United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Orangeburg Division
ORDER AND OPINION
Margaret Cramer (“Plaintiff”) filed this
declaratory judgment action against Defendant National
Casualty Company (“Defendant”), seeking a
declaration by the court that Plaintiff is entitled to
underinsured motorist coverage from Defendant. (ECF No. 1-1
at 10 ¶ 36.)
matter is before the court on a motion by Plaintiff for
summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56
(“Plaintiff’s Motion”). (ECF No. 45.)
Defendant opposes Plaintiff’s Motion, and filed a
motion for summary judgment (“Defendant’s
Motion”) asserting that the court should find that
Plaintiff does not qualify as an “insured” under
the policy. (ECF No. 55.) The court GRANTS Plaintiff’s
Motion and DENIES Defendant’s Motion.
RELEVANT BACKGROUND TO PENDING MOTION
Matthews is a non-emergency medical transport company that
transports patients to and from doctors’ appointments.
(ECF No. 45-2, Pl.’s Dep. 8:7-13.) On September 16,
2013, Plaintiff was assigned to an ambulance with Justin
Jackson, her co-worker. (ECF No. 55-3 at 1 ¶ 2.)
Plaintiff and Jackson transported a patient to the H. F.
Mabry Cancer Center for treatment. (Id. at ¶
4.) While Plaintiff was waiting for the patient to complete
treatment, she witnessed an accident on Cook Road, which runs
in front of the cancer center. (ECF No. 45-2, Pl.’s
Dep. 15:12-22.) Plaintiff activated the ambulance’s
lights and pulled onto the roadway behind the accident
vehicles to barricade the accident scene from oncoming
traffic. (Id. at 16:11-12, 17:11-15, 19:10-12,
48:18-24, 52:16.) Plaintiff left the ambulance’s lights
on and engine running as she exited the vehicle to assess the
accident scene. (Id. at 19:16-20:2.) After checking
on the motorists, Plaintiff walked to the shoulder of the
road, which was located across from the ambulance, in order
to avoid traffic. (Id.) Plaintiff contacted 911 to
request highway patrol. (Id. at 27:14, 23.)
Plaintiff then headed towards the ambulance to radio her
employer to report the accident. (Id. at 23: 8-10.)
On her way to the ambulance, but while still on the shoulder
of the road, she waved a few cars through so that she could
cross safely. (Id.) During the process of returning
to the ambulance, while still standing on the shoulder of the
road, Plaintiff was struck by an underinsured vehicle
operated by Mary Ann Walley. (Id. at 29:22-30:2,
30:23, 50:8, 54:5-6.) Plaintiff estimates that at the time
she was struck by the vehicle, she was standing about eight
feet away from the ambulance. (Id.) Plaintiff
suffered injuries as a result of being struck by the vehicle.
issued a policy of insurance to Plaintiff’s employer,
St. Matthews Ambulance Service, providing Underinsured
Motorist (“UIM”) coverage with limits of $100,
000.00 per accident. (ECF No. 45-3.) Defendant denied UIM
coverage to Plaintiff asserting that she was not an
“insured” under the language of the policy.
Subsequently, Plaintiff filed this action in the Court of
Common Pleas for Orangeburg County on August 25, 2014. (ECF
No. 1-1.) On October 2, 2014, Defendant filed for removal to
this court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. On October
20, 2015, Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment. (ECF
No. 45.) Subsequently, Defendant filed a response in
opposition on November 6, 2015. (ECF No. 47.) Plaintiff filed
a reply to Defendant’s response. (ECF No. 51.)
Thereafter, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment on
December 3, 2015. (ECF No. 55.) Plaintiff filed a response in
opposition. (ECF No. 56.) A hearing on the motions was held
on April 12, 2016.
Summary Judgment Generally
judgment should be granted “if the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is “material” if proof
of its existence or non-existence would affect the
disposition of the case under the applicable law.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49
(1986). A genuine question of material fact exists where,
after reviewing the record as a whole, the court finds that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving
party. Newport News Holdings Corp. v. Virtual City
Vision, 650 F.3d 423, 434 (4th Cir. 2011).
