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Country Mut. Ins. Co. v. Orloske

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

April 11, 2016

Country Mutual Insurance Company, Plaintiff - Appellee
v.
Eric J. Orloske; Destiny A. Denton, as trustee for the heirs and next of kin of Brian S. Orloske, Defendants - Appellants

         Submitted November 18, 2015

          For Country Mutual Insurance Company, Plaintiff - Appellee: Mark S. Brown, Stephen M. Warner, Arthur & Chapman, Minneapolis, MN.

         For Eric J. Orloske, Destiny A. Denton, as trustee for the heirs and next of kin of Brian S. Orloske, Defendants - Appellants: Amanda E. Prutzman, Thomas John Weidner, Eckberg & Lammers, Stillwater, MN.

         Before SMITH, BYE, and BENTON, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

Page 336

          SMITH, Circuit Judge.

         Eric Orloske shot his brother, Brian, to death after Eric tripped and fell down the stairs in his home while holding a loaded shotgun. Destiny A. Denton, the trustee for Brian's next of kin, sued Eric for the wrongful death of Brian. Country Mutual Insurance Company (" Country Mutual" ) filed this declaratory judgment action against Eric and Denton (collectively, " Trustee" ) in the district court[1] to establish that its homeowner's policy, which covered Eric's home, did not provide coverage for Brian's death. The district court granted summary judgment to Country Mutual. The court concluded that there was no coverage because Eric had pleaded guilty to manslaughter for Brian's death and the insurance policy excluded coverage for criminal acts. The Trustee appeals, arguing that Minnesota's reasonable-expectations doctrine should invalidate the

Page 337

criminal-acts provision in the policy. We affirm.

         I. Background

         We review the facts in the light most favorable to the Trustee as the nonmoving party. Reed v. City of St. Charles, Mo., 561 F.3d 788, 790 (8th Cir. 2009). On the night of the shooting, Eric and Brian spent the evening together in Eric's home drinking heavily. Due to intoxication, Brian's behavior became increasingly rowdy and unreasonable. Eric's efforts to get Brian to calm down or leave failed. Eric made the unfortunate decision to retrieve his shotgun from the upstairs bedroom and brandish it to scare Brian into compliance. Eric did not know that the gun was loaded. As Eric proceeded down the stairs with the gun, he tripped and the gun discharged, killing Brian.

         Eric pleaded guilty to second degree manslaughter for Brian's death. Denton sought wrongful-death damages in a tort action against Eric on behalf of Brian's next of kin, and she obtained an arbitration award against Eric. Protectively, Country Mutual filed this declaratory judgment action to establish that its policy provided no coverage for Eric's liability in the death of his brother. Country Mutual denied coverage on the basis of the criminal-acts exclusion in Eric's policy. That exclusion provides the following:

9. Criminal Acts

         

" Bodily injury" or " property damage" arising from any criminal act. Criminal act means any act or omission which is criminal in nature or for which a penal statute or ordinance permits or requires any term of imprisonment or sentence of public service duties. This exclusion applies regardless of whether any " insured" is actually charged with or convicted of a crime and regardless of whether any " insured" subjectively intended the " bodily ...

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