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Trumbull Insurance Co. v. Mallett

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

September 5, 2017

TRUMBULL INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN H. MALLETT, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          AUDREY G. FLEISSIG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This action for declaratory judgment regarding underinsured motorist (“UIM”) coverage is before the Court on the motion (ECF No. 18) for summary judgment filed by Plaintiff Trumbull Insurance Company as to both Defendants, and the cross motion (ECF No. 41) for summary judgment filed by Defendant John H. Mallett (“John Mallett” or “Defendant”). The other Defendant in this case, Kelly Williams, is in default and has not responded to Plaintiff's motion. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Plaintiff's motion and deny Defendant's motion.

         BACKGROUND

         For the purpose of the motions before the Court, the facts as established by the record are as follows. On August 15, 2015, while driving a 1991 Jeep Cherokee Laredo, Decedent Duell Mallett (“Decedent”) was killed in a motor vehicle accident. The accident was caused by the negligence of another driver, Justin Williams (the “Other Driver”). Decedent was survived by Defendants John Mallett and Kelly Williams, his only surviving children. John Mallett also serves as the personal representative of the estate of Decedent.

         The Other Driver had automobile liability insurance at the time of the accident, and Defendants brought a claim against him and his insurance provider. The Other Driver's insurance provider offered to pay its policy limit of $25, 000, though the parties disagree as to whether this amount was actually paid. Defendants also submitted a claim for UIM coverage against Decedent's insurance provider, Plaintiff Trumbull Insurance Company.

         At the time of the accident, Decedent had three vehicles insured by Plaintiff under policy number 84 PH 928689. The declarations page of the policy, which lists the “Coverages and Limits of Liability, ” states that “Underinsured Motorists Bodily Injury” coverage has a liability limit of $500, 000 for each person and $1, 000, 000 for each accident. After Defendants received their $25, 000 policy-limit settlement offer from the Other Driver's insurance provider, Plaintiff offered to pay Defendants UIM benefits of $500, 000, declaring that the per-person limit was the maximum amount of the policy's UIM coverage in this case.

         Defendants accepted the $500, 000 pursuant to a “Special Release, ” which preserved Defendants' right to pursue a claim to “stack” the UIM coverage benefits under Decedent's policy. In this instance, stacking would allow Defendants to combine the UIM coverage of $500, 000 for each vehicle on the policy for a total of $1, 500, 000. The Special Release also set forth Plaintiff's position that the policy did not allow for such “stacking, ” and Plaintiff reserved its right to “file or remove any litigation” to federal court related to any stacking claim Defendants might bring. ECF No. 20 at 64.

         On July 14, 2016, Plaintiff filed its complaint for declaratory judgment in this Court, invoking the Court's diversity jurisdiction. Plaintiff requests that this Court declare that the insurance policy in question provides no right to stack UIM coverage. In the alternative, if the Court determines stacking is allowed by the insurance contract, Plaintiff seeks a declaration that it is entitled to an offset for the amounts already paid to Defendants by both Plaintiff and the Other Driver's insurance provider. In his answer, Defendant requests that this Court declare that there is a right to stack UIM coverage under the subject policy.

         Plaintiff filed its motion for summary judgment with supporting memorandum on February 10, 2017. Defendant thereafter filed a motion to compel Plaintiff to produce any correspondence sent to Decedent regarding the subject policy. In its response to that motion, Plaintiff represented that, other than the policies issued to Decedent, it did not possess any communications between it and Decedent. On July 6, 2017, the Court denied Defendant's motion to compel and ordered Defendant to respond to Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment.

         Defendant filed a combined response to Plaintiff's motion and cross motion for summary judgment on July 11, 2017. Plaintiff filed a combined response and reply on August 11, 2017. Defendant has not filed a reply in support of his motion for summary judgment, and the time to do so has passed.

         The other Defendant in this case, Kelly Williams, has not appeared in this matter since the Clerk's entry of default against her on entered on February 13, 2017.[1]

         THE INSURANCE POLICY

         The relevant language of the subject insurance policy is contained in the endorsement to the policy regarding UIM coverage (Endorsement A-6193-0) and provides as follows:

LIMIT OF LIABILITY
A. The Limit Of Liability shown in the Declarations for each person for Underinsured Motorists Coverage is our maximum limit of liability for all damages, including damages for care, loss of services or death, arising out of bodily injury sustained by any one person in any one accident. Subject to this limit for each person, the Limit Of Liability shown in the Declarations for each accident for Underinsured Motorists Coverage is ...

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