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Secura Insurance v. Northington

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

June 13, 2019

SECURA INSURANCE, Plaintiff/Counterclaim Defendant,
v.
JANET NORTHINGTON, Defendant/Counterclaim Plaintiff.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          CATHERINE D. PERRY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         In October 2013, Janet Northington was involved in a motor vehicle accident and sustained bodily injuries with damages exceeding $245, 000. The at-fault driver had a $100, 000 limit for liability under her automobile insurance policy, and Northington recovered this amount from the driver's insurer. Given that her damages exceeded the at-fault driver's policy limit, Northington sought to recover under the underinsured motorist (UIM) provision of her own automobile policy issued by Secura Insurance, which had UIM coverage up to $100, 000 for bodily injury per person. Secura contends that the at-fault driver's vehicle does not meet the policy definition of “underinsured motor vehicle” because that vehicle's coverage was not less than the limits of Secura's UIM coverage. Northington argues that other policy provisions render the UIM provision ambiguous.

         Secura filed this declaratory judgment action in diversity seeking a declaration that it is not obligated to pay any amount to Northington under the insurance policy. Northington filed a counterclaim, alleging breach of contract and seeking a declaration that Secura owes her the full amount of UIM coverage under the policy, that is, $100, 000. She also brings claims of vexatious refusal to pay, fraud, and unjust enrichment.

         Both sides move for summary judgment on the claims regarding UIM coverage under the insurance policy. Because Northington is not entitled to recover under the unambiguous UIM provision of her policy, I will grant summary judgment to Secura on the policy-coverage claims. I will also grant Secura's motion to dismiss Northington's remaining claims.

         Legal Standard

         In determining whether to grant summary judgment, I must view the facts - and any inferences from those facts - in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The movant bears the burden of establishing that (1) it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law and (2) there are no genuine issues of material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Once the movant has met this burden, the nonmoving party may not rest on the allegations in its pleadings but must, by affidavit or other evidence, set forth specific facts showing that a genuine issue of material fact exists. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1), (e). Where a factual record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587.

         “[T]he filing of cross motions for summary judgment does not necessarily indicate that there is no dispute as to a material fact, or have the effect of submitting the cause to a plenary determination on the merits.” Wermager v. Cormorant Twp. Bd., 716 F.2d 1211, 1214 (8th Cir. 1983). Instead, each summary judgment motion must be evaluated separately on its own merits to determine whether a genuine issue of material fact exists and whether the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Husinga v. Federal-Mogul Ignition Co., 519 F.Supp.2d 929, 942 (S.D. Iowa 2007).

         Evidence Before the Court on the Motions

         On October 2, 2013, Celia Lomax rear-ended Janet Northington's vehicle while Northington was driving northbound on Highway 47 in Franklin County, Missouri. This impact caused Northington to cross over into oncoming traffic and be struck a second time. As a result of the accident, Northington sustained bodily injuries with damages exceeding $245, 000. At the time of the accident, Lomax was insured by an automobile insurance policy with applicable limits of liability totaling $100, 000. Northington recovered the policy limit - $100, 000 - from Lomax's insurer. At the time of the accident, Northington was insured under Policy Number PX 270-48-17 (the Policy), an automobile insurance policy issued by Secura, which itself had a $100, 000 limit for UIM coverage. Northington was driving a vehicle insured under the Policy at the time of the accident.

         As is relevant to this action, the Policy stated as follows:

PART C-2 UNDERINSURED MOTORISTS COVERAGE
INSURING AGREEMENT
A. We will pay compensatory damages which an insured is legally entitled to recover from the owner or operator of an underinsured motor vehicle because of bodily injury:
1. Sustained by an insured; and
2. Caused by an accident.
The owner's or operator's liability for these damages must arise out of the ownership, maintenance or use of the underinsured motor vehicle.

ECF 1-1 at p. 57 (emphasis in original). The Policy defined “underinsured motor vehicle” as “a land motor vehicle or trailer of any type to which a bodily injury liability bond or policy applies at the time of an accident but its limit for bodily injury liability is less than the limit of liability for this coverage.” Id. at p. 58. It is undisputed that the UIM limit in the Policy was $100, 000. Accordingly, under the plain language of the Policy, a vehicle is not “underinsured” if it is covered by an insurance policy with a limit of $100, 000 or more.

         The UIM provision of the Policy also had a “Limit of Liability” section:

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 our maximum limit of liability for all damages for bodily injury resulting from any one accident.
This is most we will pay regardless of the ...

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