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Safe Auto Insurance Co. v. Oriental-Guillermo

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

September 18, 2017

SAFE AUTO INSURANCE COMPANY
v.
RENE ORIENTAL-GUILLERMO, RACHEL DIXON, PRISCILA JIMENEZ, LUIS JIMENEZ, ALLI LICONA AVILA AND IRIS VELAZQUEZ APPEAL OF: PRISCILA JIMENEZ & LUIS JIMENEZ

         Appeal from the Order Entered September 13, 2016 In the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County Civil Division at No(s): 2015-C-1547

          BEFORE: DUBOW, J., SOLANO, J., and FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E.

          OPINION

          DUBOW, J.

         This appeal arises from the Declaratory Judgment Action that Appellee, Safe Auto Insurance Company ("Safe Auto"), filed in Lehigh County. The trial court granted Safe Auto's Motion for Summary Judgment, finding that Safe Auto was not obligated to provide insurance coverage to Rachel Dixon ("Dixon") because Dixon was driving the policyholder's car and the policyholder did not list her as a driver on his automobile insurance policy ("Safe Auto Policy"). Appellants, Priscila Jimenez and Luis Jimenez, appealed. After careful review, we affirm.

         The undisputed facts and procedural history, as gleaned from the Certified Record, are as follows. On April 29, 2013, Dixon and another driver were involved in a two-car motor vehicle accident in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

         Appellant Priscila Jimenez, the passenger in the other vehicle, filed a separate personal injury lawsuit seeking damages against three individuals: Dixon, the owner of the car that Dixon was driving, and the driver of the other car involved in the accident.[1]

         Dixon was driving a car that her boyfriend, Rene Oriental-Guillermo, (the "Policyholder") owned. He insured his car through Safe Auto. The Safe Auto Policy had an Unlisted Resident Driver Exclusion, which specifically excluded from coverage those individuals who lived with the Policyholder, but were not related to the policyholder and whom the Policyholder did not specifically list on the Policy ("Unlisted Resident Driver Exclusion"). In this case, Dixon lived with the Policyholder, but was not related to him and was not specifically listed as a driver of the Policyholder's car on his Policy.

         On May 13, 2015, Safe Auto filed the instant Complaint, seeking a declaration regarding the enforceability of the Unlisted Resident Driver Exclusion. On March 4, 2016, Appellants filed an Answer with New Matter and Counterclaim to the Complaint.[2]

         On May 24, 2016, Safe Auto filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, to which Appellants filed a Response on June 27, 2016.[3] Following a hearing on the motion, on September 13, 2016, the trial court granted Safe Auto's motion. The trial court found that because Dixon lived with the Policyholder, Dixon was not related to the Policyholder, and the Policyholder did not list Dixon as a member of his household on the Safe Auto Policy, the Unlisted Resident Driver Exclusion applied and Safe Auto had no duty to defend or indemnify Dixon in Appellant's personal injury lawsuit.

         Appellants timely appealed. Both Appellants and the trial court complied with Pa.R.A.P. 1925.

         Appellants raise the following four issues on appeal:

1. Did the [t]rial [c]ourt err as a matter of law in finding that [Safe Auto] had no duty to defend and indemnify under the Personal Auto Policy in question?
2. Did the [t]rial [c]ourt err as a matter of law in finding that the provisions of the Personal Auto Policy limiting coverage to named drivers only was valid and enforceable?
3. Did the [t]rial [c]ourt err as a matter of law in finding that the provisions of the Personal Auto Policy limiting coverage to listed drivers was not violative of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law [("MVFRL")], 75 Pa.C.S.[] § 1701 et seq.?
4. Did the [t]rial [c]ourt err as a matter of law in finding that the provisions of the Personal Auto Policy limiting coverage to listed drivers was not violative of the public policy of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania?

Appellants' Brief at 4-5.

         Appellants' issues are interrelated; therefore, we first address whether the trial court properly found that the Unlisted Resident Driver Exclusion applied to the facts of this case. We then address Appellants' other argument that the exclusion is unenforceable because it violates the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law, 75 Pa.C.S. 7501 et seq. ("MVFRL") and public policy of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.[4]

         Standard of Review

         We review orders granting summary judgment under a familiar standard.

Summary judgment is proper only when the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions and affidavits and other materials demonstrate that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The reviewing court must view the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and resolve all doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact against the moving party. Only when the facts are so clear that reasonable minds could not differ can a trial court properly enter summary judgment.

Wall Rose Mut. Ins. Co. v. Manross, 939 A.2d 958, 962 (Pa. Super. 2007) (citations omitted).

         When considering an order granting summary judgment in the context of a declaratory judgment action, our scope of review is plenary. Kvaerner Metals Division of Kvaerner U.S., Inc. v. Commercial Union Ins. Co., 908 A.2d 888, 895 (Pa. 2006). We will reverse the order of the trial court only if we find that an error of law or an abuse of discretion has occurred. Id. "The test is not whether we would have reached the same result on the evidence presented, but whether the trial court's conclusion can reasonably be drawn from the evidence." Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Cummings, 652 A.2d 1338, 1341 (Pa. Super. 1994).

         Unlisted Resident Driver Exclusion in Safe Auto Policy

         We must first address whether the trial court properly found that the Unlisted Resident Driver Exclusion in the Safe Auto Policy was unambiguous and did not require Safe Auto to provide coverage in this case.

         The interpretation of an insurance policy raises a question of law for the court. Id. "[W]here the language of an insurance contract is clear and unambiguous, a court is required to give effect to that language[, ]" except if it violates public policy. Id. (citations omitted). Whether a provision of an insurance policy is void as against public policy presents this Court with a purely legal question; thus "our scope of review is plenary and our ...


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