkins, 2015 WL 533260, at *5.

         Barretta's legal argument in support of its motion for summary judgment begins with the following statement: “The doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel are both related to the general principle that once a question has been finally and authoritatively decided it should not be relitigated.” (Doc. # 37-1, at 7) (internal quotation marks omitted). With regard to the common law indemnification claim, however, the court in Hawkins did not finally and authoritatively decide the question. To the contrary, the court explicitly stated that genuine issues of material fact exist as to that question. Neither res judicata nor collateral estoppel - - which are the exclusive ...


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