Munroe v. Cont'l W. Ins. Co., No. 13-1290

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (8th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBENTON
PartiesJoshua Munroe; Tiffany Munroe Plaintiffs - Appellees v. Continental Western Insurance Company, a Foreign Limited Liability Company Defendant - Appellant
Docket NumberNo. 13-1290
Decision Date07 November 2013

Joshua Munroe; Tiffany Munroe Plaintiffs - Appellees
Continental Western Insurance Company, a Foreign Limited Liability Company Defendant - Appellant

No. 13-1290

United States Court of Appeals For the Eighth Circuit

Submitted: September 24, 2013
Filed: November 7, 2013

Appeal from United States District Court
for the Eastern District of Missouri - St. Louis

Before LOKEN, COLLOTON, and BENTON, Circuit Judges.

BENTON, Circuit Judge.

Operating his employer's truck, Joshua Munroe was injured. After settling with the tortfeasors, Munroe and his wife sued Continental Western Insurance Company for underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage in his employer's policy. Continental moved for partial summary judgment on its maximum liability. The district court granted the motion in part, holding that the Munroes could not "stack"

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their claims. The court denied the motion in part, finding a UIM limit of $2,000,000 rather than $500,000. Both parties appeal. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b), this court affirms in part and reverses in part.


On November 6, 2006, Munroe's tractor-trailer, owned by his employer, collided with three other vehicles. Munroe was seriously injured. He and his wife settled with the tortfeasors.

The Munroes then sued Continental, seeking UIM coverage under the employer's commercial automobile insurance policy. The policy's "Motor Carrier Declarations" specify a $500,000 UIM limit, and a $2,000,000 bodily-injury liability limit.

One endorsement to the policy—"Missouri Underinsured Motorists Coverage"—specifies a $500,000 UIM limit for each "accident." The "Coverage" section of the endorsement says:

We will pay all sums the "insured" is legally entitled to recover as compensatory damages from the owner or driver of an "underinsured motor vehicle." The damages must result from "bodily injury" sustained by the "insured" caused by an "accident." The owner's or driver's liability for these damages must result from the ownership, maintenance or use of the "underinsured motor vehicle."

The "Limit of Insurance" section of the endorsement says:

Regardless of the number of covered "autos", "insureds", premiums paid, claims made or vehicles involved in the "accident", the most we will pay for all damages resulting from any one "accident" is the limit

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of Underinsured Motorists Coverage shown in the Schedule or Declarations.

Another endorsement to the policy is a form—"Selection/Rejection of Underinsured Motorist Coverage":

Under Missouri Insurance Law (379.203), Underinsured Motorist Coverage is optional. The insured named in the policy may select a limit of Underinsured Motorist Coverage lower than the bodily injury liability coverage limit in the policy, but not less than the state financial responsibility limit or the insured named in the policy may choose to reject Underinsured Motorist Coverage.
Check item selected:
[ ] Underinsured Motorist Coverage has been offered to me, however, it is being rejected.
[ ] Agrees to purchase Underinsured Motorist Coverage at the state financial responsibility limits of 25/50.
[ ] Agrees to purchase Underinsured Motorist Coverage at the limit indicated below which is less than the policy bodily injury limit.
(Enter limits of liability selected)
$ ______________ each accident

When Munroe's employer received the policy, the form was blank. On the date of the collisions, the form was still blank. The employer signed and returned it one month later, selecting a $500,000 UIM limit—the same as the declarations page and UIM coverage endorsement.

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Continental moved for partial summary judgment, seeking a declaration that its maximum UIM liability is $500,000. The Munroes sought up to $2,000,000 in UIM coverage. They further argued that the policy allows stacking, permitting them six claims (two against three drivers) for a total of $12,000,000.

The district court first ruled that the policy does not permit stacking (thus allowing only one UIM claim). However, finding the UIM limit ambiguous, the court applied the $2,000,000 bodily injury limit. Continental appeals the denial of its motion for partial summary judgment. The Munroes cross-appeal the rejection of their stacking claim.

This court reviews de novo a grant of summary judgment, viewing the record most favorably to the nonmoving party and drawing all reasonable inferences for that party. Chambers v. Pennycook, 641 F.3d 898, 904 (8th Cir. 2011). This court reviews de novo the district court's construction of an insurance policy and interpretation of state law.1 Arkansas Power and Light Co. v. Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Ins. Co., 257 F.3d 853, 856 (8th Cir. 2001) (insurance policy); Salve Regina Coll. v. Russell, 499 U.S. 225, 239 (1991) (state law).


