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Maxam v. American Family Mutual Insurance Co.

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Third Division

October 11, 2016

JACK MAXAM, Appellant,
v.
AMERICAN FAMILY MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Respondent.

         APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF JACKSON COUNTY, MISSOURI THE HONORABLE JOEL FAHNESTOCK, JUDGE

          Before Lisa White Hardwick, Presiding Judge, Gary D. Witt, Judge and Edward R. Ardini, Jr., Judge

          EDWARD R. ARDINI, JR JUDGE

         Jack Maxam ("Maxam") filed a petition for declaratory judgment claiming that he is entitled to underinsured motorist ("UIM") benefits under an automobile insurance policy issued by American Family Insurance ("American Family"). The trial court entered judgment in favor of American Family and Maxam appeals. In his two points on appeal, Maxam argues that the trial court erred in granting American Family's motion for summary judgment because (1) the policy is ambiguous in that it grants UIM coverage to the insured in his personal capacity but then excludes UIM coverage from certain vehicles and (2) the policy provides a minimum of $25, 000 in UIM coverage pursuant to the statement under the "LIMITS OF LIABILITY" section of the UIM endorsement that in no event shall the amount paid be reduced below the minimum statutory limit. Because the "owned-vehicle" exclusion to personal UIM coverage is not ambiguous and the Missouri Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law ("MVFRL") does not mandate UIM coverage, both points are denied and we affirm.

         I. STATEMENT OF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The facts are undisputed. American Family issued a motor vehicle insurance policy to Maxam for his 2000 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24, which included UIM coverage. While driving a different vehicle that he owned, a 2003 Chevrolet Astro, Maxam was rear-ended. He settled for the other driver's policy limit and submitted a claim to American Family for UIM benefits under the policy for his 2000 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24. American Family denied Maxam's claim for UIM benefits on the grounds that the vehicle he occupied at the time of the accident, the 2003 Chevrolet Astro, was owned by Maxam but not insured for UIM coverage and thus excluded under the terms of the policy for the 2000 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24.

         Following American Family's denial of his claim for UIM benefits, Maxam filed a Petition for Declaratory Judgment in the trial court. Both parties moved for summary judgment. The trial court denied Maxam's Motion for Summary Judgment, granted American Family's Motion for Summary Judgment, and entered judgment in favor of American Family and against Maxam. Maxam timely appealed.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is appropriate where there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Rule 74.04(c)(6); Floyd-Tunnell v. Shelter Mut. Ins. Co., 439 S.W.3d 215, 217 (Mo. banc 2014). A trial court's grant of summary judgment and the interpretation of an insurance policy are questions of law that this Court reviews de novo. Id.

          III. DISCUSSION

We review the terms of an insurance contract as follows:
[W]e look to determine whether the insurance policy language is ambiguous or unambiguous. If no ambiguity exists, the insurance contract will be enforced as written. If an ambiguity exists, we construe the language of the policy against the insurer. An ambiguity exists when there is duplicity, indistinctness, or uncertainty in the meaning of the language in the policy. When determining whether an ambiguity exists, words or phrases in an insurance contract must be interpreted by the court in the context of the policy as a whole and are not to be considered in isolation . . . . [W]e apply the meaning which would be attached by an ordinary person of average understanding if purchasing insurance and we resolve ambiguities in favor of the insured. . .

Fanning v. Progressive Northwestern Ins. Co., 412 S.W.3d 360, 364 (Mo. App. W.D. 2013) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

         A. The "Owned-Vehicle" Exclusion is Clear and Unambiguous in the Context ...


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