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Lewis v. Geico Casualty Co.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

April 27, 2018

RUBY LEE LEWIS Respondent
v.
GEICO CASUALTY COMPANY Applicant

          On Application for Writs from the Monroe City Court for the Parish of Ouachita, Louisiana Trial Court No. 2017CV00002 Honorable Jefferson Bryan Joyce, Judge

          JOHN BRADLEY SMITHERMAN Counsel for Applicant

          ANTHONY J. BRUSCATO Counsel for Respondent

          Before WILLIAMS, PITMAN, and STONE, JJ.

          STONE, J.

         The applicant, GEICO Casualty Company ("GEICO"), filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that its automobile insurance policy issued to Asha Sade Johnson ("Johnson") did not provide liability coverage for property damage sustained by Ruby Lee Lewis ("Lewis"). The trial court denied the motion, and GEICO now seeks this court's supervisory review. For the reasons assigned below, the writ is granted and made peremptory. GEICO's motion for summary judgment is granted, and Lewis' action against GEICO is dismissed.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         This application stems from a single-vehicle accident that occurred on July 11, 2016. At the time of the accident, Johnson was the permissive driver of a Jeep Cherokee owned by her mother, Lewis. The vehicle sustained significant property damage as a result of the accident. Lewis did not maintain collision or comprehensive coverage with her own insurer; however, Johnson owned a vehicle that was insured by GEICO. On January 3, 2017, Lewis filed a petition for damages against GEICO seeking to recover damages to her vehicle under Johnson's automobile insurance policy.

         On March 6, 2017, GEICO filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing Johnson's policy excluded liability coverage for damage to property operated by Johnson. A hearing on the matter was held on May 18, 2017. After taking the matter under advisement, the trial court filed a written judgment on July 7, 2017, denying GEICO's motion for summary judgment. On August 4, 2017, GEICO filed this application for supervisory review of the trial court's judgment. On October 5, 2017, this court ordered GEICO's writ granted to docket for our review.

         DISCUSSION

         Summary judgment is favored and is designed to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action, except those disallowed by law. La. C. C. P. art. 966(A)(2). After an opportunity for adequate discovery, a motion for summary judgment shall be granted if the motion, memorandum, and supporting documents show that there is no genuine issue as to material fact and that the mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. La. C. C. P. art. 966(A)(3). Appellate courts review summary judgment de novo under the same criteria governing the trial court's consideration of whether summary judgment is appropriate. Costello v. Hardy, 03-1146 (La. 01/21/04), 864 So.2d 129; Schelmety v. Yamaha Motor Corp., USA, 50, 586 (La.App. 2 Cir. 04/13/16), 193 So.3d 194, 198, writ denied, 2016-0903 (La. 09/06/16), 205 So.3d 919; Walters v. City of West Monroe, 49, 502 (La.App. 2 Cir. 02/04/15), 162 So.3d 419, writ denied, 15-0440 (La. 05/15/15), 170 So.3d 161.

         The interpretation of an insurance contract is usually a legal question that can be properly resolved by means of a motion for summary judgment. Bernard v. Ellis, 11-2377 (La. 07/02/12), 111 So.3d 995; Cutsinger v. Redfern, 08-2607 (La. 05/22/09), 12 So.3d 945; Bumgardner v. Terra Nova Ins. Co. Ltd., 35, 615 (La.App. 2 Cir. 01/23/02), 806 So.2d 945. However, summary judgment declaring a lack of coverage under an insurance policy may not be rendered unless there is no reasonable interpretation of the policy, when applied to the undisputed material facts shown by the evidence supporting the motion, under which coverage could be afforded. Elliott v. Continental Cas. Co., 06-1505 (La. 02/22/07), 949 So.2d 1247; Reynolds v. Select Properties, Ltd., 93-1480 (La. 04/11/94), 634 So.2d 1180.

         An insurance policy is a contract between the parties and should be construed using the general rules of interpretation of contracts set forth in the Louisiana Civil Code. Green ex rel. Peterson v. Johnson, 14-0292 (La. 10/15/14), 149 So.3d 766; Marshall v. La. Farm Bureau Cas. Ins. Co., 50, 190 (La.App. 2 Cir. 11/18/15), 182 So.3d 214. An insurance contract must be "construed according to the entirety of its terms and conditions as set forth in the policy, and as amplified, extended, or modified by any rider, endorsement, or application attached to or made a part of the policy." La. R.S. 22:881; Schelmety, supra. When the words of a contract are clear and explicit and lead to no absurd consequences, no further interpretation may be made in search of the parties' intent. La. C.C. art. 2046. In such cases, the insurance contract must be enforced as written. Schelmety, supra.

         Insurance companies may limit coverage in any manner they desire, so long as the limitations do not conflict with statutory provisions or public policy. Schelmety, supra; Elliott, supra; Bumgardner, supra. However, exclusionary provisions in insurance contracts are strictly construed against the insurer, and any ambiguity is construed in favor of the insured. Schelmety, supra; Elliott, supra; Bumgardner, supra. The burden is on the insurer to prove that a loss comes within a policy exclusion. Rodgers v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins., 15-0868 (La. 06/30/15), 168 So.3d 375; Schelmety, supra.

         The Louisiana Motor Vehicle Safety Responsibility Law, La. R.S. 32:851 through La. R.S. 32:1043, sets forth a mandatory, comprehensive scheme to protect the public from damage caused by motor vehicles. Hawkins v. Redmon, 2009-2418 (La. 07/06/10), 42 So.3d 360, 362. La. R.S. 32:900 provides the ...


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