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Garrison Property and Casualty Insurance Co. v. Rickborn

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

December 28, 2016

Garrison Property and Casualty Insurance Company, Plaintiff,
Candace Rickborn, Defendant.


          PATRICK MICHAEL DUFFY United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on the parties' competing motions for summary judgment (ECF Nos. 48 & 52), as well as Plaintiff Garrison Property and Casualty Insurance Company's motion to amend its complaint (ECF No. 49). For the following reasons, the Court grants Garrison's summary-judgment motion, finds Garrison's motion to amend moot, and denies Defendant Candace Rickborn's motion.


         This declaratory judgment action arises out of an automobile collision involving Rickborn and Alexander Cothran, who was at fault. Rickborn sued Cothran in state court for injuring her by negligently operating his employer's pickup truck. After obtaining a judgment against Cothran in that case, Rickborn made a claim to Garrison seeking liability benefits under an insurance policy that Garrison issued for Cothran's personal vehicle, which was not involved in the collision. Garrison denied Rickborn's claim and then filed this action.

         The insuring agreement in Garrison's policy generally states that Garrison will defend and indemnify Cothran for bodily injury and property damages he causes while using any automobile. Garrison contends, however, that coverage is barred under one or more of the policy's exclusions. Rickborn disputes that position and argues Garrison is obligated to satisfy the judgment she obtained against Cothran.


         Summary judgment should be granted when there are no genuine disputes of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The judge may not weigh the evidence but rather must determine if there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). All evidence should be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Perini Corp. v. Perini Constr., Inc., 915 F.2d 121, 124 (4th Cir. 1990). “[I]t is ultimately the nonmovant's burden to persuade [the court] that there is indeed a dispute of material fact. It must provide more than a scintilla of evidence-and not merely conclusory allegations or speculation-upon which a jury could properly find in its favor.” CoreTel Va., LLC v. Verizon Va., LLC, 752 F.3d 364, 370 (4th Cir. 2014) (citations omitted). “[W]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, disposition by summary judgment is appropriate.” Teamsters Joint Council No. 83 v. Centra, Inc., 947 F.2d 115, 119 (4th Cir. 1991).

         When opposing parties both seek summary judgment, the Court applies the same standard to both motions. See Northfield Ins. Co. v. Boxley, 215 F.Supp.2d 656, 657 (D. Md. 2002). The court rules on each motion separately, determining, in each case, whether a judgment may be entered in accordance with Rule 56. Id. at 658. The mere fact that both parties seek summary judgment “does not establish that there is no issue of fact and require that summary judgment be granted to one side or another.” Am. Fid. & Cas. Co. v. London & Edinburgh Ins. Co., 354 F.2d 214, 216 (4th Cir. 1965)). Nevertheless, dueling motions for summary judgment “may be probative of the nonexistence of a factual dispute, ” because “when both parties proceed on the same legal theory and rely on the same material facts the court is signaled that the case is ripe for summary judgment.” Shook v. United States, 713 F.2d 662, 665 (11th Cir. 1983) (citation omitted).


         The parties agree that South Carolina law governs their dispute. In South Carolina, insurance policies are subject to the general rules of contract construction. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Commercial Bank, 479 S.E.2d 524, 526 (S.C. 1996). The insurer's duties under a policy of insurance are set forth by the terms of the policy and cannot be enlarged or curtailed by judicial construction. Id. Therefore, the Court must give clear policy language its plain, ordinary, and popular meaning. See id. However, where policy provisions may be reasonably interpreted in more than one way, the court must use the interpretation most favorable to the insured. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Barrett, 530 S.E.2d 132, 136 (S.C. Ct. App. 2000).

         Garrison argues that any potential benefits for Rickborn are barred under exclusion A.7 of the policy, which provides as follows:

         A. We do not provide Liability Coverage for any covered person:

. . . .
7. Maintaining or using any vehicle while that person is employed or otherwise engaged in any business or occupation other than the auto business, farming, or ranching. This exclusion (A.7.) does not apply to the use of a private passenger auto; a pickup or a van that you own; or a trailer used with these vehicles.

(Compl., Ex. A, Insurance Policy, ECF No. 5, at 20.)[1] The parties agree that, at the time of the collision, Cothran was driving his boss's pickup truck while engaged in an occupation other than the auto business, farming, or ranching.[2] They also agree that Cothran did not own the truck he was driving and that no trailer was involved in the collision. This case boils down, then, to one ...

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