United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS'
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [DKT. NO. 47] AND DENYING
PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT [DKT. NO.
M. KEELEY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
question presented by the parties' pending motions for
summary judgment is whether the defendants are obligated to
provide underinsured motorist coverage to the plaintiffs with
regard to damages incurred during a May 2015 vehicle
accident. Concluding that they are not, the Court
GRANTS the defendants' motion for
summary judgment (Dkt. No. 47), and DENIES
the plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment (Dkt.
the facts in this case are not in dispute. In late 2014, the
plaintiffs, Virgil and Melissa Beatty (collectively,
“the Beattys”), began searching for a new
automobile insurance carrier to replace their existing policy
with National General that was set to expire on December 25,
2014 (Dkt. No. 48-1 at 45-46). After obtaining quotes from
several companies, on December 24, 2014, Mrs. Beatty began an
online application with the defendants, Esurance Property and
Casualty Insurance Company and Esurance Insurance Services,
Inc. (collectively, “Esurance”). Id. at
27, 48. During the online application, Mrs. Beatty provided
the Beattys' driver's license numbers, driving
histories, and vehicle information. She also created an
online account using her e-mail address, which she intended
to use again to renew the policy. Id. at 47-50. At
some point during the application process, Mrs. Beatty placed
Mr. Beatty's electronic signature on a Credit Card
Authorization, which authorized a charge for $522.86 and
acknowledged that “Esurance will notify me via email of
the dates and amount of any future and renewal
payments” (Dkt. Nos. 48-1 at 54-57; 48-4).
same day, Mr. Beatty called an Esurance representative to
discuss the quote that the Beattys had received online (Dkt.
No. 48-3). After speaking with Mrs. Beatty about the
additional information he received from the representative,
Mr. Beatty called again to complete the application and pay
for the policy by telephone (Dkt. No. 48-2 at 65). The
coverage that Mr. Beatty purchased included “uninsured
and underinsured motorist bodily injury limits of 100, 000
per person, 300, 000 per accident; uninsured motorist
property damages limits of 50, 000 per accident with a 300
deductible; [and] underinsured motorist property damages
limits of 50, 000 per accident.” Id. at 75-78.
Esurance representative provided Mr. Beatty with a temporary
password and instructed him “to go onto [the Esurance]
website, just so [he could] accept the terms and the
conditions of [the] policy and also any West Virginia state
required forms.” Id. at 81-82. The
representative also specifically advised Mr. Beatty that he
would be receiving “an e-mail from [Esurance] about
[his] uninsured/underinsured motorist form that [he would]
need to . . . print and sign and return to [Esurance] within
30 days.” Id. at 83-84. At the conclusion of
the call, the Esurance representative confirmed that the
Beattys' insurance policy would go into effect at 12:01
A.M. on December 25, 2014, and reminded Mr. Beatty to fill
out the requisite forms within 30 days. Id. at 85.
the Beattys received an email from Esurance that thanked them
“for becoming an Esurance policyholder” and
provided their “policy documents” (Dkt. No.
48-5). On December 26, 2014, Esurance sent the
Beattys another email that provided as follows:
West Virginia requires us to send you the attached documents
regarding your underinsured and uninsured motorist coverages.
Please read the forms carefully and select limits for both
coverages. Then, sign and date the forms and return them to
us by email, mail, or fax within the next 30 days.
(Dkt. No. 48-6 at 2; 48-7 at 9). The attached documents
explained uninsured motorist (“UM”) and
underinsured motorist (“UIM”) coverage, and
offered the Beattys an opportunity to select optional limits
for each type of coverage (“selection/rejection
forms”) (Dkt. No. 48-6 at 4-5). The documents were not
sent by U.S. Mail (Dkt. No. 48-7 at 9).
Beattys also received several emails from Esurance during the
following months, advising them to log on and accept the
terms of their policy in order “[t]o maintain
electronic delivery of policy docs” (Dkt. Nos. 48-9;
48-10; 48-11; 48-12). Although the Beattys received these
e-mails at the address they provided, they did not open or
review many of the communications until after the May 2015
accident (Dkt. Nos. 48-1 at 59-60; 48-15 at 2). In fact, Mrs.
