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Duplichan v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

February 1, 2017




          J. Craig Jones Jones & Hill, LLC COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT: Brian K. Duplichan, as Natural Tutor of his Minor Child, Kadie Duplichan

          H. David Vaughan, II Plauche, Smith, & Nieset, LLC COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE: State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company

          Court composed of Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux, Chief Judge, John D. Saunders, and David E. Chatelain, Judges.


         The plaintiff, Brian Duplichan, the natural tutor of his minor child, Kadie E. Duplichan (Kadie), appeals the trial court's judgment granting State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company's (State Farm) motion for summary judgment. For the following reasons, we reverse and remand this matter to the trial court for further proceedings.


         On March 29, 2007, Kadie and her mother, Sarah Spears (Spears), were passengers in a vehicle driven by Beverly B. Hooper (Hooper). Hooper drove her vehicle off the road into a ditch and struck a culvert, seriously injuring Spears and Kadie. Spears survived for a short time after the accident but ultimately died from her injuries; Kadie, though injured, survived the accident.

         At the time of the accident, Kadie and Spears lived with Mary Elizabeth Reeves (Reeves), Spears's mother. When the accident occurred, Reeves had a State Farm insurance policy which provided under-insured motorist bodily injury (UMBI) coverage. The dispute in this case is over the amount of Reeves's UMBI insurance coverage.[1] State Farm asserts that Reeves's UMBI policy was for $25, 000, while the plaintiff claims Reeves's UMBI policy was for $1, 000, 000.

         The plaintiff sued State Farm, seeking the maximum payment of UMBI. After answering the lawsuit, State Farm tendered $25, 000, what it considered the full amount of the policy, and then filed a motion for summary judgment on the grounds that its UMBI policy was exhausted.

         On December 16, 2013 and April 17, 2014, the trial court heard State Farm's motion for summary judgment. At the first hearing the trial court requested evidence about the premiums Reeves paid; this evidence was introduced at the second hearing. At the conclusion of the April 17 hearing, the trial court took the matter under advisement.

         On May 1, 2014, the trial court granted State Farm's motion for summary judgment. In its written reasons for judgment, the trial court stated:

After a review of the evidence, the court finds that there are no genuine issues of material fact to deny defendant's motion for summary judgment.
State Farm has produced a certified copy of the policy issued to Mary Reeves, # 80 4927-D02-18C, which provided UMBI coverage of $25, 000 per person and $50, 000 total per accident. The agent's notes show that the policy was prepared at the request of Mary Reeves, stating as the reason for the change: "Mary is not working at this time." The new policy was subsequently issued to Mary Reeves and mailed to her home, based on the certificate filed by State Farm. The policy's effective dates were February 22, 2007, to October 2, 2007. Additionally, the policy references that it replaces policy, # 80 4927-D02-18B. State Farm also produced evidence that Mary Reeves received credit for the former higher premium that was previously paid for on February 22, 2007, which coincides with Reeves'[s] request to reduce the policy limit. Further, Mary Reeves accepted this credit on April 10, 2007, when she paid 50% of the new, reduced premium minus the credit given for changing from the more costly $1, 000, 000 UMBI premium to the 25, 000/ $50, 000 UMBI premium, as shown in the Premium History document.
Plaintiff has offered the affidavit of Mary Reeves and an uncertified Auto Renewal document for policy # 80 4927-D02-18A as evidence. Mary Reeves states in her affidavit that she never requested a change to her policy affecting the premiums and that she never received a new policy in the mail. Mary Reeves claims that the policy # 80 4927-D02-18A was the policy in place at the time of the accident which gave rise to this suit, as evidenced by her Auto Renewal document.
Mary Reeves'[s] affidavit does not present a genuine issue of material fact. Insurance policies are to be interpreted by the court under the contractual interpretation statutes in the [C]ivil [C]ode. Peterson v. Schimek, 729 So.2d 1024 (La. 1999). Where the policy is clear and unambiguous, the policy must be enforced as written. Id. "When a contract can be construed from the four corners of the instrument without looking to extrinsic evidence, the question of contractual interpretation is answered as a matter of law and summary judgment is appropriate." Id. at 1029; citing Brown v. Drillers, Inc., 630 ...

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