Mohon v. Sweet et al
ORDER AND REASONS denying Amtrust's (aka Tower National) 62 Motion for Partial Summary Judgment; granting Universal's 70 Motion for Summary Judgment. All claims by Plaintiff and Tower National against Universal are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. Signed by Judge Jane Triche Milazzo. (ecm)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
HANOVER INSURANCE GROUP ET AL.
ORDER AND REASONS
Before the Court are Defendant Amtrust North America, Inc.’s Motion
for Summary Judgment (Doc. 62) and Defendant Universal Underwriters of
Texas Insurance Company’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 70). For the
following reasons, Defendant Amtrust North America, Inc.’s Motion for
Summary Judgment is DENIED, and Defendant Universal Underwriters of
Texas Insurance Company’s Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.
This action arises out of an automobile accident that occurred on July
18, 2014. Plaintiff Joshua Mohon alleges that he was driving through an
intersection when another vehicle, driven by Defendant Jacob Sweet, failed to
stop at a stop sign and collided with the side of Plaintiff’s vehicle. At the time
of the accident, Sweet was driving a loaner car owned by Defendant Trotter
Auto El Dorado, LLC (“Trotter”) and insured by Defendant Universal
Underwriters of Texas Insurance Company (“Universal”). Plaintiff brought
suit against Sweet and his insurers The Hanover Insurance Group (“Hanover”)
and Safeco Insurance Company of Illinois (“Safeco”), in addition to Trotter and
Universal. Plaintiff was working at the time of the accident and thus also
added his employer’s insurer, AmTrust North America, Inc. a/k/a Tower
National Insurance Company (“Tower National”), as an additional defendant.
Finally, Plaintiff brought suit against his own underinsured motorist carrier,
Nationwide General Insurance Company (“Nationwide”). Universal thereafter
filed a cross-claim against Tower National and Sweet seeking indemnity.
Plaintiff has settled and/or dismissed his claims against Sweet, Trotter,
Nationwide, Hanover, and Safeco. The remaining defendants, Universal and
Tower National, have filed the instant Motions for Summary Judgment.
Universal, which provides a garage and auto policy covering Trotter,
argues that it does not owe coverage to Plaintiff under the language of its
Tower National has filed its own Partial Motion for Summary
Judgment alleging that Universal’s policy provides coverage in the amount of
$15,000. This Court will consider each argument in turn.
Summary judgment is appropriate “if the pleadings, depositions,
answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if
any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the
moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” 1 A genuine issue
of fact exists only “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the nonmoving party.” 2
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) (2012).
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
In determining whether the movant is entitled to summary judgment,
the Court views facts in the light most favorable to the non-movant and draws
all reasonable inferences in his favor. 3 “If the moving party meets the initial
burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact, the burden
shifts to the non-moving party to produce evidence or designate specific facts
showing the existence of a genuine issue for trial.” 4 Summary judgment is
appropriate if the non-movant “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish
the existence of an element essential to that party’s case.” 5 “In response to a
properly supported motion for summary judgment, the non-movant must
identify specific evidence in the record and articulate the manner in which that
evidence supports that party’s claim, and such evidence must be sufficient to
sustain a finding in favor of the non-movant on all issues as to which the nonmovant would bear the burden of proof at trial.” 6 “We do not . . . in the absence
of any proof, assume that the nonmoving party could or would prove the
necessary facts.” 7 Additionally, “[t]he mere argued existence of a factual
dispute will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion.” 8
LAW AND ANALYSIS
The summary judgment motions before the Court present an issue of
The parties disagree over the interpretation of
Universal’s insurance policy covering Trotter. Universal alleges that the policy
provides that it owes coverage only to the extent necessary to comply with
Coleman v. Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., 113 F.3d 528, 532 (5th Cir. 1997).
Engstrom v. First Nat’l Bank of Eagle Lake, 47 F.3d 1459, 1462 (5th Cir. 1995).
5 Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986).
6 John v. Deep E. Tex. Reg. Narcotics Trafficking Task Force, 379 F.3d 293, 301 (5th
Cir. 2004) (internal citations omitted).
7 Badon v. R J R Nabisco, Inc., 224 F.3d 382, 394 (5th Cir. 2000) (quoting Little v.
Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994)).
8 Boudreaux v. Banctec, Inc., 366 F. Supp. 2d 425, 430 (E.D. La. 2005).
Louisiana’s minimum insurance coverage law and only if no other insurer has
paid that amount.
Tower National argues that the policy provides that
Universal shall pay the amount required by Louisiana’s minimum coverage
law regardless of any amount paid by other insurers. The language of the
provision in dispute reads as follows:
The most WE will pay is that portion of such limits required to
comply with the minimum limits provision law in the jurisdiction
where the OCCURRENCE took place. When there is other
insurance applicable, WE will pay only the amount required to
comply with such minimum limits after such other insurance has
In this diversity case, Louisiana law controls. 9 Louisiana law governing
the interpretation of insurance contracts is well settled. “An insurance policy
is a contract between the parties and should be construed by using the general
rules of interpretation of contracts set forth in the Louisiana Civil Code.” 10
“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.” 11 “An insurance policy should not be interpreted in an unreasonable
or a strained manner so as to enlarge or to restrict its provisions beyond what
is reasonably contemplated by its terms or so as to achieve an absurd
conclusion.” 12 “The rules of construction do not authorize a perversion of the
words or the exercise of inventive powers to create an ambiguity where none
exists or the making of a new contract when the terms express with sufficient
clarity the parties’ intent.” 13 “The determination of whether a contract is clear
or ambiguous is a question of law.” 14
Seacor Holdings, Inc. v. Commonwealth Ins. Co., 635 F.3d 675, 681 (5th Cir. 2011).
Mayo v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 869 So. 2d 96, 99 (La. 2004).
11 La. Civ. Code art. 2046.
12 Carrier v. Reliance Ins. Co., 759 So. 2d 37, 43 (La. 2000).
13 Mayo, 869 So. 2d at 99–100.
14 Cadwallader v. Allstate Ins. Co., 848 So. 2d 577, 579 (La. 2003).
This Court holds that the policy provision at issue clearly states that
Universal must only pay the minimum limits provided by law if the minimum
has not otherwise been met by another insurer. Tower National’s reading of
the provision would require this Court to completely ignore the second
sentence of the policy provision at issue. If the provision was read to say that
Universal is required to pay the minimum coverage limit regardless of the
payments made by other insurers, the second sentence would be rendered
superfluous and meaningless. The second sentence of the policy provision
unambiguously states that Universal owes coverage only to the extent that it
is required to comply with Louisiana’s minimum insurance coverage
requirement after other insurance has been exhausted.
Louisiana law requires that an owner’s policy of motor vehicle insurance
must provide for a minimum of $15,000 worth of liability insurance coverage. 15
Accordingly, Universal must provide coverage to Plaintiff up to $15,000 unless
another insurer has already met this minimum threshold. In this matter,
Plaintiff has already settled with two other insurers in the amount of $75,000.
Accordingly, the minimum coverage requirement has been met, and Universal
is therefore not liable for any amount under the terms of its policy.
For the foregoing reasons, Universal’s Motion for Summary Judgment is
GRANTED, and Tower National’s Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED.
All claims by Plaintiff and Tower National against Universal are DISMISSED
La. Rev. Stat. § 32:900(B)(2)(a).
New Orleans, Louisiana this 20th day of December, 2016.
JANE TRICHE MILAZZO
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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