The Munroes argue that the policy's selection form creates an ambiguity in the UIM limit, necessitating a $2,000,000 limit. Under Missouri law, courts apply the general rules of contract construction when interpreting an insurance policy. Todd v. Missouri United Sch. Ins. Council, 223 S.W.3d 156, 160 (Mo. banc 2007). "The key is whether the contract language is ambiguous or unambiguous." Peters v. Emp'rs Mut. Cas. Co., 853 S.W.2d 300, 302 (Mo. banc 1993). If the policy is unambiguous, it will be enforced as written, absent statutory or policy considerations.

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Rodriguez v. Gen. Acc. Ins. Co. of Am., 808 S.W.2d 379, 382 (Mo. banc 1991). If ambiguity exists, the court interprets the policy in favor of the insured. Todd, 223 S.W.3d at 160. "An ambiguity exists when there is duplicity, indistinctness, or uncertainty in the meaning of the language in the policy. Language is ambiguous if it is reasonably open to different constructions." Burns v. Smith, 303 S.W.3d 505, 509 (Mo. banc 2010), quoting Seeck v. Geico Gen. Ins. Co., 212 S.W.3d 129, 132 (Mo. banc 2007). "Courts should not interpret policy provisions in isolation but rather evaluate policies as a whole." Ritchie v. Allied Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 307 S.W.3d 132, 135 (Mo. banc 2009). Courts must also "endeavor to give each provision a reasonable meaning and to avoid an interpretation that renders some provisions useless or redundant." Dibben v. Shelter Ins. Co., 261 S.W.3d 553, 556 (Mo. App. 2008).

The Munroes rely on the Missouri Supreme Court's decision in Rice v. Shelter Mutual Insurance Co., 301 S.W.3d 43, 48 (Mo. banc 2009). There, an exclusionary clause limited coverage to the statutory minimum, but another policy provision granted more coverage. Id. The court held for the insured, finding that the provisions are "entirely inconsistent and cannot be reconciled. The policy expressly limits coverage to the statutory minimum and yet purports to grant full coverage to all provisions that exceed the statutory minimums." Id. The court reiterated "well-settled Missouri law" that "inconsistent and irreconcilable provisions in an insurance policy create an ambiguity that will be resolved in favor of the insured." Id. at 49.

Rice is distinguishable. Its policy language expressly granted coverage in one section and limited it in another. Id. at 48. Here, the policy's declarations page and UIM coverage endorsement specify $500,000 in UIM coverage. See Wasson v. Shelter Mut. Ins. Co., 358 S.W.3d 113, 118 (Mo. App. 2011) ("Ordinarily, one begins with the declarations page and the coverage declarations there."). The blank selection form does not indicate a UIM limit. It, therefore, does not withdraw UIM coverage or change its limit. See Browning v. GuideOne Specialty Mut. Ins. Co.,

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341 S.W.3d 897, 903 (Mo. App. 2011) ("Here, the declarations page clearly stated the specific terms under which UM Coverage was provided . . . we find nothing in the Policy that 'changed' the declarations page or reflected a 'different intention' anywhere else in Policy."). The form does not create an irreconcilable difference with the policy's governing documents. Rice, 301 S.W.3d at 48-49. See also Christensen v. Farmers Ins. Co., Inc., 307 S.W.3d 654, 658 (Mo. App. 2010), quoting Jackson v. Gen. Accident Ins. Co., 720 S.W.2d 428, 429 (Mo. App. 1986) ("When the declarations page clearly communicates the coverage provided by the insurance contract, and the other policy provisions neither expressly change the coverage nor 'reflect a different intention than that clearly expressed on the declarations page,' the declarations page controls."). And it does not render the policy open to two interpretations. See Mendota Ins. Co. v. Ware, 348 S.W.3d 68, 71 (Mo. App. 2011) ("An insured is entitled to a pro-coverage interpretation of an insurance policy if the terms are susceptible of two possible interpretations and there is room for construction.") (internal quotation marks omitted), quoting Burns, 303 S.W.3d at 512. Accordingly, the selection form creates no inconsistency, duplicity, uncertainty, or indistinctness. See Burns, 303 S.W.3d at 509; Rice, 301 S.W.3d at 48.

The selection form does allow a modification of the policy, changing the UIM limit from $500,000 or rejecting coverage. However, to determine UIM coverage for Munroe, this court looks to the policy in effect on the date of the collisions. See generally Stewart v. Royal, 343 S.W.3d 736, 737 (Mo. App. 2011); Mansion Hills Condo. Ass'n v. American Family Mut. Ins. Co., 62 S.W.3d 633, 635 (Mo. App. 2001). A policy is not ambiguous because it can be amended at a future...

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