Beatty testified that she “[p]retty much”
disregarded e-mails from Esurance (Dkt. No. 48-1 at 63).
a customer does not log onto their policy and accept terms
and conditions” within 30 days, Esurance updates the
delivery method from electronic to paper (Dkt. No. 48-7 at
11, 14). When the Beattys did not accept the terms and
conditions, on January 24, 2015, Esurance changed the
Beattys' “policy document delivery method” to
U.S. mail (Dkt. No. 48-19). Esurance also removed a paperless
discount that had been applied to the Beattys' policy and
sent an e-mail advising that it would charge their credit
card an additional $7.52 on February 3, 2015 (Dkt. Nos. 48-19
at 2; 48-17). Mrs. Beatty reviewed this e-mail, but did not
inquire about the charge (Dkt. No. 48-1 at 60).
Beattys did not return the selection/rejection forms within
30 days. Id. at 72, 125. As a result, on January 26,
2015, Esurance mailed the Beattys' an amended policy
declarations page, effective January 28, 2015, which
reflected that Esurance had removed UIM coverage and
drastically reduced UM coverage (Dkt. Nos. 48-14 at 9-10;
48-16). The Beattys did not review the amended declarations
page (Dkt. No. 48-1 at 97). In fact, Mrs. Beatty testified
that she does not read renewal declarations pages because she
assumes that her coverage will remain the same. Id.
at 95. At this time, Esurance also issued a refund for the
UIM premium (Dkt. No. 48-14 at 9). Mrs. Beatty received an
e-mail regarding the refund, but she did not inquire why
Esurance issued it (Dkt. No. 48-1 at 114-15).
that point forward, Esurance was of the opinion that it did
not provide UIM coverage to the Beattys. On May 18, 2015, Mr.
Beatty was involved in a head-on collision with one Sharlotta
Wilson (“Wilson”) while traveling on U.S. Route
50. Wilson was cited for failing to maintain control of her
vehicle and driving the wrong way on a one-way road (Dkt. No.
1 at 3). Mrs. Beatty made a claim with Esurance on May 19,
2015 (Dkt. No. 48-1 at 278). Esurance denied the Beattys'
claim for UIM coverage because it had been canceled when they
failed to return the selection/rejection forms in January
2015. Id. at 278-302.
2016, the Beattys filed this action against Esurance,
alleging three claims: 1) declaratory relief, 2) breach of
contract, and 3) bad faith (Dkt. No. 1 at 3-8). Following a
scheduling conference, the Court directed the parties to
submit cross briefs on the threshold question of whether the
policy provided coverage (Dkt. No. 14). After receiving
several extensions of time in which to do so (Dkt. Nos. 30;
34; 54), the parties filed and briefed their competing
motions for summary judgment, which are now ripe for review
(Dkt. Nos. 47; 49).
judgment is appropriate where the “depositions,
documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or
declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes
of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or
other materials” establish that “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), (c)(1)(A). When ruling on a motion for summary
judgment, the Court reviews all the evidence “in the
light most favorable” to the nonmoving party.
Providence Square Assocs., L.L.C. v. G.D.F., Inc.,
211 F.3d 846, 850 (4th Cir. 2000). The Court must avoid
weighing the evidence or determining its truth and limit its
inquiry solely to a determination of whether genuine issues
of triable fact exist. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).
moving party bears the initial burden of informing the Court
of the basis for the motion and of establishing the
nonexistence of genuine issues of fact. Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party
has made the necessary showing, the non-moving party
“must set forth specific facts showing that there is a
genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S.
at 256 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The
“mere existence of a scintilla of evidence”
favoring the non-moving party will not prevent the entry of
summary judgment; the evidence must be such that a rational
trier of fact could reasonably find for the nonmoving party.
Id. at 248-52.
federal court exercising diversity jurisdiction is obliged to
apply the substantive law of the state in which it
sits.” Volvo Const. Equip. N. Am. v. CLM Equip.
Co., Inc., 386 F.3d 581, 599-600 (4th Cir. 2004) (citing
Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 79 (1938)).
Typically, in West Virginia, “[d]etermination of the
proper coverage of an insurance contract when the facts are
not in dispute is a question of law.” Syl. Pt. 1,
Tennant v. Smallwood, 568 S.E.2d 10 ( W.Va. 2002).
Although the policy in place at the time of the accident did