Gleason v. Merchants Mut. Ins. Co., Civ. A. No. 83-0694 S.

CourtU.S. District Court — District of Rhode Island
Writing for the CourtSELYA
Citation589 F. Supp. 1474
PartiesSharon GLEASON, David Gleason, Kelly Gleason, Francis P. Gleason, and Patricia Gleason, Plaintiffs, v. MERCHANTS MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendants.
Decision Date20 June 1984
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 83-0694 S.

589 F. Supp. 1474

Sharon GLEASON, David Gleason, Kelly Gleason, Francis P. Gleason, and Patricia Gleason, Plaintiffs,
v.
MERCHANTS MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendants.

Civ. A. No. 83-0694 S.

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island.

June 20, 1984.


589 F. Supp. 1475

Oleary & McElroy, Michael R. McElroy, Providence, R.I., for plaintiffs.

Hanson, Curran & Parks, A. Lauriston Parks, Seth E. Bowerman, Providence, R.I., for defendants.

OPINION

SELYA, District Judge.

This matter involves an action brought by five related plaintiffs: Francis P. Gleason and his wife, Patricia Gleason (collectively, the grandparents); their son and daughter-in-law, David and Sharon Gleason; and Kelly Gleason, infant daughter of Mr. and Mrs. David Gleason. The grandparents, at the times material hereto, were the named insureds in and under a certain automobile insurance policy (policy) issued by the defendant, Merchants Mutual Insurance Company (MM). Jurisdiction is bottomed on diversity of citizenship and the existence of a controversy in the requisite amount. 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

After discovery had been undertaken, MM filed a motion for summary judgment as to all claims of all plaintiffs. That motion was accompanied, inter alia, by the statement of undisputed material facts required by Local Rule 12.1 of this court. The motion also relied upon a stipulation of record (Stipulation) entered on January 19, 1984, explicating the pertinent terms of the policy. The plaintiffs, while objecting to the motion, have in their Local Rule 12.1 cross statement admitted each and all of the facts so advanced by the defendant, id. at ¶ 1, and have set forth certain further items (as to which MM has expressed no disagreement). Thus, the facts underlying this dispute are, for purposes of the instant motion, uncontroverted.

Subsequent to the submission of amplitudinous briefs, oral arguments were heard on May 23, 1984. Decision was reserved.

589 F. Supp. 1476

I. Factual Predicate

A decurtate articulation of the material facts is in order. In or about May of 1980, MM issued its policy to the grandparents. A number of vehicles were described therein, including a 1964 Oldsmobile owned by Patricia Gleason. When the policy issued, and at all other relevant times, the grandparents made their home at 11 Harding St., West Warwick, Rhode Island. By November of 1980, David and Sharon had set up housekeeping separate and apart from the grandparents at an abode in Coventry, Rhode Island. Kelly had been conceived, but not yet born. The policy remained in full force as of November 5, 1980.

On that date, Sharon Gleason, who was beginning her eighth month of pregnancy, sojourned forth in the Oldsmobile to visit her in-laws. Neither Sharon nor her husband owned any cars on November 5, 1980. Whilst travelling on Main Street in West Warwick, the automobile exhausted its supply of gasoline and ground to a halt. Sharon got out of the car, crossed the street to a nearby pizzeria, and telephoned her father-in-law for assistance. After doing so, she left the restaurant and began crossing the street to return to the car. Sharon was four or five feet from the driver's door of the Oldsmobile when an oncoming vehicle driven by one Julie Turner (concededly, an uninsured motorist) bore down upon her. The Turner vehicle swerved, narrowly avoided hitting Sharon, and crashed unceremoniously into the rear of the parked Oldsmobile. Sharon claims, understandly, to have been emotionally shaken by the near miss and to have experienced various untoward physical manifestations of her distress. Two weeks later she delivered a premature baby, namely, the plaintiff Kelly Gleason. It is alleged that Kelly has suffered from the effects of prenatal injuries referable to the events of November 5.

On the day after the incident, Sharon and her in-laws went to the office of an MM agent to report the event and to file a claim. They say they were told that coverage was lacking; therefore, no claims were proffered. About two years later, having received advice of counsel in the interim, the plaintiffs did make claim for injuries allegedly sustained and for expenses and damages supposedly incurred. Those advances were quite brusquely rejected by the insurer, and the instant litigation ensued.

