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BRUNETTO v. MASSACHUSETTS MUT. LIFE INS. CO.

May 9, 2002

JOSEPH A. BRUNETTO, PLAINTIFF,
V.
MASSACHUSETTS MUTUAL LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Berman, District Judge.

ORDER

I. Background

Plaintiff Joseph A. Brunetto ("Plaintiff" or "Brunetto") holds two disability insurance policies issued to him on January 23, 1995 and August 1, 1995, respectively, by Defendant Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company ("Defendant" or "Mass-Mutual") (collectively, the "Policies"). Plaintiff filed the instant breach of contract action on December 9, 1999 and an amended complaint on February 18, 2000 ("Amended Complaint") seeking damages from Defendant.*fn1 Plaintiff contends, inter alia, that under the Policies, Mass-Mutual should (but has not) adjust the "Monthly Income Payments" to reflect cost of living increases. Pl's. Mem. at 10-13.*fn2

On or about May 22, 2001, Plaintiff moved for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Fed. R. Civ.P.") 56(a). On or about June 22, 2001, Defendant opposed Plaintiffs motion and, on or about July 5, 2001, Plaintiff submitted a reply memorandum.

On March 26, 2002, United States Magistrate Judge Theodore H. Katz, to whom the matter had been referred, issued a report ("Report") recommending that (1) Plaintiffs motion for summary judgment be denied and (2) that the action be dismissed with prejudice because the Report resolves the sole remaining issue in the case. Report at 20. Magistrate Katz advised and notified the parties of the procedures for objecting to the Report, stating that "[p]ursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 (b)(1)(C), and Rule 72 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the parties shall have ten (10) days from service of this Report to file written objections. . . . Failure to file objections will result in a waiver of those objections for purposes of appeal." Id. at 21. On April 5, 2002, Plaintiff objected to the Report ("Pl's.Objections") and on April 24, 2002, Defendant opposed Plaintiffs objections.

For the reasons set forth below, the Court adopts the Report in its entirety; denies Plaintiffs motion for summary judgment, and dismisses the case.

II. Standard of Review

A district court evaluating a Magistrate's report may adopt those portions of the report to which no "specific, written objection" is made, as long as those sections are not clearly erroneous. Fed. R.Civ.P. 72 (b); Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149, 106 S.Ct. 466, 88 L.Ed.2d 435 (1985); Greene v. WCI Holdings Corp., 956 F. Supp. 509, 513 (S.D.N.Y. 1997). Where, as here, timely objections are made to a Magistrate's report, the District Judge must make a de novo determination as to the objections raised. Cespedes v. Coughlin, 956 F. Supp. 454, 463 (S.D.N.Y. 1997). A district judge may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings and recommendations of the Magistrate. See DeLuca v. Lord, 858 F. Supp. 1330, 1345 (S.D.N.Y. 1994).

III. Analysis

The facts set forth in the Report are incorporated herein by reference.

The Court has conducted a de novo review of the record herein, the Report, as well as appropriate legal authorities. Magistrate Katz was correct that there are no genuine issues of material fact, i.e. the Policies' terms are unambiguous and, pursuant to the Policies, Plaintiff is not entitled to payments in an amount greater than "Monthly Income," as defined in the Policies. Report at 7 ("Nothing . . . suggests that the monthly income is subject to upward adjustments."); Report at 15 ("Thus, while Plaintiff is correct that `the policies explicitly state the amount of increases in the monthly average that Mr. Brunetto is entitled to' (Pl's. Mem. at 11), Plaintiff is incorrect that this automatically translates into higher monthly benefit payments.").

In his Objections, Plaintiff contends, among other things, that: (1) "the Court in this matter has misconstrued the terms and conditions of the policies and . . . has interpreted these policies in a view that no lay person could be expected to grasp or understand" (Pl's. Objections at 1) and (2) "[h]ad Judge Katz found the policies' terms ambiguous, then the plaintiffs affidavit[, among other things,] would be extremely relevant in determining the expectations of the parties at the time the contract was executed." Id. at 2.

Plaintiffs contentions are not persuasive. "[A]n insurance policy, like any contract, must be construed to effectuate the intent of the parties as derived from the plain meaning of the policy's terms." Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. v. Fed. Ins. Co., 189 F.3d 208, 215 (2d Cir. 1999) (citations omitted). "If the language of the insurance contract is unambiguous, we apply its terms." Id. "When a court decides, after examination of the contractual language, that an insurance policy is ambiguous, it looks outside the policy to extrinsic evidence, if any, to ascertain the intent of the parties." Id. Where, as here, "the parties' intent is unambiguously conveyed by the plain meaning of the agreements, then interpretation is a matter of law." Crane Co. v. Coltec Indus., 171 F.3d 733, 737 (2d Cir. 1999).

The Magistrate used the appropriate legal analysis in determining that the Policies are unambiguous. See Seiden Assocs. v. ANC Holdings, 959 F.2d 425, 428 (2d Cir. 1992) (An insurance policy is ambiguous if it is "capable of more than one meaning when viewed objectively by a reasonably intelligent person who has examined the context of the entire integrated agreement.") (quotation marks omitted); see, e.g., Report at 5-6, 17 ("An ordinary person can be expected to understand that the statement `[Monthly Income] may also depend on changes in the Consumer Price Index' does not mean that the ...


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