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Allied Property and Casualty Insurance Co. v. Bresler

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

May 12, 2017

ALLIED PROPERTY AND CASUALTY INSURANCE CO., Plaintiff,
v.
MEGAN BRESLER, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          STEPHEN N. LIMBAUGH, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Allied Property and Casualty Insurance Co. (“Allied”) brought this declaratory judgment action against defendant Megan Bresler seeking a judgment that defendant is not entitled to underinsured motorist coverage pursuant to the terms of defendant's insurance contract with Allied. Plaintiff has moved for summary judgment (#9). After staying briefing on this matter during the pendency of the defendant's motion to dismiss, the matter is fully briefed and ready for disposition.

         I. Factual Background

         The following facts are not in dispute. Defendant was involved in an automobile accident on October 26, 2015. She alleged that the other driver (the “Tortfeasor”) involved in the accident was at fault. Defendant recovered the $250, 000 policy limit of the Tortfeasor's applicable insurance policy. She also recovered the $1, 000, 000 limit of liability of the insurance policy applicable to the vehicle she was driving at the time of the accident. Defendant seeks underinsured motorist coverage under her own policy of automobile insurance issued to her by plaintiff Allied (the “Policy”) because she says her injuries exceeded the $250, 000 limit of liability of the Tortfeasor's policy.

         The Policy states that it offers “underinsured motorist coverage” (“UIM coverage”) and defines “underinsured motor vehicle” as a vehicle which is subject to an insurance policy which has a “limit for bodily injury liability…less than the limit of liability for this coverage.” The Policy's limit of liability for UIM coverage is $100, 000. The Tortfeasor's insurance limit of liability is $250, 000, which is more than the $100, 000 limit of liability of UIC under defendant's Policy. Allied thus claims that the Tortfeasor was not driving an underinsured motor vehicle and that defendant is not entitled to UIM coverage as a result.

         Allied has moved for summary judgment.

         II. Standard of Review

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), a district court may grant a motion for summary judgment if all of the information before the court demonstrates that “there is no genuine issue as to material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Poller v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc., 368 U.S. 464, 467 (1962). Because “the interpretation and construction of insurance policies is a matter of law, ... such cases are particularly amenable to summary judgment.” John Deere Ins. Co. v. Shamrock Indus., Inc., 929 F.2d 413, 417 (8th Cir. 1991).

         Because this is a diversity case, the Court applies state substantive law and federal procedural law. Gasperini v. Center for Humanities, Inc., 518 U.S. 415, 427 (1996); see also Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938). Plaintiff's claim is based on a Missouri contract and an accident that occurred in Missouri. The parties appear to agree that Missouri law controls.

         III. Discussion

         There is no statutory requirement that an automotive insurance contract contain UIM coverage, so its existence is determined by the contract entered into between the parties. Rodriguez v. General Accident Ins. Co. of Am., 808 S.W.2d 379, 383 (Mo. banc 1991). The interpretation of an insurance policy is a question of law for which the general rules of contract interpretation apply. Peters v. Employers Mut. Cas. Co., 853 S.W.2d 300, 301-02 (Mo. banc 1993). “If the policy language is unambiguous, it must be enforced as written.” Progressive Cas. Ins. Co. v. Morton, 140 F.Supp.3d 856, 861 (E.D. Mo. 2015). “[A]mbiguity exists when there is duplicity, indistinctness, or uncertainty in the meaning of the language in the policy. Language is ambiguous if it is reasonably open to different constructions.” Seeck v. Geico General Ins. Co., 212 S.W.3d 129, 132 (Mo. banc. 2007). “The fact that the parties disagree over the policy's interpretation does not render a term ambiguous. “ Morton, 140 F.Supp.3d at 861.

         The Policy here provides that, with respect to the UIM coverage endorsement,

We will pay compensatory damages which an “insured” is legally entitled to recover from the owner or operator of an “underinsured motor vehicle” ...

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