II. Contentions of the Parties

It is clear from the various documents of record, e.g., the plaintiffs' complaint, the attorney's demand letters to the insurers annexed thereto, and the plaintiffs' Local Rule 12.1 cross statement, that the "claims" asserted to MM were personal injury claims arising under the uninsured motorist part of the policy: for Sharon's emotional distress and damages ancillary thereto; for physical injuries allegedly resulting to Kelly in consequence of harm sustained while en ventre sa mere; and for David's loss of consortium and of the services of his wife and child, as well as expenses incurred or to be incurred by him in his dual capacity as husband and father, respectively, of the injured parties. There is no suggestion of the promulgation of any claim by Patricia for property damage inflicted upon the Oldsmobile.1

The essence of uninsured motorist coverage is that the insurer, where the provision attaches, stands in the shoes of the non-covered tortfeasor for purposes of liability. And, under Rhode Island law, it cannot be gainsaid that an individual like Sharon, who was well within the zone of direct personal jeopardy and who has averred adverse physical symptoms proximately caused by her harrowing emotional experience, would have a viable cause of action against the negligent driver responsible for her predicament and its consequences. See, e.g., Plummer v. Abbott Laboratories, 568 F.Supp. 920, 922-26 (D.R.I.1983) (collecting and reviewing Rhode Island cases). It is

589 F. Supp. 1477
equally well settled that prenatal injuries, negligently inflicted, would in such circumstances be actionable in tort. Sylvia v. Gobeille, 101 R.I. 76, 220 A.2d 222 (1966)

The plaintiffs' complaint starts with these premises, and proceeds to limn a trilogy of putative causes of action. Count I culminates in the imprecation that MM's conduct toward the plaintiffs "constitutes wrongful and bad faith refusal to pay a legitimate insurance claim," Complaint at ¶ 23, and is therefore actionable under the benefices of R.I.Gen.Laws § 9-1-33.2 Count II posits a somewhat imaginative assertion that the same conduct is also actionable as a "tortious breach of contract." Complaint at ¶ 25. Count III can be read to make out the uninsured motorist claim which lies at the core of this dispute, but it is couched in vitriolic hyperbole which suggests, mayhap, that the plaintiffs are suing MM not in its role as a surrogate for Turner, but for independently inflicting emotional harm on the plaintiffs by its processing and ultimate denial of their claims. E.g., id. at ¶ 27 ("Merchants' conduct was willful, wanton and in reckless disregard of the emotional trauma it would inflict upon the plaintiffs.").

MM denies that the grandparents, qua policyholders, have sustained any actionable injury; and denies that the remaining plaintiffs are, the premises considered, entitled to the succor of the policy. Further, it defends its conduct in the handling of the claims as reasonable, and attempts to brush aside any imputation of bad faith.

Despite the harsh stridulations which permeate the plaintiffs' complaint, and the peculiar manner in which counsel has opted to plead the case, one point is clear: if MM had no coverage applicable to the incident of November 5, 1980, then, in the last words of the bard's epic drama of the melancholy Dane: "The rest is silence." W. Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act V, scene 2, line 372 (1603). If the insurer had no legal obligation under the policy to honor or to pay the proffered claims, then its corporate behavior in denying them — no matter how rude or unseemly — could scarcely be a predicate for the causes of action echoed in the complaint. Indeed, the Rhode Island courts have gone further, indicating that "if a claim is `fairly debatable', no liability in tort for bad faith will arise." Bibeault v. Hanover Insurance Co., 417 A.2d 313, 319 (R.I.1980) (emphasis added). Surely, the greater must include the lesser; and if an immunity attaches to an insurer's turndown of a "fairly debatable" claim, the vaccine must be even more potent when the claim is found to be baseless.

And, if further support were needed for what seems to be an abecedarian and self-evident concept, this view is buttressed by the recent decision of the First Circuit in Voccio v. Reliance Insurance Companies, 703 F.2d 1 (1st Cir.1983) (applying Rhode Island law). There, Judge Breyer focused on the bottom line nature of bad faith claims. Id. at 3-4. The case at bar fits snugly within that integument — for if the Gleasons had no cause(s) of action against MM to begin with, their predictable bottom line was zero, and the perceived disdain with which they were treated by the insurer is immaterial. In that event, uberrima fides would not have brought about a different outcome. It follows inexorably, as the night overtakes the day, that any duty on MM's part must be rooted in the insurance contract. Elsewise, the remaining contentions of the Gleason family are as insubstantial as a house built upon the shifting sand.

589 F. Supp. 1478

III. Policy Provisions

To place the fact pattern of the case into appropriate context, the court must briefly review the relevant terms, conditions, and insuring agreements contained in the policy. The parties, by their mutual assent to the Stipulation, have greatly simplified this chore.