General Principles of South Carolina Insurance Law
action based upon diversity of citizenship, the relevant
state law controls. Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304
U.S. 64, 78 (1938). Under South Carolina law, insurance
policies are subject to the general rules of contract
construction. B.L.G. Enters., Inc. v. First Fin. Ins.
Co., 514 S.E.2d 327, 330 (S.C. 1999). “When a
contract is unambiguous, clear, and explicit, it must be
construed according to the terms the parties have
used.” Id. The court must enforce, not write,
contracts of insurance and must give policy language its
plain, ordinary, and popular meaning. Id.
“[I]n construing an insurance contract, all of its
provisions should be considered, and one may not, by pointing
out a single sentence or clause, create an ambiguity.”
Yarborough v. Phoenix Mut. Life Ins. Co., 225 S.E.2d
344, 348 (S.C. 1976). “A contract is ambiguous when it
is capable of more than one meaning when viewed objectively
by a reasonably intelligent person who has examined the
context of the entire integrated agreement and who is
cognizant of the customs, practices, usages and terminology
as generally understood in the particular trade or
business.” Hawkins v. Greenwood Dev. Corp.,
493 S.E.2d 875, 878 (S.C. Ct. App. 1997). “Where
language used in an insurance contract is ambiguous, or where
it is capable of two reasonable interpretations, that
construction which is most favorable to the insured will be
adopted.” Poston v. Nat’l Fid. Life Ins.
Co., 399 S.E.2d 770, 772 (S.C. 1990).
insurer’s obligation under a policy of insurance is
defined by the terms of the policy itself and cannot be
enlarged by judicial construction. S.C. Ins. Co. v.
White, 390 S.E.2d 471, 474 (S.C. Ct. App. 1990). A
policy clause extending coverage must be liberally construed
in favor of coverage, while insurance policy exclusions are
construed most strongly against the insurance company, which
also bears the burden of establishing the exclusion’s
applicability. M & M Corp. v. Auto-Owners Ins.
Co., 701 S.E.2d 33, 35 (S.C. 2010); Owners Ins. Co.
v. Clayton, 614 S.E.2d 611, 614 (S.C. 2005).
“However, if the intention of the parties is clear,
courts have no authority to torture the meaning of policy
language to extend coverage that was never intended by the
parties.” S.C. Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co. v.
Wilson, 544 S.E.2d 848, 850 (S.C. Ct. App. 2001).
material facts of this case are undisputed. The parties agree
that Plaintiff was on the shoulder of the road across from
the ambulance and attempting to clear the roadway by
directing a few cars through so that she could reenter the
ambulance when she was struck by another vehicle.
(See ECF Nos. 45-1 at 2; 55-1 at 2-3.) The parties
agree that Defendant issued a UIM coverage policy to
Plaintiff’s employer. Under the UIM coverage policy, an
“insured” is defined as “anyone
‘occupying’ a covered ‘auto’ or a
temporary substitute for a covered ‘auto’.”
(ECF No. 45-3 at 3 ¶ B(2)(a).) Under the policy,
“occupying” is defined as “in, upon,
getting in, on, out or off.” (Id. at 5 ¶
the parties disagree as to the interpretation of the UIM
coverage policy’s definition of
“occupying.” Plaintiff asserts that she is
entitled to summary judgment because, under the UIM coverage
policy, Plaintiff was “occupying” the ambulance
at the time of the accident. Alternatively, Plaintiff asserts
that the definition of “occupying” is ambiguous
such that it should be construed in favor of providing
Plaintiff coverage under the UIM coverage policy. Finally,
Plaintiff asserts that the UIM coverage policy’s
definition of “insured” is void because it is
contrary to South Carolina law, such that Plaintiff should be
entitled to coverage because she was using the ambulance at
the time of the accident. Defendant disagrees and asserts