Progressive Ins. v. Abel, A21-1267

CourtCourt of Appeals of Minnesota
Writing for the CourtBRATVOLD, JUDGE
PartiesProgressive Insurance, Respondent, v. Justin Abel, et al., Appellants.
Decision Date13 June 2022
Docket NumberA21-1267

Progressive Insurance, Respondent,
v.

Justin Abel, et al., Appellants.

No. A21-1267

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

June 13, 2022


This opinion is nonprecedential except as provided by Minn. R. Civ. App. P. 136.01, subd. 1(c).

Clay County District Court File No. 14-CV-19-4575

Kenneth H. Bayliss, Jessie L. Sogge, Quinlivan & Hughes, P.A., St. Cloud, Minnesota (for respondent)

Jordan B. Weir, Vogel Law Firm, Fargo, North Dakota (for appellants)

Considered and decided by Slieter, Presiding Judge; Bratvold, Judge; and Klaphake, Judge. [*]

OPINION

BRATVOLD, JUDGE

This is an underinsured-motorist-benefits action arising from injuries to an insured's 20-year-old stepdaughter. Appellants challenge the district court's grant of summary

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judgment for respondent-insurer and its denial of summary judgment for appellants. Appellants argue, among other things, that the district court improperly weighed evidence and made credibility determinations and therefore erred by denying coverage under the resident-relative provision of the stepfather's automobile policy. Because genuine issues of material fact preclude summary judgment, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

FACTS

On December 9, 2015, appellant Aubrie Abel was injured while a passenger in a car accident in Harvey, North Dakota. Aubrie was a 20-year-old student at Minot State University. Aubrie settled for the $100, 000 limit of the driver's insurance policy and pursued underinsured-motorist (UIM) benefits.

At the time of the accident, appellant Justin Abel, Aubrie's stepfather, [1] had UIM coverage through an automobile policy with respondent-insurer Progressive Preferred Insurance Company (Progressive). Progressive denied Aubrie's UIM claim after concluding that "Aubrie was no longer a resident of Justin's household." Progressive filed a complaint seeking a declaratory judgment that Aubrie was not covered by Justin's automobile insurance policy. Appellants counterclaimed for UIM benefits. Both parties moved for summary judgment.

The summary-judgment record established many undisputed facts. Aubrie lived with her mother and Justin (parents) in Sabin, Minnesota, until her high-school graduation

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in 2014. After graduation, Aubrie lived in West Fargo, North Dakota, with her mother's grandparents to get a North Dakota driver's license, which she obtained. Aubrie testified that she "struggled" to pass the Minnesota driver's test and did not have a Minnesota driver's license. In March 2015, Aubrie moved to Harvey, North Dakota, to live with and help care for her great-grandparents.

While in Harvey, Aubrie became a certified nursing assistant (CNA). Aubrie's grandmother paid for the CNA coursework. In July 2015, Aubrie began working 36.5 hours per week as a CNA in Harvey. Aubrie's employer paid for her online classes at Minot State so she could be certified as a direct support professional. At the same time she started working as a CNA, Aubrie moved into an apartment in Harvey, where she lived by herself for four months until the accident. After the accident, Aubrie moved back to Sabin and lived with her parents.

After hearing arguments on the parties' summary-judgment motions, the district court issued a written decision determining there was no UIM coverage for Aubrie's injuries through Justin's automobile policy. The district court concluded that Aubrie was not a resident of Justin's household because "the undisputed facts show that Aubrie had established a separate residence in Harvey, North Dakota, at the time of the accident." In making this determination, the district court relied on Aubrie's employment in Harvey, her rent payments for the apartment, her North Dakota driver's license, and Aubrie's response during a deposition that she would move back to Sabin "eventually" and was not going to live in Harvey "forever." The district court also rejected an affidavit from Aubrie as "self-serving and not sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact as it contradicts

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testimony provided in a prior deposition, under oath." The district court therefore denied appellants' motion for summary judgment and granted Progressive's motion for summary judgment.