Leaving aside for the time being the plaintiffs' argument for statutory reformation of the policy, see text post (Part VII (B)), the contract establishes two prerequisites with respect to bodily injury: such injury must be "caused by accident" and must be "sustained by a covered person." The...

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19 practice notes
  • Max True Plastering Co. v. U.S. Fidelity and Guar. Co., No. 85860
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • February 27, 1996
    ...v. Aetna Casualty & Sur. Co., 455 F.Supp. 1190, 1193 (D.N.H.1987) (Applying New Hampshire law.); Gleason v. Merchants Mut. Ins. Co., 589 F.Supp. 1474, 1480 (D.R.I.1984) (Applying Rhode Island law.); Dronge v. Monarch Ins. Co., 511 F.Supp. 1, 4 (D.Kan.1979) (Applying Kansas law.); Fritz ......
  • McInnis v. Harley-Davidson Motor Co., Inc., Civ. A. No. 82-0422-S.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Rhode Island
    • January 14, 1986
    ...822, 82 L.Ed. 1188 (1938); Lyons v. Salve Regina College, 565 F.2d 200, 202 (1st Cir. 1977); Gleason v. Merchants Mutual Insurance Co., 589 F.Supp. 1474, 1478 (D.R.I. 1984); Plummer v. Abbott Laboratories, 568 F.Supp. 920, 921 (D.R.I.1983); Scuncio Motors, Inc. v. Subaru of New England, Inc......
  • Crellin Technologies, Inc. v. Equipmentlease Corp., No. 93-1615
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • November 1, 1993
    ...will lie. See Jordan-Milton Mach., Inc. v. F/V Teresa Marie, II, 978 F.2d 32, 36 (1st Cir.1992); cf. Gleason v. Merchants Mut. Ins. Co., 589 F.Supp. 1474, 1477 (D.R.I.1984) (applying same principle in insurance IV. THE UNFAIR TRADE PRACTICES CLAIM We come, finally, to appellant's unfair tra......
  • Ryan v. Royal Ins. Co. of America, No. 90-1217
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • June 5, 1990
    ...matter how rude or unseemly," could not serve as a predicate for a bad-faith claim. See, e.g., Gleason v. Merchants Mut. Ins. Co., 589 F.Supp. 1474, 1477 (D.R.I.1984); see also Peckham v. Continental Cas. Ins. Co., 895 F.2d 830, 836 (1st Cir.1990) (emphasizing need to show that the ins......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
19 cases
  • Max True Plastering Co. v. U.S. Fidelity and Guar. Co., No. 85860
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Oklahoma
    • February 27, 1996
    ...v. Aetna Casualty & Sur. Co., 455 F.Supp. 1190, 1193 (D.N.H.1987) (Applying New Hampshire law.); Gleason v. Merchants Mut. Ins. Co., 589 F.Supp. 1474, 1480 (D.R.I.1984) (Applying Rhode Island law.); Dronge v. Monarch Ins. Co., 511 F.Supp. 1, 4 (D.Kan.1979) (Applying Kansas law.); Fritz ......
  • McInnis v. Harley-Davidson Motor Co., Inc., Civ. A. No. 82-0422-S.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. United States District Courts. 1st Circuit. District of Rhode Island
    • January 14, 1986
    ...822, 82 L.Ed. 1188 (1938); Lyons v. Salve Regina College, 565 F.2d 200, 202 (1st Cir. 1977); Gleason v. Merchants Mutual Insurance Co., 589 F.Supp. 1474, 1478 (D.R.I. 1984); Plummer v. Abbott Laboratories, 568 F.Supp. 920, 921 (D.R.I.1983); Scuncio Motors, Inc. v. Subaru of New England, Inc......
  • Crellin Technologies, Inc. v. Equipmentlease Corp., No. 93-1615
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • November 1, 1993
    ...will lie. See Jordan-Milton Mach., Inc. v. F/V Teresa Marie, II, 978 F.2d 32, 36 (1st Cir.1992); cf. Gleason v. Merchants Mut. Ins. Co., 589 F.Supp. 1474, 1477 (D.R.I.1984) (applying same principle in insurance IV. THE UNFAIR TRADE PRACTICES CLAIM We come, finally, to appellant's unfair tra......
  • Ryan v. Royal Ins. Co. of America, No. 90-1217
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • June 5, 1990
    ...matter how rude or unseemly," could not serve as a predicate for a bad-faith claim. See, e.g., Gleason v. Merchants Mut. Ins. Co., 589 F.Supp. 1474, 1477 (D.R.I.1984); see also Peckham v. Continental Cas. Ins. Co., 895 F.2d 830, 836 (1st Cir.1990) (emphasizing need to show that the ins......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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