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Seaton v. Shelter Mutual Insurance Co.

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

June 4, 2019

LESLIE SEATON, Respondent,
v.
SHELTER MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF SAINT LOUIS COUNTY The Honorable Joseph L. Walsh, III, Judge

          GEORGE W. DRAPER III, JUDGE

         Shelter Insurance Company (hereinafter, "Shelter") appeals from the circuit court's entry of summary judgment in favor of its policy holder, Leslie Seaton (hereinafter, "Seaton"). The circuit court found Seaton was entitled to underinsured motorist (hereinafter, "UIM") coverage under three insurance policies Seaton maintained with Shelter after the death of her daughter, Chelsea Seaton (hereinafter, "Decedent"). Because the plain language of two of the insurance policies at issue unambiguously provides Decedent was not an insured entitled to UIM coverage, the circuit court's judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded.

         Factual and Procedural History

         When Megan Deaton (hereinafter, "Driver") lost control of the vehicle she was driving and crashed, her passenger, Decedent, sustained fatal injuries. Following Decedent's death, Seaton asserted a wrongful death claim against Driver. Driver settled the claim for her insurance policy's limits.

         Seaton then sought UIM coverage from Shelter under the three automobile policies she maintained. Shelter provided UIM coverage pursuant to one of the insurance policies. However, Shelter denied UIM coverage under the other two insurance policies, asserting Decedent was not a defined insured for UIM coverage.

         Seaton filed a declaratory judgment action against Shelter, seeking a declaration that UIM coverage existed for Decedent and alleging breach of contract. Seaton and Shelter filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The circuit court entered summary judgment in Seaton's favor. After an opinion by the court of appeals, this Court granted transfer. Mo. Const. art. V, sec. 10. Shelter appeals, challenging the circuit court's determination Decedent was an insured and the insurance policies were internally inconsistent.[1]

         Standard of Review

         Appellate review of summary judgment is de novo. ITT Commercial Fin. Corp. v. Mid-Am. Marine Supply Corp., 854 S.W.2d 371, 376 (Mo. banc 1993). This Court reviews "the record in the light most favorable to the party against whom judgment was entered." Id. The party against whom summary judgment was entered is accorded the benefit of every doubt. Korando v. Mallinckrodt, Inc., 239 S.W.3d 647, 648-49 (Mo. App. E.D. 2007).

         Analysis

         Shelter sets forth two reasons it believes the circuit court erred in granting summary judgment in Seaton's favor. First, Shelter asserts the circuit court erred because Decedent is not an "insured" under the insurance policies' unambiguous language. Second, Shelter asserts the circuit court erred in finding the insurance policies were internally inconsistent.

         Decedent was not an Insured

         Shelter argues the circuit court erred in entering judgment in Seaton's favor because Decedent does not qualify as an insured under Seaton's UIM insurance policies. Shelter contends Decedent does not meet any of the three definitions of "insured" set forth by the insurance policies.

         The "interpretation of an insurance policy is a question of law that this Court also determines de novo." Owners Ins. Co. v. Craig, 514 S.W.3d 614, 616 (Mo. banc 2017) (quoting Seeck v. Geico Gen. Ins. Co., 212 S.W.3d 129, 132 (Mo. banc 2007)). "When interpreting an insurance policy, this Court gives the policy language its plain meaning, or the meaning that would be attached by an ordinary purchaser of insurance." Doe Run Res. Corp. v. Am. Guar. & Liab. Ins., 531 S.W.3d 508, 511 (Mo. banc 2017). "Definitions, exclusions, conditions and endorsements are necessary provisions in insurance policies." Piatt v. Ind. Lumbermen's Mut. Ins. Co., 461 S.W.3d 788, 792 (Mo. banc 2015) (quoting Todd v. Mo. United Sch. Ins. Council, 223 S.W.3d 156, 163 (Mo. banc 2007)). A policy must be enforced as written when its language is clear and unambiguous. Taylor ...


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