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Taylor v. Owners Insurance Co.

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Second Division

September 13, 2016

SHANE S. TAYLOR, Respondent,
v.
OWNERS INSURANCE COMPANY, Appellant.

         Appeal from the Circuit Court of Buchanan County, Missouri The Honorable Daniel F. Kellogg, Judge

          Before: Karen King Mitchell, Presiding Judge, and Cynthia L. Martin and Gary D. Witt, Judges

          Karen King Mitchell, Presiding Judge

         Shane Taylor filed a petition for declaratory judgment seeking a declaration that he is entitled to uninsured motorist coverage (UM coverage) from the insurance policy of his mother, Judy Taylor (Mother's Policy, or the Policy), issued by Owners Insurance Company (Owners). Owners appeals the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Taylor, and the denial of its own motion for summary judgment. Because Mother's Policy did not provide UM coverage to Taylor, we reverse. Moreover, because both parties concede that identical issues govern the motions for summary judgment filed by both sides and agree as to all facts on which judgment was sought by both parties, no purpose would be served by remand for reconsideration of Owners's motion for summary judgment. Therefore, this court reverses the trial court's judgment and enters judgment in favor of Owners.

         Background

         The parties submitted the case to the trial court on stipulated facts. Taylor was riding his Harley Davidson motorcycle on May 2, 2014, when he was struck by a 2000 Ford Focus, operated by Rigoberto Cabrera, an uninsured motorist. Taylor, whose actions did not contribute to cause the collision, was severely injured and sustained damages in excess of $275, 000.

         At the time of the collision, Farm Bureau Town and Country Insurance Company of Missouri (Farm Bureau) had issued two policies in the names of Taylor and his wife, Elicia; the first Farm Bureau policy covered the motorcycle, as well as another vehicle owned by the couple, while the second policy covered the couple's third vehicle. The Farm Bureau policies contained UM coverage for up to $25, 000 per vehicle, and Taylor has been paid the full aggregate policy limits of $75, 000 for the three vehicles insured by Farm Bureau.

         Owners issued Mother a policy listing the two vehicles that she owned. Mother's Policy provides UM coverage with a limit of $100, 000 per vehicle. Mother is the only person listed in her Policy, though Taylor, who lives with Mother, is a "relative" under Mother's Policy, which defines relative as "a person who resides with you and who is related to you by blood, marriage, or adoption." The "UNINSURED MOTORIST COVERAGE" endorsement in Mother's Policy includes a "COVERAGE" subsection that extends UM coverage "to a relative who does not own an automobile." The UM endorsement in Mother's Policy also includes subsections addressing: "EXCLUSIONS" from coverage, "LIMIT[S] OF LIABILITY, " and when "OTHER UNINSURED MOTORIST COVERAGE" is primary or excess over coverage provided by the UM endorsement.

          Taylor filed a UM claim with Owners on Mother's Policy. Owners denied Taylor's claim because he did not fall within the COVERAGE subsection of the UM endorsement, as he owned an automobile at the time of the accident. Taylor filed suit seeking damages and a declaratory judgment that he had the right to UM coverage under Mother's Policy. The parties filed motions for summary judgment on stipulated facts, and the trial court granted Taylor's motion and denied Owners's motion. The trial court found Mother's Policy to be "ambiguous as to the [UM] coverage provided to 'relatives' of [Mother], " and accordingly construed the Policy in favor of coverage. The trial court determined that Taylor was entitled to aggregate coverage in the amount of $200, 000 under the Policy, and entered judgment against Owners in that amount.

         Owners timely appealed.

         Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is proper when the moving party demonstrates there is no genuine dispute about material facts and, under the undisputed facts, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Rule 74.04(c)(6); ITT Commercial Fin. Corp. v. Mid-Am. Marine Supply Corp., 854 S.W.2d 371, 380 (Mo. banc 1993). An appellate court's review of a motion for summary judgment is de novo. ITT, 854 S.W.2d at 376. And where, as here, the facts are stipulated, no deference is given to the trial court's findings; the only question before the appellate court is whether the trial court drew the proper legal conclusions from the facts stipulated. White v. Dir. of Revenue, 321 S.W.3d 298, 308 (Mo. banc 2010).

         Analysis

         In its two points, [1] Owners argues that the trial court committed reversible error in denying its motion for summary judgment and granting Taylor's motion because: (1) the UM endorsement in Mother's Policy unambiguously limits coverage to relatives who do not own an automobile, of which Taylor owns three; and (2) if Taylor is entitled to coverage, his recovery should be limited to $50, 000 because Mother's Policy contains an exclusion limiting coverage to $25, 000 per vehicle, the statutory minimum, for any person operating an automobile not insured by Mother's Policy. The first point is dispositive, requiring reversal, and, therefore, we do not reach Owners's second point.

