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Massey v. 21St Century Centennial Insurance Co.

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division

February 22, 2018

REBECCA MASSEY, Plaintiff,
v.
21st CENTURY CENTENNIAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          THOMAS E. JOHNSTON, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court are the parties' cross motions for summary judgment. (ECF No. 15; ECF No. 22.) For the reasons discussed more fully below, the Court GRANTS Defendant's motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 15.) The Court further DENIES Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 22.)

         I. BACKGROUND

         This action arises from an insurance coverage dispute between Plaintiff Rebecca Massey (“Massey”) and her insurer, Defendant 21st Century Centennial Insurance Company (“21stCentury”), stemming from an automobile accident between Massey and another motorist in which Massey was injured. (ECF No. 23 at ¶ 2.)

         During the relevant time period, Massey was the named insured on an Auto Insurance Policy issued by 21st Century that provided coverage for Massey's 2005 Ford Ranger pick-up truck. (Id. at ¶ 5.) Massey first entered into this insurance policy by telephone on November 5, 2013. (Id. at ¶ 9.) The policy provided $25, 000 per person and $50, 000 per accident in bodily injury coverage and $25, 000 in property damage coverage. (ECF No. 16 at 4.) On the same day, 21st Century faxed Massey her insurance ID cards and informed her that coverage would become effective at midnight on November 6, 2013, but that 21st Century would send Massey paperwork that needed to be signed, dated, and mailed back in order for Massey to maintain her coverage. (Id.)

         The following day, 21st Century mailed Massey a “New Customer Policy Packet” that included a cover letter notifying Massey of its content and directing Massey to “refer to the next page for information about forms that may need to be completed and returned.” (Id. at 5.) The next page of the packet was blank, but the following page included a “Policy Processing Checklist” that stated, “to continue with your coverage as requested and complete the application process, please return all signed yellow forms in the enclosed postage-paid envelope in the next 10 days.” (ECF No. 15-4 at 9.) The “State Selection Forms” section of the checklist page stated, “in order to maintain your coverage as listed on your Policy Declaration page, you must confirm your original selections by signing all the forms listed below.” (ECF No. 16 at 5.) The checklist page was followed by an “Important Notice” that stated in capital letters, “IF YOU DO NOT RETURN THIS FORM TO YOUR INSURER WITHIN THIRTY (30) DAYS IT MEANS YOU HAVE DECIDED NOT TO BUY OPTIONAL UNDERINSURED MOTORIST [“UIM”] COVERAGE THAT IS REQUIRED BY LAW.” (Id.) Following this notice was the UIM coverage offer form. (Id.)

         Massey signed and returned the application, but did not sign the UIM coverage election page. (Id. at 6.) Pursuant to the application instructions, 21st Century interpreted Massey's failure to sign the UIM coverage form as a decision not to purchase UIM coverage. (Id.)

         On July 16, 2014, Christopher Tully's (“Tully”) automobile collided with Massey's pick-up truck near Racine, West Virginia. (ECF No. 23 at ¶ 2.) Massey was injured as a result of the crash. (Id.) Tully was insured by Peak Property and Casualty Insurance Corporation (“Peak Property”). (Id. at ¶ 4.) Peak Property tendered to Massey $20, 000 for her bodily injury and $10, 000 for her property damage, which was the maximum coverage limit for bodily injury and property damage under Tully's insurance policy. (Id.) However, this did not completely cover Massey's damages. (See ECF No. 1-1 at 2 (Compl.); ECF No. 16 at 6.) Accordingly, Tully was an “underinsured” motorist. (ECF No. 16 at 6.)

         On August 6, 2014, Massey notified 21st Century by letter of a potential UIM claim for her remaining medical expenses. (See ECF No. 1-1 at 5.) In response, 21st Century sent Massey's counsel a seven-page fax that contained the policy declaration page, coverage selection forms, and auto pay document. (Id.) On August 15, 2014, Massey forwarded to 21st Century Peak Property's property damage offer and requested that 21st Century consent to the underlying property damage liability limits settlement and waive its subrogation rights. (Id. at 6.) 21stCentury responded stating that Massey's insurance policy did not provide for UIM coverage and that it was therefore unable to waive subrogation or consent to the settlement. (Id.)

         On May 21, 2015, Massey filed this action against 21st Century in the Circuit Court of Boone County, West Virginia, requesting declaratory relief to establish UIM coverage under her insurance policy as well as claiming breach of contract and breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. (See ECF No. 1-1.) On October 18, 2016, the parties settled, in full, all of Massey's property damage claims stemming from the accident, and Massey signed a release dismissing with prejudice any claims related to the property damage.[1] (See ECF No. 15-5 (Order of Partial Dismissal); ECF No. 15-6 (Partial Settlement Agreement and Release).)

         21st Century removed this action to this Court on March 17, 2017. (ECF No. 1.) Massey subsequently filed a motion to remand which was denied. (ECF No. 4; ECF No. 13.) The parties agreed to bifurcate this action into two stages, resolving the contract claim first. (See ECF No. 6.) 21st Century filed the present motion for summary judgment on August 31, 2017. (ECF No. 15.) Massey filed a timely response, (ECF No. 20), and 21st Century filed a timely reply. (ECF No. 21.) Massey subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment on October 6, 2017, (ECF No. 22), to which 21st Century timely responded, (ECF No. 24), and Massey timely replied. (ECF No. 27.) As such, both motions are fully briefed and ripe for adjudication.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs motions for summary judgment. That rule provides, in relevant part, that summary judgment should be granted if “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact.” Summary judgment is inappropriate, however, if there exist factual issues that reasonably may be resolved in favor of either party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). “Facts are ‘material' when they might affect the outcome of the case, and a ‘genuine issue' exists when the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” News & Observer Publ. Co. v. Raleigh-Durham Airport Auth., 597 F.3d 570, 576 (4th Cir. 2010). When construing such factual issues, the Court must view the evidence “in the light most favorable to the [party opposing summary judgment].” Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970).

         The moving party may meet its burden of showing that no genuine issue of fact exists by use of “depositions, answers to interrogatories, answers to requests for admission, and various documents submitted under request for production.” Barwick v. Celotex Corp., 736 F.2d 946, 958 (4th Cir. 1984). Once the moving party has met its burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to “make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). If a party ...


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