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Santens v. Progressive Gulf Ins. Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

July 11, 2014

MICHAEL G. SANTENS, Plaintiff,
v.
PROGRESSIVE GULF INSURANCE CO., Defendant

For Michael G. Santens, Plaintiff: John Janney Rasmussen, LEAD ATTORNEY, Insurance Recovery Law Group PLC, Richmond, VA.

For Progressive Gulf Insurance Co., Defendant: John Becker Mumford, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, Hancock Daniel Johnson & Nagle PC, Glen Allen, VA.

Page 789

MEMORANDUM OPINION

M. Hannah Lauck, United States District Judge.

This matter comes before this Court for disposition of Plaintiff Michael G. Santens's and Defendant Progressive Gulf Insurance Co.'s (" Progressive" ) cross motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 34, 37.) The Court heard oral argument and, after limited follow-up briefing, the issues have been fully addressed. Accordingly, this matter is ripe for disposition. The Court exercises jurisdiction pursuant

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to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.[1]

For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Santens's cross motion for summary judgment and will deny Progressive's cross motion for summary judgment. The Court finds that no genuine dispute as to any material fact exists and that Santens is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The Court will enter a declaratory judgment that Progressive must provide Santens with five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000) in uninsured/underinsured motorist (" UM" ) coverage.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

A. Undisputed Facts[2]

1. The Accident

This insurance coverage dispute arises from a September 10, 2011 car accident involving Santens and Patricia Booth, a non-party (" the Accident" ). Santens suffered " severe injuries" in the Accident. (Compl. ¶ 7, ECF No. 1.) Because Booth's liability insurance provided less than five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000) coverage, Santens sought five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000) UM coverage from Progressive, his insurer.

2. The Policy at Issue

Effective June 25, 2007 to June 25, 2008, Progressive provided Santens with motorcycle insurance pursuant to Policy Number 31382124-0 (the " 2007 Policy" ). The 2007 Policy Declaration provided Santens, the named insured, with the following coverage: (1) fifty-thousand dollars ($50,000) each person/one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000) each accident in bodily injury liability (" BI" ) coverage; and, (2) fifty-thousand dollars ($50,000) each person/one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000) each accident in UM coverage.[3] Santens did not reject matching UM coverage for the 2007 Policy. (Def.'s Supp'l Br. 4, ECF No. 48 (" Progressive concedes that . . . [the 2007 Policy] was issued with matching [UM] and liability limits." ).) The 2008 Policy, effective June 25, 2008 to June 25, 2009, provided Santens with the same BI and UM coverage as the 2007 Policy.

On April 6, 2009, and during the 2008 Policy year, Santens contacted Progressive by phone to request a change to his BI coverage (" April 2009 Call" ). Santens sought to increase his BI coverage to five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000) combined single limit (" CSL" ) in order to comply with an umbrella liability insurance policy. During the call, neither Santens nor the Progressive representative discussed or mentioned Santens's UM coverage.

Following the April 2009 Call, Progressive issued a 2008 amended declaration (" 2008 Amended Declaration" ). The 2008 Amended Declaration specifies the following coverage: (1) five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000) CSL each accident BI and property damage; and, (2) fifty-thousand dollars ($50,000) each person/one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000) each accident in UM coverage. Santens's 2009 Policy, effective June 25, 2009 to June 25, 2010, his 2010 Policy, effective June 25, 2010 to June 25, 2011, and his 2011 Policy, effective June 25, 2011 to June 25, 2012 and in effect

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at the time of the Accident, denote the same coverage as the 2008 Amended Declaration.[4] Progressive correctly identifies the policy as a renewal.[5]

Because Booth's liability insurance provided less than five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000) coverage, Santens sought five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000) UM coverage from Progressive for the injuries he suffered in the Accident. Progressive denied owing that amount of UM coverage.

B. Procedural History

In April of 2013, Santens filed his Complaint for declaratory judgment that Progressive provide him with five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000) in UM coverage for the Accident. Progressive answered and denied that it owed five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000) in UM coverage. Progressive contends that it owes fifty-thousand dollars ($50,000) per person/one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000) per accident in UM coverage, consistent with the face of the policy declarations from 2009-2012.

The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 34, 37.) Santens asks this Court to find that Progressive must provide Santens with five hundred thousand dollars ($500,000) in UM coverage for the Accident, less any credit for liability coverage. Progressive seeks a declaration that it must supply UM coverage in the amount of fifty-thousand dollars ($50,000) each person/one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000) each accident. The Court has heard oral argument and received follow up briefing.

II. Standard of Review

A. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment under Rule 56 is appropriate only when the Court, viewing the record as a whole and in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, determines that there exists no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-50. Once a party has properly filed evidence supporting the motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party may not rest upon mere allegations in the pleadings, but instead must set forth specific facts illustrating genuine issues for trial. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322-24. These facts must be presented in the form of exhibits and sworn affidavits. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).

A court views the evidence and reasonable inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Whether an inference is reasonable must be considered in conjunction with competing inferences to the contrary. Sylvia Dev. Corp. v. Calvert Cnty., 48 F.3d 810, 818 (4th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). Nonetheless, the nonmoving " party is entitled

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'to have the credibility of his evidence as forecast assumed.'" Miller v. Leathers, 913 F.2d 1085, 1087 (4th Cir. 1990) (en banc) (quoting Charbonnages de France v. Smith, 597 F.2d 406, 414 (4th Cir. 1979)). Ultimately, the court must adhere to the affirmative obligation to bar factually unsupportable claims from proceeding to trial. Felty v. Graves-Humphreys Co., 818 F.2d 1126, 1128 (4th Cir. 1987) (citing Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323-24). Where the court is faced with cross motions for summary judgment, as in the instant case, the court must review each motion separately on its own merits. Rossignol v. Voorhaar, 316 F.3d 516, 523 (4th Cir. 2003).

B. Statutory Construction

The familiar canons of statutory construction govern the parties' dispute regarding the interpretation of the Virginia UM statutes at issue.[6] A court must first read the plain language of a statute to determine its meaning. In re Total Realty Mgmt., LLC, 706 F.3d 245, 251 (4th Cir. 2013) (citing Crespo v. Holder, 631 F.3d 130, 133 (4th Cir. 2011)). Absent ambiguity, the plain language must be applied. Waldburger v. CTS Corp., 723 F.3d 434, 442 (4th Cir. 2013) (citing United States v. Abdelshafi, 592 F.3d 602, 607 (4th Cir. 2010)).

Additionally, courts interpreting the UM statute relevant in this case instruct that " Section 2206 was intended to protect those injured by uninsured or underinsured motorists by requiring that they be adequately compensated for their injuries." Jefferson, 2009 WL 1765670, at *3 (citing Grossman v. Glens Falls Ins. Co., 211 Va. 195, 176 S.E.2d 318, 320-21 (Va. 1970); White v. Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, Pa., 913 F.2d 165, 169 (4th Cir. 1990)). " UM Statute § 2206 is to be applied liberally in order to accomplish its intended purpose of affording relief to injured persons, and any ambiguity should be construed in favor of the insured." Id. at *5 (citations omitted).

III. Analysis

This Court evaluates a factual circumstance not previously reported by any court applying Virginia law. Unlike other cases, Santens never rejected matching limits when offered in 2007 and never otherwise rejected matching limits prior to increasing his BI coverage in 2009.[7] Santens and the Progressive representative both failed to address UM coverage during the later April 2009 Call. For the reasons stated below, the liberal construction favoring relief to injured persons which courts must give to Section 2206(A), the plain language of Section 2206(A), and the April 2009 ...


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