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Markel American Insurance Company v. Ryan Dolan and Regions Bank

November 8, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan B. Gottschall


Plaintiff Markel American Insurance Company ("Markel") brings this action for a declaratory judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2201 et seq., against Defendants Ryan Dolan and Regions Bank ("Regions"), seeking a declaration that Markel owes no coverage to either defendant under the marine insurance policy it issued to Dolan with respect to the alleged theft of a high-performance cigarette boat. Markel invokes the court's admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(h) and 28 U.S.C. § 1333. Now before the court is Markel's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Because Dolan made a material misrepresentation in his application for the policy that renders the policy void in its entirety, the court grants the motion.


The following facts are undisputed, except as otherwise indicated. In Spring 2006, Dolan and a man he knew as "Rick Dugo" discussed a commercial venture involving the purchase of a boat. Dugo owned a cigarette boat and had been an avid boater for many years. Dolan had little to no experience in owning or operating any kind of vessel, although he had operated his sister's boat on one occasion. Dolan and Dugo agreed that, although a vessel that Dugo owned would be used as part of the purchase transaction, Dugo would not have any formal ownership interest in the new boat. Dolan's understanding was that at some point in the future, Dugo would either purchase the boat from Dolan, or the boat would be sold at a profit.

On or about July 17, 2006, Dugo and Dolan purchased a 2004 46-foot Cigarette Rough Rider high performance power vessel for $491,162.50, including Florida state sales tax, license and registration fees.*fn1 Dugo acquired the boat in Florida and provided Dolan with an Agreement of Sale, which Dolan mailed back to Hideaway Marina in Pompano Beach, Florida. Dugo contributed a $75,000.00 cash down payment toward the purchase of the boat. The remainder of the purchase price was to be financed, and Dugo was to be responsible for the monthly payments. Dolan was the boat's title owner.

On July 13, 2006, Dolan signed a Preferred Ship Mortgage offered by Regions. On the mortgage agreement, the name "Total Confusion" was scratched out and "Dugo" entered as the name of the vessel. Similarly, the name "Total Confusion" was scratched out and replaced with "Dugo" on other documents dated July 13, 2006, which Dolan executed in connection with the purchase of the boat: a "Limited Power of Attorney," a "Release & Authorization," an "Affidavit for Exemption of Boat Sold for Removal from the State of Florida by a Nonresident Purchaser," and an "Application for Initial Issue, Exchange, or Replacement of Certificate of Documentation; Redocumentation."

Dugo transported the boat from Florida to Chicago, where it was stored at Montrose Harbor Marina, where Dugo was a member. On one occasion, Dugo allowed Dolan to operate the vessel for "a few minutes." Dolan was never given a key to the vessel and never had any affiliation with the marina. Markel claims that Dugo was in possession of the vessel at all relevant times and that Dolan never had possession of the vessel. Dolan disputes this, pointing to his deposition testimony that states that the boat was stored at the home of someone named "Felix" who was a friend of Dugo's, and that Dolan operated the boat once for a few minutes when he went out on the boat with Dugo. (Pl.'s Rule 56.1 Statement of Facts ("SOF") Ex. B (Dolan Dep.) 60:13, 67:23, 69:20, ECF 100-2.)

In order to obtain insurance coverage on the boat, Dugo contacted Sea to Sea Insurance Services, Inc. ("Sea to Sea"), an underwriting agent for Markel with regard to Markel's High Performance Boat Program. A complete and signed Yacht & High Performance Insurance Application and Resume of Boating Experience ("the 2006 application") was faxed to Sea to Sea July 11, 2006. Dolan played no role in filling out the 2006 application and never saw it. Although his name is signed to the application, the signature is not his. Dolan provided Dugo with personal information such as his parent's address, his Social Security number, and his driver's license number, all of which appear on the 2006 application. Dolan received the insurance documents for the ensuing policy at his parents' residence in Aurora, Illinois. The policy had an inception date of July 11, 2006, and named Dolan as the insured and Regions as a lienholder.

Markel claims that the information which appears on the 2006 application is false. The application states that the operator, Dolan, has eleven years of prior boating experience and six years of boat ownership, and has owned three prior boats. (Pl.'s Rule 56.1 SOF Ex. H (2006 Application), ECF 100-8.) Dolan stated in his deposition that he had never previously owned a vessel, and that any information on the application regarding prior ownership of vessels by him was incorrect. (Dolan Dep. 94:9-19.) Dolan responds by citing his affidavit, which states that he never saw the 2006 application before this litigation, that the failure to disclose Dugo as an operator on the application was an "inadvertent oversight," and that Dugo was the operator of the boat. (Defs.' Resp. to Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. B (Dolan Aff.) ¶¶ 6, 9, ECF No. 89-2.)

