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Mills v. Mills

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

January 10, 2018

BRENDA MILLS Plaintiff-Appellant
v.
RANDY MILLS AND STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INS., CO. Defendants-Appellees

         Appealed from the First Judicial District Court for the Parish of Caddo, Louisiana Trial Court No. 569, 918 Honorable Craig Marcotte, Judge

          JOHN CHARLES MILKOVICH Counsel for Appellant

          CASTEN & PEARCE, APLC Counsel for Appellees By: Marshall Reeves Pearce

          Before COX, BLEICH (Ad Hoc), and GASKINS (Pro Tempore), JJ.

          COX, J.

         Appellant, Brenda Mills ("Brenda"), appeals a judgment from the First Judicial District Court, Parish of Caddo, State of Louisiana, wherein the trial court granted a motion for summary judgment in favor of Appellee, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company ("State Farm"). Brenda contends the trial court erred in dismissing her Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist ("UM") claims under three separate UM policies. She prays that the trial court's judgment be reversed. For the following reasons, we affirm.

         FACTS

         Randy and Brenda Mills are husband and wife; they have been married since 1987. During their marriage, Randy bought a 2004 Kawasaki motorcycle. The motorcycle was registered solely in his name, he was the only one to drive the motorcycle, and was the only named insured. Randy did not reject UM coverage on the motorcycle.

         Randy purchased UM coverage on the motorcycle through State Farm. State Farm issued the policy, which provided $50, 000/$100, 000 liability coverage, and $50, 000/$100, 000 UM coverage.

         In addition to the motorcycle, both Randy and Brenda owned a 2004 GMC Envoy and a 2005 Chevy Pickup, each registered in both of their names. They purchased separate policies on each of the two vehicles from State Farm, which listed Randy and Brenda as named insureds. Each of the separate policies provided $50, 000/$100, 000 liability coverage, and $50, 000/$100, 000 UM coverage. Neither Randy nor Brenda rejected UM coverage under these policies.

         On July 21, 2012, at approximately 9:00 a.m., Randy was driving the motorcycle with Brenda as a passenger. Randy lost control, admittedly through his own fault and negligence, went off the road, and entered a ditch. Brenda claimed she suffered serious injuries, including blurred vision, an open wound on her forehead that required stitches, a right hand injury, and several spinal injuries. She was hospitalized for three days. To date, she stated her medical bills exceed $42, 545. Brenda also claimed lost wages, loss of employment benefits, loss of enjoyment of life, and emotional damages.

         Brenda attempted to simultaneously recover liability and UM coverage under the State Farm policy covering the motorcycle, while also seeking to recover under the UM provisions of the two additional policies State Farm issued for their other vehicles. State Farm paid Brenda the $50, 000 policy limit owed under the liability policy purchased by Randy on the motorcycle. However, Brenda claimed this amount was insufficient to cover her losses from the accident. State Farm declined to pay UM benefits to Brenda under any of the three separate UM policies issued by State Farm on the motorcycle, the Envoy, and the Chevy.

         On March 22, 2016, State Farm filed a motion for summary judgment. After hearing the pleadings, evidence, briefs, and arguments of counsel, the trial court granted State Farm's motion, dismissing Brenda's claim for UM coverage. The trial court emphasized this was a one-vehicle accident and, therefore, UM coverage does not come into play. Brenda now appeals.

         DISCUSSION

         A court must grant a motion for summary judgment if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to material fact, and that the mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, pursuant to La. C.C.P. art. 966. The burden of proof for a summary judgment motion remains with the movant. However, if the moving party will not bear the burden of proof on the issue at trial and points out that there is an absence of factual support for one or more elements essential to the adverse party's claim, action, or defense, then the nonmoving party must produce factual support sufficient to establish that he will be able to satisfy his evidentiary burden of proof at trial. If the opponent of the motion fails to do so, there is no genuine issue of material fact and summary judgment should be granted. La. C.C.P. art. 966(D)(1).

         A de novo standard of review is required when an appellate court considers rulings on summary judgment motions, and the appellate court must use the same criteria that governed the trial court's determination of whether summary judgment was appropriate. Bank of New York Mellon v. Smith, 15-0530 (La. 10/14/15), 180 So.3d 1238, 1243.

         An insurance policy is a contract between the two parties and should be construed using the general rules of interpretation of contracts set forth in the Louisiana Civil Code. Mayo v. State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co., 2003-1801 (La. 2/25/04), 869 So.2d 96. Interpretation involves ascertaining the common intent of the parties to the contract. La. C. C. art. 2045. Words and phrases used in an insurance policy are to be construed using their plain, ordinary, and generally prevailing meaning, unless the words have acquired a technical meaning. La. C. C. art. 2047; Marshall v. Louisiana Farm Bureau Cas. Ins. Co., 50, 190 (La.App. 2 Cir. 11/18/15), 182 So.3d 214. "An insurance contract should not be interpreted in an unreasonable or strained manner under the guise of contractual interpretation to enlarge or to restrict its provisions beyond what is reasonably contemplated by unambiguous terms to achieve an absurd conclusion." Mayo, supra.

         "The interpretation of an insurance policy ordinarily involves a legal question that can be properly resolved on motion for summary judgment." Marzell v. Charlyn Enters., LLC, 51, 209 (La.App. 2 Cir. 2/15/17), 215 So.3d 405. Absent a conflict with statutory provisions or public policy, insurers are entitled to limit their liability and impose and enforce reasonable conditions on policy obligations they contractually assume. Id. A court should grant the ...


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