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Siron v. Allstate File & Casualty Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division

December 14, 2016

JAMES BRUCE SIRON and ELLEN SIRON, Plaintiffs,
v.
ALLSTATE FIRE & CASUALTY INSURANCE CO., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND ENTERING A DECLARATORY JUDGMENT

          MARY GEIGER LEWIS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff James Bruce Siron and his wife, Plaintiff Ellen Siron (collectively Plaintiffs) filed this action for a declaratory judgment regarding the enforceability of a provision in an automobile insurance policy (the Policy) issued to them by Defendant Allstate Fire & Casualty Insurance Company (Defendant). The Policy states the amount of underinsured motorist benefits payable will be offset by medical expense benefits received under the policy. The Court has jurisdiction over this matter under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Pending before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 31. The parties have agreed the Court's ruling on Plaintiffs' motion will fully resolve this case. ECF No. 42. Having carefully considered the motion, the response, the reply, the supplement to the motion, the record, and the applicable law, it is the judgment of the Court that Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted in part and denied in part, and the Court will enter a declaratory judgment holding the offset provision at issue is enforceable but shall be applied only after Plaintiffs are fully compensated.

         II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The relevant factual background is undisputed. Plaintiffs are residents of Richland County, South Carolina, and Defendant is an insurance company organized and existing under the laws of the State of Illinois with its principal place of business in Illinois. Plaintiffs purchased the Policy from Defendant, which included underinsured motorist (UIM) and medical payments (MedPay) coverages, among others. The Policy has UIM bodily injury coverage limits of $500, 000 per person/$1, 000, 000 per accident and MedPay coverage limits of $100, 000 per person. ECF No. 6-1 at 10-11. The Policy contains the following provision limiting liability: “[s]ubject to the above limits of liability, damages payable will be reduced by: . . . all amounts payable under . . . Medical Expense Benefits Coverage of this policy, or any similar automobile medical payments coverage.” Id. at 34.

         Plaintiff James Bruce Siron was involved in a car accident during the Policy period when a vehicle driven by Julia Carty struck his. Mr. Siron sustained injuries as a result of the accident. He subsequently filed a claim with Defendant for MedPay benefits, which Defendant accepted and tendered approximately $100, 000, the policy limits for MedPay benefits under Plaintiffs' policy.

         On March 13, 2012, Plaintiff James Bruce Siron filed suit against Ms. Carty for his injuries in the Court of Common Pleas for Richland County, South Carolina. Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint in that case on December 17, 2012, in which Ellen Siron joined as a plaintiff and asserted a claim for loss of consortium. Ms. Carty's liability carrier tendered its policy limits to Plaintiffs, but Plaintiffs maintain their injuries exceed the damages they have recovered thus far and have consequently submitted a claim to Defendant for UIM benefits payable under the Policy. In response to Plaintiff's claim, Defendant insists it is entitled to enforce the provision in the Policy authorizing an offset of UIM benefits with MedPay benefits already issued.

         Plaintiffs filed the present declaratory judgment action in the Court of Common Pleas for Richland County, South Carolina, on October 29, 2015. ECF No. 1-1. Defendant removed the action to this Court on December 7, 2015. ECF No. 1. According to Plaintiffs and Defendant, Plaintiffs' state court action against Ms. Carty is stayed pending resolution of this declaratory judgment action. ECF No. 27.

         Plaintiffs filed their Motion for Summary Judgment on June 27, 2016. ECF No. 31. Defendant filed a response in opposition on July 12, 2016, ECF No. 33, and Plaintiffs filed a reply on July 22, 2016, ECF No. 34. As directed by a text order issued by the Court on December 1, 2016, ECF No. 45, Plaintiffs filed a supplement to their Motion on December 5, 2016, consisting of copies of the pleadings in related actions pending in the Court of Common Pleas for South Carolina, ECF No. 46. The Court, having been fully briefed on the relevant issues, is now prepared to discuss the merits of Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows 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). Summary judgment should be granted under Rule 56 when “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A genuine issue of material fact exists “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is material if it might “affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Id. On a motion for summary judgment, all evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Perini Corp. v. Perini Constr., Inc., 915 F.2d 121, 123-24 (4th Cir. 1990).

         The Declaratory Judgment Act pronounces “any court of the United States, upon the filing of an appropriate pleading, may declare the rights and other legal relations of any interested party seeking such declaration, whether or not further relief is or could be sought.” 28 U.S.C. § 2201(a). A declaration issued under the Act “shall have the force and effect of a final judgment.” Id. A state declaratory judgment action removed to federal court invokes the Federal Declaratory Judgment Act. Hartford Fire Ins. Co. v. Harleysville Mut. Ins. Co., 736 F.3d 255, 261 n.3 (4th Cir. 2013).

         IV. CONTENTIONS OF THE PARTIES

         Plaintiffs' Complaint seeks a declaratory judgment that any provision in the Policy permitting Defendant to offset UIM benefits payable under the Policy by the amount of MedPay issued is unenforceable under South Carolina law. Plaintiffs assert in their Motion for Summary Judgment that they are entitled to the declaratory judgment requested in their Complaint. In the alternative, Plaintiffs maintain that, if the offset is ...


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