O'Hara v. John Hancock Mut. Life Ins. Co.

Decision Date03 May 1990
Docket NumberNo. 89-168-A,89-168-A
Citation574 A.2d 135
CourtRhode Island Supreme Court

John R. Mahoney, Baluch, Mahoney & Gianfrancesco, J. Ryder Kenney, Brennan & Kenney, Providence, for plaintiff.

Douglas A. Giron, Hinckley, Allen, Snyder & Comen, Thomas R. Bender, A. Laurison Parks, Hanson, Curran & Parks, Providence, for defendant.



This case comes before us on the plaintiff's appeal from summary judgment entered in favor of both defendants in the Superior Court. We affirm. The facts of the case insofar as pertinent to this appeal are as follows.

On October 3, 1983, John T. O'Hara and Lorraine S. O'Hara, husband and wife, attended a closing of a real estate transaction at the office of Fleet National Bank (Fleet) granting them a loan secured by a mortgage on their home. The mortgage was in the amount of $40,000. Incident to this transaction, the O'Haras completed an application for a group mortgage-insurance policy. The O'Haras filled out certain information on the application and agreed to pay a monthly premium of $16 for coverage under the policy. The group policy was in the possession of Fleet and provided that in the event of the death of a mortgagor (in this case either of the O'Haras) the balance of the mortgage then due would be payable by the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company (Hancock) to Fleet.

On the date of the closing Fleet approved the application for insurance and accepted $32 for two months premiums as required by the policy. The policy of insurance contained the following exclusion in relation to suicide:

"Suicide. In the event any Debtor insured hereunder commits suicide, while sane or insane, within two years from the date he becomes insured hereunder, the amount of Life Insurance payable by the Company, in place of all other benefits, will be equal to the premiums paid to the Company by the Policyholder for Life Insurance on said Debtor in connection with said loan."

It is undisputed that Lorraine O'Hara committed suicide on December 9, 1984, as a result of a self-inflicted bullet wound. In January 1985 John T. O'Hara, plaintiff in this action, applied for payment under the policy. Hancock refused payment and denied coverage on the ground of the specific suicide exclusion contained in the policy. The plaintiff alleges in his complaint, and sets forth in an affidavit in opposition to the motion for summary judgment, that he at no time received any documentation relating to the mortgage insurance and was unaware of any suicide exclusion. He stated that he saw no written instrument save the application. On the basis of this application, plaintiff believed that in the event either he or his wife should die, the outstanding mortgage would be paid by Hancock. He further set forth that he continued to make mortgage payments that included a sum for the life insurance premium. For the purposes of this opinion the factual allegations in plaintiff's affidavit must be taken as true.

After Hancock refused payment under the policy and Fleet declined to bring a legal action against Hancock, Fleet tendered return of all premiums to plaintiff, who then brought suit against both Fleet and Hancock.

The standard for the granting of summary judgment has been frequently stated by this court. In essence summary judgment is a drastic remedy that should be granted only when examination of all pleadings, affidavits, admissions, answers to interrogatories, and other materials viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion reveals no issue of material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Blanchard v. Blanchard, 484 A.2d 904 (R.I.1984); Rustigian v. Celona, 478 A.2d 187 (R.I.1984); Steinberg v. State, 427 A.2d 338 (R.I.1981). In considering the propriety of granting a motion for summary judgment on appeal, this court is bound by the same rules. Westinghouse Broadcasting Co. v. Dial Media, Inc., 122 R.I. 571, 410 A.2d 986 (1980).

In the case at bar the trial justice determined that the only disputed factual issue was whether plaintiff had knowledge of the suicide exclusion. He held as a matter of law, however, that knowledge by plaintiff was not a material issue of fact and assumed for purposes of passing upon the motion that plaintiff's lack of actual knowledge was true. With this determination we agree. The trial justice entered summary judgment in favor of Hancock on the ground that plaintiff had no standing to bring an action against Hancock because of lack of any privity between them. In so holding, the trial justice relied upon our opinion in Ricard v. John Hancock...

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  • Pontbriand v. Sundlun, 95-571-A
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Rhode Island
    • August 15, 1997
    ...court must be viewed in the light most favorable to the parties opposing the summary-judgment motions. O'Hara v. John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co., 574 A.2d 135, 136 (R.I.1990). The moving parties are then entitled to prevail only if the record reveals no remaining issues of material f......
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    • May 26, 2005
    ......1996) ; O'Hara v. John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co., 574 A.2d 135, ......
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