During the year after the boat was purchased, Dugo contributed approximately $8,000.00 toward mortgage payments. The insurance policy on the boat was renewed for July 11, 2007, through July 11, 2008, without the requirement of the submission of a new application. Dolan then received a "Lapse Notice" from Markel dated July 17, 2008. Dugo had yet to buy the vessel from Dolan, and Dolan concluded that he needed to obtain insurance coverage. Dolan knew that the mortgage from Regions required that insurance be in place on the vessel. Dolan spoke to Kurtis Limbo, an agent at Sea to Sea, about purchasing a new insurance policy. Mr. Limbo told Dolan that he would need to complete a new application in order to receive a new policy from Markel. Dolan received a "Rate Indication" quote dated August 19, 2008, along with a partially completed Watercraft Insurance Application. Sea to Sea had filled in several parts of the insurance application and had typed "Ryan Dolan" in the space for the primary operator's name. Sea to Sea asked Dolan to complete the remainder of the application.

On September 23, 2008, Dolan received an email from Sea to Sea asking whether he was still interested in "getting the coverage back in place." Dolan responded on November 14, 2008, by faxing the completed and signed Watercraft Insurance Application ("the 2008 application") back to Sea to Sea. He did not change the information that Sea to Sea had filled in. Some of the handwriting that appears on the completed application is Dolan's, but the handwriting that appears under the heading of "Operator Information" is Dugo's. Dolan gave Dugo the 2008 application to complete and watched as Dugo entered the hand-written information. Dugo listed his qualifications and experience. Dugo did not list himself as the operator of the vessel. The application did not ask for the identity of the person who had possession of the boat.*fn2

Dolan did not inform Sea to Sea that Dugo was involved in filling out the application.

According to Markel, the 2008 application represents that Dolan previously owned three cigarette boats. In support, Markel points to the application itself, which lists Dolan as the boat's operator and lists under "Operator Information" eight years of boat ownership and three prior boats. (Pl.'s Rule 56.1 SOF Ex. L (2008 Application), ECF 100-12.) Dolan had no prior experience in the ownership or operation of any of the vehicles referenced on the Watercraft Insurance Application.*fn3 It is Dugo who had the experience referenced on the application that Dolan signed on November 14, 2008. Defendants dispute that the information on the application was false, citing Dolan's affidavit, which states that the information "accurately reflects Dugo's qualifications and operator information." (Dolan Aff. ¶ 11.)

Markel further claims that Dolan was aware the information was false when he signed the application, pointing to the fact that, when asked at his deposition why he did not reference Dugo as a secondary operator, Dolan stated that he "just filled out [his] portion and [Dugo] filled it in and just sent it, blindly." (Dolan Dep. 138:5-6.) Dolan disputes this assertion, citing his affidavit, which states that he did not sign the application knowing that any of the information was false, that his failure to disclose that Dugo was the operator was an inadvertent oversight, and that no one from Sea to Sea asked him who was going to drive the boat. He claims that he did not know he should change the information regarding the primary operator, that he would have changed the information had Markel or Sea to Sea advised him to do so, and that he gave the application to Dugo to complete and never saw the final contents. (Dolan Aff. ¶¶ 8-11.)

On or about November 14, 2008, Markel issued to Dolan a policy of marine insurance in the amount of $460,000.00 for the boat and $12,000.00 for the trailer. Dolan received the documents for Markel's Policy No. MHP00000014926 at his parent's address in Aurora, Illinois. The Navigation Limits permitted under the policy were "The Great Lakes including the St. Lawrence River, not east of Quebec City, and inland lakes, rivers and tributaries of bordering states." The policy contained the following provisions:


In return for the premium payment and in compliance with all applicable provisions of this policy and any endorsements, we agree to provide the insurance coverages you have selected as shown on the Declarations Page, which is part of this policy.

By accepting this policy, you agree that the statements on the Declarations Page and any application are your agreements and representations. This policy is issued in reliance upon the truth of your representations during the application process and it includes all agreements existing between you and us or any of our representatives.

GENERAL CONDITIONS These conditions apply in addition to any condition applicable to a specific ...

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