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Acuity, A Mutual Insurance Co. v. Simler

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

May 15, 2018

ACUITY, A MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
KELLY MARIE SIMLER, et al., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          JOHN A. ROSS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on cross Motions for Summary Judgment filed by Plaintiff Acuity, a Mutual Insurance Company's ("Acuity") and Defendants Kelly Marie and Scott Simler. (Docs. 61, 62.) Dubuque Paint, Gartner, State Farm, and Guy have joined the Simlers' motion. (Docs. 65, 73, 77, 79.) Also pending is Plaintiffs Motion to Deposit Funds. (Doc. 34.)

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleges the following: On September 6, 2016, Defendant Kim Ross, an employee of Defendant Dubuque Paint Equipment, Inc. ("Dubuque Paint"), was involved in a motor vehicle accident on Interstate 70 in Montgomery County, Missouri ("the Collision"). (Doc. 40 at ¶ 20.) Also involved in the Collision were Defendants Kelly and Scott Simler, Linda Gartner, and Terrell Guy. (Id. at ¶¶ 21-23.) At the time, Dubuque Paint was covered under a business auto policy ("the Auto Policy") and a commercial excess policy ("the Excess Policy") (together, "the Policies"). (Id. at ¶¶ 18-19.) The Simlers, Gartner, and Guy all filed claims against the proceeds of those policies. (Id. at ¶¶ 21-23.) The Simlers and Gartner also filed suit against Ross and Dubuque Paint. (Id. at ¶¶ 21-22.)

         In light of the Defendants' multiple competing claims and lawsuits, Plaintiff filed this action, advancing two counts: a declaratory judgment count seeking a court order declaring that Plaintiffs liability is limited to $2 million ($1 million per "Accident" or "Occurrence, " per policy); and an interpleader count allowing it to deposit the $2 million with the Court and be discharged from further obligations. (Id. at ¶¶ 28-38.) Also named as defendants are LM General Insurance Company ("LM General"), which insured Kelly Simler at the time of the Collision; State Farm Fire & Casualty Company ("State Farm"), which insured Gartner at the time of the Collision; Progressive Casualty Insurance Company ("Progressive"), which insured Guy at the time of the Collision; and Hartford Insurance ("Hartford"), which provided workers' compensation benefits to Kelly Simler following the Collision. (Id. at ¶¶ 24-26.)

         All of the defendants filed individual answers, except for Ross and Progressive. (Docs. 41, 50, 51, 54, 55, 56, 58, 59.) In their answers, the Simlers and Guy each advanced a counterclaim for declaratory judgement, seeking a court order declaring that Plaintiffs liability limit is $1 million per person, per policy. (Docs. 51, 10.)[1] Gartner and State Farm assert in their answers that the liability limit is $1 million per vehicle, per policy, though neither advances a formal counter-claim. (Docs. 55, 56.) LM General, Hartford, and Dubuque Paint each deny Plaintiffs $l-million-per- Accident liability limitation assertion but offer no express alternative. (Docs. 41, 50, 54.)

         Plaintiff filed a Motion to Deposit Funds, seeking to place in the Court's registry $2 million. (Doc. 34.) Meanwhile, the Simlers filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on their counter-claim for declaratory judgment. (Doc. 61.) In response, Plaintiff filed its own Motion for Summary Judgment on its declaratory judgment count. (Doc. 62.) Because the Court believes that the amount deposited by Plaintiff caps the Court's jurisdiction over the interpleader count, it deferred ruling on the Motion to Deposit Funds pending its resolution of the cross motions for summary judgment. (Doc. 72.) Since then, Dubuque Paint, Gartner, State Farm, and Guy have joined the Simlers' motion. (Docs. 65, 73, 77, 79.) LM General and Hartford have filed with the court memoranda neither supporting nor opposing either motion. (Docs. 75, 76.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         "Summary judgment is proper where the evidence, when viewed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, indicates that no genuine issue of material fact exists and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Davison v. City of Minneapolis, Minn., 490 F.3d 648, 654 (8th Cir. 2007); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Summary judgment is not appropriate if there are factual disputes that may affect the outcome of the case under the applicable substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue of material fact is genuine if the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. "The basic inquiry is whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Diesel Machinery, Inc. v. B.R. Lee Industries, Inc., 418 F.3d 820, 832 (8th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The moving party has the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. City of Mt. Pleasant, Iowa v. Associated Elec. Co-op., Inc., 838 F.2d 268, 273 (8th Cir. 1988). If the movant does so, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party, who must set forth affirmative evidence and specific facts showing a genuine dispute on that issue. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

         In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate in a particular case, the Court reviews the facts in a light most favorable to the party opposing the motion and gives that party the benefit of any inferences that logically can be drawn from those facts. The Court is required to resolve all conflicts of evidence in favor of the nonmoving party. Osborn v. KF. Hutton & Co., Inc., 853 F.2d 616, 619 (8th Cir. 1988). In considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court may not make credibility determinations, weigh the evidence, or draw inferences from the facts. Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011).

         III. DISCUSSION

         a. The Court need not decide the choice-of-law issue at this time because the law of Wisconsin and Iowa do not conflict.

         As an initial matter, the Court must address which state's laws govern the interpretation of the Policies. The Policies contain no choice-of-law provision. (See generally, Docs. 62-1, 62-2.) In the absence of an express choice-of-law provision, federal district courts sitting in diversity jurisdiction apply the forum state's choice-of-law rules. Whirlpool Corp. v. Ritter, 929 F.2d 1318, 1320 (8th Cir. 1991) (citing Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Elec. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 496, 61 S.Ct. 1020, 1021-22, 85 L.Ed. 1477 (1941)). "In insurance contract disputes, Missouri follows Sections 188 and 193 of the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws." St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Bldg. Const. Enterprises, Inc., 484 F.Supp.2d 1004, 1006 (W.D. Mo. 2007), affd, 526 F.3d 1166 (8th Cir. 2008) (citing Viacom, Inc. v. Transit Cas. Co., 138 S.W.3d 723, 724-725 (Mo.2004)). Those sections call on courts to consider several key contacts between the parties to the contract and the various potential states, such as the place of contracting, the place of negotiation of the contract, the place of performance, and the parties' states of incorporation. See Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws §188(1971).

         The Simlers suggest that the Court must apply the law of either Wisconsin or Iowa-the states where Acuity and Dubuque Paint are headquartered and where the negotiation and execution of the contract occurred. (Doc. 61 at 6-7.) However, the Court agrees with Acuity that both states agree as to the laws relevant to this case. (Doc. 68 at 2.) Importantly, both states require ambiguities in contracts to be strictly construed against the drafter. Richland Valley Prod., Inc. v. St. Paul Fire & Cas. Co.,201 Wis.2d 161, 168 (Ct. App. 1996); State Auto. & Cas. Underwriters by Auto. Underwriters v. Hartford Ace. & Indem. Co.,166 N.W.2d 761, 763 (Iowa 1969). In addition, both states have adopted the "cause theory." Just v. Farmers Auto. Ins. Ass'n,877 N.W.2d 467, 480 (Iowa 2016); Pla ...


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