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Amica Mutual Insurance Co. v. Rivera

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

November 19, 2018




         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Amica Mutual Insurance Company (“Amica”) has filed this lawsuit against Defendants Isaac Rivera (“Isaac”), Jesus Rivera (“Jesus”), Carmen Pozo-Rivera (“Carmen”) and Ryan Morrell (“Morrell”) (collectively, the “Defendants”) seeking a declaratory judgment stating that Amica has no liability to the Defendants in connection with a negligence lawsuit against Isaac. D. 17. Amica has moved for summary judgment. D. 43. For the reasons stated below, the Court DENIES the motion.

         II. Standard of Review

         The Court grants summary judgment where there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the undisputed facts demonstrate that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “A fact is material if it carries with it the potential to affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law.” Santiago-Ramos v. Centennial P.R. Wireless Corp., 217 F.3d 46, 52 (1st Cir. 2000) (quoting Sánchez v. Alvarado, 101 F.3d 223, 227 (1st Cir. 1996)) (internal quotation mark omitted). The movant “bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Carmona v. Toledo, 215 F.3d 124, 132 (1st Cir. 2000); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant meets its burden, the non-moving party may not rest on the allegations or denials in its pleadings, Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 256 (1986), but “must, with respect to each issue on which she would bear the burden of proof at trial, demonstrate that a trier of fact could reasonably resolve that issue in her favor, ” Borges ex rel. S.M.B.W. v. Serrano-Isern, 605 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2010). “As a general rule, that requires the production of evidence that is ‘significant[ly] probative.'” Id. (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249) (alteration in original). The Court “view[s] the record in the light most favorable to the nonmovant, drawing reasonable inferences in his favor.” Noonan v. Staples, Inc., 556 F.3d 20, 25 (1st Cir. 2009).

         Generally in the insurance context, “[t]he proper interpretation of an insurance policy is a matter of law to be decided by a court, not a jury.” Boazova v. Safety Ins. Co., 462 Mass. 346, 350 (2012); see Matusevich v. Middlesex Mut. Assurance Co., 782 F.3d 56, 59 (1st Cir. 2015) (quoting Atlas Pallet, Inc. v. Gallagher, 725 F.2d 131, 134 (1st Cir. 1984)) (explaining that “[i]n the insurance context, if the facts upon which liability is claimed or denied are undisputed, then ‘the existence or amount of liability depends solely upon a construction of the policy, [and] the question presented is one of law for the court to decide'”). However, “when the facts support plausible but conflicting inferences on a pivotal issue in the case, the judge may not choose between those inferences at the summary judgment stage.” Coyne v. Taber Partners I, 53 F.3d 454, 460 (1st Cir. 1995).

         III. Factual Background

         The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted. This action arises out of an incident that occurred on October 18, 2016 at the residence of Defendants Jesus and Carmen. D. 45 at 2. Jesus and Carmen own a single family home in Leominster, Massachusetts (the “Rivera home”). Id. Their son, Isaac, lives with them, including at the time of the incident in question. Id.; D. 45-3 at 3.

         A. Morrell's Injury During Isaac's Arrest

         Prior to the incident on October 18, 2016, Isaac's girlfriend obtained a temporary restraining order against Isaac that was in effect until December 19, 2016. D. 45 at 3. On the afternoon of October 18, 2016, Isaac's girlfriend reported to the Leominster Police Department that Isaac had violated the terms of the restraining order. Id. In response, four Leominster officers went to the Rivera home looking for Isaac. Id. The officers were Officer Daniel M. Proietti (“Proietti”), Officer William C. Taylor (“Taylor”), Sergeant Ryan D. Malatos (“Malatos”) and Defendant Morrell. Id.

         When the officers arrived at the Rivera home, Jesus let them into the house and told them Isaac was in the shower. Id. Carmen was at work at the time and was not present. Id. Jesus told Isaac to dry off because the police were there to take him into custody. Id. at 3-4. The officers waited in the hallway outside the bathroom. Id. at 4. Initially, the officers asked Jesus to get clothes for Isaac while Isaac stayed in the bathroom. Id. Jesus told the officers he did not know where Isaac's clothes were and the officers agreed Isaac could return to his bedroom to retrieve his clothes. Id. Proietti and Taylor escorted Isaac to his bedroom where he got dressed. Id.

         While in Isaac's bedroom, Taylor attempted to place handcuffs on Isaac while Proietti held Isaac's left wrist. Id. Isaac broke away from Proietti's grasp. Id. According to Isaac, Isaac “panicked” and moved towards the living room. D. 47 at 2; D. 47-2 at 3. Isaac also testified that he “panicked” because the prospect of being arrested triggered his anxiety. D. 47 at 3; D. 47-2 at 6. It is undisputed that Isaac then ran from the bedroom towards the hallway and Morrell was standing in the hallway. D. 45 at 4; D. 47 at 3. According to Proietti, Isaac “rushed forward like a bull” toward Morrell and then down a narrow hallway toward the kitchen. D. 45-16 at 10. According to Isaac and Morrell, Isaac attempted to run past Morrell and other obstacles in the hall to get outside and escape. D. 47-2 at 12; D. 47-3 at 8. Morrell testified that as Isaac ran past him in the hallway, he grabbed onto Isaac, first on Isaac's side and then from the back. D. 47-3 at 3-4. Morrell further testified it was like a “bear hug.” Id. at 3. According to Morrell, Isaac's momentum carried him and Isaac down the hallway and they “bounced off the walls towards the kitchen.” Id. at 4. Malatos wrote in the police report that he grabbed the right side of Isaac's body while Morrell had the other side. D. 45-6 at 10. According to Malatos, the three men (Malatos, Morrell and Isaac) fell into the glass china cabinet in the hallway causing the glass to shatter. Id. According to Isaac, the glass in the cabinet broke after two officers “threw” him into the cabinet and he was “tackled.” D. 47-2 at 7, 9.

         During the struggle in the hallway, Morrell injured his hand, the injury at issue in this case. D. 45 at 4; D. 47 at 3. Morrell testified that “[his] hand was crushed into the wall leading into the living room.” D. 47-3 at 6. The living room is at the opposite end of the hallway from where Isaac initially ran out of the bedroom. D. 47 at 3. According to Jesus, the hallway is very narrow and two people cannot fit side by side in it. D. 45-14 at 21.

         Isaac testified that he did not see Morrell get hurt and does not know how Morrell got hurt. D. 47 at 3; D. 47-2 at 7-8. Isaac further testified that it was not his intention to injure Morrell or any police officer. D. 47 at 3-4; D. 47-2 at 10.

         Isaac was ultimately subdued by Taylor using a taser gun and was arrested in the living room. D. 45 at 5. Morrell received medical attention for the injury to his hand at Leominster hospital. Id.

         B. Criminal Charges Against Isaac

         As a result of this incident, Isaac was charged with resisting arrest and assault and battery on a police officer, among other charges. D. 45 at 5. With regard to the charge of assault and battery, the criminal complaint states: “On 10/18/2016 [Isaac] did assault and beat Ryan Morrell, a police officer who was then engaged in the performance of his or her duties . . . .” D. 45 at 5; D. 45-7 at 3. Regarding the charge of resisting arrest, the complaint states:

On 10/18/2016 [Isaac] did knowingly prevent or attempt to prevent a police officer . . . who was acting under color of his or her official authority, from effecting an arrest, by: (1) using or threatening to use physical force or violence against the police officer or another; or (2) using some other means which created a ...

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