This appeal follows.

DECISION

Appellate courts "review the grant of summary judgment de novo to determine whether there are genuine issues of material fact and whether the district court erred in its application of the law." Montemayor v. Sebright Prods., Inc., 898 N.W.2d 623, 628 (Minn. 2017) (quotation omitted). In considering the record on summary judgment, appellate courts "view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom summary judgment was granted." STAR Ctrs., Inc. v. Faegre & Benson, L.L.P., 644 N.W.2d 72, 76-77 (Minn. 2002). Summary judgment is proper if the moving party shows that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law" based on the record, which may include depositions, documents, affidavits, admissions, and interrogatory answers. Minn. R. Civ. P. 56.01, 56.03(a). A genuine issue of material fact exists "when reasonable persons might draw different conclusions from the evidence presented." DLH, Inc. v. Russ, 566 N.W.2d 60, 69 (Minn. 1997).

In this appeal, we consider whether summary judgment is appropriate given the record evidence and the terms of Justin's automobile policy, which provides UIM coverage for the named insured's resident relative. The interpretation of an insurance policy is a question of law that we review de novo. Depositors Ins. Co. v. Dollansky, 919 N.W.2d 684, 687 (Minn. 2018). Appellate courts interpret unambiguous language in an insurance policy

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"to ascertain and give effect to the intentions of the parties as reflected in the terms of the policy." King's Cove Marina, LLC v. Lambert Com. Constr. LLC, 958 N.W.2d 310, 316 (Minn. 2021) (quotation omitted). This court previously held that a similar resident-relative provision is unambiguous. Skarsten v. Dairyland Ins. Co., 381 N.W.2d 16, 19 (Minn.App. 1986), rev. denied (Minn. Mar. 27, 1986).[2] Here, neither party contends the resident-relative provision is ambiguous, and we agree that the language is unambiguous. Justin's automobile policy provides that an "insured person" includes a "relative" if related to the named insured by "blood, marriage, or adoption." The policy also states that a relative includes "unmarried dependent children temporarily away from home . . . if they intend to continue to reside in [the named insured's] household." We note that the resident-relative provision in Justin's policy both expands and limits coverage. See id. at 18 (stating resident-relative language "is widely used in insurance policies to both exclude and extend coverage"). The resident-relative provision first defines coverage as including a relative who is "a person residing in the same household" as the named insured. But the resident-relative provision also limits or excludes coverage by providing that an unmarried dependent child who is "temporarily away from home" will "qualify as a relative if they intend to continue to reside in [the insured's] household." (Emphasis added.)

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Appellants argue the district court erred by granting summary judgment for Progressive based on evidence that Aubrie established a separate residence in Harvey and its conclusion that Aubrie was not Justin's resident relative at the time of the accident. Progressive contends the district court's summary-judgment decision rests on undisputed evidence that Aubrie lived in Harvey and did not intend to continue to reside with her parents in Sabin.

Generally, whether a relative resides in the named insured's household is a question of fact. Id. (stating that whether an individual is a resident of an insured's household is a "fact question"); Frey v. United Servs. Auto. Ass'n, 743 N.W.2d 337, 344 (Minn.App. 2008) ("Whether an individual is a resident relative of an insured is normally a factual question."); State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Lawson, 406 N.W.2d 20, 22 (Minn.App. 1987) ("Whether a relative resides in the insured's household at the time of an accident is a question of fact."), rev. denied (Minn. June 30, 1987). "[S]ummary judgment may be entered" on a question of fact, however, "where the material facts are undisputed and as a matter of law compel only one conclusion." Sauter v. Sauter, 70 N.W.2d 351, 354 (Minn. 1955).

Minnesota courts have used three factors to determine whether a relative is a resident of the insured's household: (1) living under the same roof as the named insured; (2) living in a close, intimate, and informal relationship with the named insured; and (3) due to that intentionally...

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