         A. Appeal from the denial of summary judgment.

         First, we note that, "[g]enerally, the denial of a motion for summary judgment is not a final judgment that may be reviewed on appeal." McGathey v. Matthew K. Davis Trust, 457 S.W.3d 867, 876 (Mo. App. W.D. 2015) (quoting Herring v. Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 96 S.W.3d 893, 894 (Mo. App. W.D. 2002)). However, "[w]hen the merits of that motion . . . are inextricably intertwined with the issues in an appealable summary judgment in favor of another party, then that denial may be reviewable." Lopez v. Am. Family Mut. Ins. Co., 96 S.W.3d 891, 892 (Mo. App. W.D. 2002). Here, the motions for summary judgment rely on the application of the same law to stipulated facts in order to answer two discrete questions: whether Taylor has UM coverage under Mother's Policy, and, if so, whether such coverage is subject to an exclusion limiting coverage to $25, 000 per vehicle. The motions are inextricably intertwined and we will review both the grant and denial of summary judgment.

         B. UM Coverage

         The key issue before this court is whether the Owners Policy is ambiguous. When there is ambiguity in an insurance policy, the Court must interpret the policy in favor of the insured. Todd v. Mo. United Sch. Ins. Council, 223 S.W.3d 156, 160 (Mo. banc 2007). Courts will not, however, create ambiguity in an otherwise unambiguous policy. Taylor v. Bar Plan Mut. Ins. Co., 457 S.W.3d 340, 344 (Mo. banc 2015). "The general rules for interpretation of other contracts apply to insurance contracts as well. The key is whether the contract language is ambiguous or unambiguous." Todd, 223 S.W.3d at 160 (quoting Peters v. Emp'rs Mut. Cas. Co., 853 S.W.2d 300, 301-02 (Mo. banc 1993)). "[W]here insurance policies are unambiguous, they will be enforced as written." Id. (quoting Rodriguez v. Gen. Accident Ins. Co. of Am., 808 S.W.2d 379, 382 (Mo. banc 1991)). "Whether an insurance policy is ambiguous is a question of law." Id. (quoting Martin v. U.S. Fidelity and Guar. Co., 996 S.W.2d 506, 508 (Mo. banc 1999)).

         "It is settled law that 'when analyzing an insurance contract, the entire policy and not just isolated provisions or clauses must be considered.'" Rice v. Shelter Mut. Ins. Co., 301 S.W.3d 43, 47 (Mo. banc 2009) (quoting Versaw v. Versaw, 202 S.W.3d 638, 643 (Mo. App. S.D. 2006)). "If an entire policy is analyzed in context and found to be unambiguous, i.e., its language is plain, straightforward, and susceptible to only one meaning, the rules of construction are inapplicable." Id. (quoting Versaw, 202 S.W.3d at 643). However, if there is duplicity, indistinctness, or uncertainty in the meaning of the policy when it is read as a whole, and "the policy is therefore open to different constructions, " an ambiguity exists, and "the policy 'will be interpreted in the manner that would ordinarily be understood by the lay person who bought and paid for the policy.'" Id. (quoting Versaw, 202 S.W.3d at 643). "Conflicting clauses in a policy should be reconciled so far as their language reasonably permits; when reconciliation fails, however, inconsistent provisions will be construed in favor of the insured." Jones v. Mid-Century Ins. Co., 287 S.W.3d 687, 692 (quoting Lutsky v. Blue Cross Hosp. Servs., Inc. of Mo., 695 S.W.2d 870, 875 n.7 (Mo. banc 1985)). Generally, "'if a contract promises something at one point and takes it away at another, there is an ambiguity.'" Jones, 287 S.W.3d at 690 (quoting Seeck v. Geico Gen. Ins. Co., 212 S.W.3d 129, 133 (Mo. banc 2007)).

         Here, the UM endorsement in Mother's Policy contains six subsections. The four relevant subsections[2] include one addressing "COVERAGE" (defining to whom and under what circumstances Owners will pay compensatory damages for bodily injuries caused by an uninsured motorist) and three addressing: "EXCLUSIONS" (limiting the amount of coverage in certain circumstances to the minimum amount required by the Missouri Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law), "OTHER UNINSURED MOTORIST COVERAGE" (addressing when the UM coverage in the endorsement will be primary and when it will be excess as to other applicable UM coverage), and "LIMIT OF LIABILITY" (addressing when the Limit of Liability stated in the Declarations for UM coverage applies). In its motion for summary judgment, Owners argued that the language of the COVERAGE subsection of the UM endorsement unambiguously excludes Taylor from coverage because he owns automobiles. In his response to Owners's motion and in his own motion for summary judgment, Taylor argued that, even if the COVERAGE subsection clearly excludes him, the "LIMIT OF LIABILITY" and "OTHER UNINSURED MOTORIST COVERAGE" subsections reasonably can be read as providing coverage to relatives, without exception.[3] Therefore, Taylor argues these subsections create an ambiguity, and the policy must be read to provide coverage. In granting summary judgment to Taylor, the trial court found that the UM endorsement was ambiguous. The basis for this finding is not clear.

         i.COVER ...


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