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Helfrich v. Allstate Insurance Co.

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Tenth District

September 30, 2013

James C. Helfrich, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Allstate Insurance Company, Defendant-Appellee.

APPEAL from the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas C.P.C. No. 11CVH-06-7724

Christopher M. Corrigan, for appellant.

Crabbe, Brown & James LLP, and Daniel J. Hurley, for appellee.



(¶ 1} Plaintiff-appellant, James C. Helfrich ("appellant"), appeals from a judgment of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas in favor of defendant-appellee, Allstate Insurance Company ("appellee"). For the following reasons, we affirm.


(¶ 2} The underlying facts of this case began in 2007, when appellant commenced a civil action against various defendants in the Licking County Court of Common Pleas. In April 2007, the Licking County defendants filed a counterclaim against appellant seeking a declaration that appellant was a vexatious litigator pursuant to R.C. 2323.52. Appellant forwarded a copy of the counterclaim to appellee seeking coverage under two separate policies of insurance. Appellee denied coverage and refused to provide appellant with a defense in the Licking County action.

(¶ 3} On March 4, 2011, the trial court entered judgment against appellant on the counterclaim and declared him to be a vexatious litigator as defined in R.C. 2323.52(A)(3). In its judgment entry, the trial court expressly retained jurisdiction of Licking County defendants motion for frivolous conduct. Appellant subsequently dismissed his complaint pursuant to Civ.R. 41(A). On August 19, 2011, the trial court ruled that appellant had engaged in frivolous conduct and ordered appellant to pay the Licking County defendants' attorney fees in the amount of $118, 451.08.

(¶ 4} Appellant subsequently brought the instant action against appellee in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, seeking a declaration that appellee had a contractual duty to indemnify and defend him in the Licking County action, pursuant to a policy of insurance. Appellant also asserts claims for damages sounding in breach of contract and bad faith.

(¶ 5} The facts of the case being undisputed, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of appellee and denied appellant's motion for summary judgment. In so doing, the trial court determined that appellee did not owe a duty to provide either a defense or indemnification to appellant in the Licking County litigation. The trial court also determined that the denial of coverage was consistent with the policy terms and not in bad faith.


(¶ 6} Appellant appealed to this court from the judgment of the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas. Inasmuch as the two assignments of error present a single issue for review, we will consider them together. Appellant presents the following assignments of error for our review:



(¶ 7} Appellate review of summary judgment motions is de novo. Helton v. Scioto Cty. Bd. of Commrs., 123 Ohio App.3d 158, 162 (4th Dist.1997). "When reviewing a trial court's ruling on summary judgment, the court of appeals conducts an independent review of the record and stands in the shoes of the trial court." Mergenthal v. Star Bank Corp., 122 Ohio App.3d 100, 103 (12th Dist.1997). We must affirm the trial court's judgment if any of the grounds raised by the movant at the trial court are found to support it, even if the trial court failed to consider those grounds. Coventry Twp. v. Ecker, 101 Ohio App.3d 38, 41-42 (9th Dist.1995).

(¶ 8} Summary judgment is proper only when the party moving for summary judgment demonstrates that (1) no genuine issue of material fact exists, (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, and (3) reasonable minds could come to but one conclusion and that conclusion is adverse to the party against whom the motion for summary judgment is made, that party being entitled to have the evidence most strongly construed in that party's favor. Civ.R. 56(C); State ex rel. Grady v. State Emp. Relations Bd., 78 Ohio St.3d 181, 183 (1997).

(¶ 9} An insurance policy is a contract between the insurer and the insured. Ward v. United Foundries, Inc., 129 Ohio St.3d 292, 2011-Ohio-3176, ¶ 18, citing Pilkington N. Am., Inc. v. Travelers Cas. & Sur. Co., 112 Ohio St.3d 482, 2006-Ohio-6551, ¶ 23. The rules of construction of an insurance contract are well-settled. Heritage Mut. Ins. Co. v. Ricart Ford, Inc., 105 Ohio App.3d 261, 265-66 (10th Dist.1995), citing German Fire Ins. Co. v. Roost, 55 Ohio St. 581 (1897). The interpretation of that insurance contract is a question of law to be decided by a judge. Erie Ins. Group v. Fisher, 15 Ohio St.3d 380 (1984). Where language in a contract of insurance is doubtful, uncertain or ambiguous, the language will be construed strictly against the insurer and liberally in favor of the insured. Guernsey Bank v. Milano Sports Ents., 10th Dist. No. 09AP-1015, 2011-Ohio-2162, ¶ 36. If a contract is clear and unambiguous, then its interpretation is a matter of law, and there is no issue of fact to be determined. Inland Refuse Transfer Co. v. Browning-Ferris Industries of Ohio, Inc., 15 Ohio St.3d 321 (1984).

(¶ 10} Appellant seeks recovery under two policies of insurance with appellee: A Landlord Package policy, and a Personal Umbrella Package policy. The relevant provisions of the two policies differ materially. Accordingly, we will consider them separately: The Landlord Package policy reads in relevant part as follows:

Losses We Cover Under Coverage X:
Subject to the terms, conditions and limitations of this policy, Allstate will pay compensatory damages which an insured person becomes legally obligated to pay because of * * * personal injury * * * arising from a covered occurrence.
** *
"Personal injury"-means damages resulting ...

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