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State Farm Mutual Auto. Ins. v. Suarez

OPINION FILED FEBRUARY 23, 1982.

STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE CO., PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,

v.

VICTOR H. SUAREZ, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT. — (HUMBERTO INGLES ET AL., DEFENDANTS.)



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. ARTHUR L. DUNNE, Judge, presiding.

JUSTICE DOWNING DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (State Farm) sought a declaratory judgment that it was not legally obligated to provide liability coverage to its insured, defendant Victor Suarez (Victor), for claims for contribution asserted by defendants Humberto and Celeste Ingles (the Ingles). The circuit court granted State Farm's motion for summary judgment. Victor appeals, contending (1) the insurance policy clause relied upon by State Farm is ambiguous and therefore unenforceable; and (2) the same clause is void because it violates public policy.

A two-car accident occurred on November 30, 1979. Estrella Suarez (Estrella), Victor's wife, was a passenger in one car, which was driven by Victor with the owner's permission. Humberto Ingles was the driver of the other car, allegedly as the agent of Celeste Ingles. State Farm had issued an automobile insurance policy on the Suarez car. Victor and Estrella were insureds under the policy.

Estrella and Victor sued the Ingles, claiming that they had suffered injuries as a result of the Ingles' negligence in causing the accident. The Ingles responded with a counterclaim for contribution against Victor, alleging that he was in part responsible for Estrella's injuries, and seeking recovery from that portion of any damage award Estrella might receive from them which was attributable to Victor's negligence.

State Farm retained counsel to represent Victor in the contribution action but also filed this action for a declaratory judgment that it was not obligated to provide liability coverage to Victor. State Farm relied upon the so-called "family exclusion clause" contained in the policy. That clause provides:

"* * * There is no coverage * * * for any bodily injury to * * * any member of the family of the insured residing in the same household as the insured. The term `insured' as used here means the person against whom claim is made or suit is brought. * * *"

There is no dispute that Victor is an "insured" within the meaning of this clause or that Estrella is a member of his family residing in the same household.

Both parties moved for summary judgment on the issue. In his motion, Victor argued that the language of the family exclusion clause did not refer to third-party contribution actions and was consequently vague, requiring its construction against State Farm. *fn1 The circuit court granted summary judgment to State Farm, ruling that the family exclusion clause was clear and unambiguous and thus State Farm's policy did not provide coverage to Victor in the contribution action. The court also found State Farm had no duty to indemnify Victor for any judgment against him in the contribution action.

Victor filed a motion for reconsideration together with a separate "alternative motion for summary judgment." The latter motion asserted that the family exclusion clause violated public policy. The circuit court denied the motion for reconsideration and refused to consider the alternate summary judgment motion.

I

Victor reasserts his contention presented to the circuit court that the family exclusion clause is ambiguous and must be construed against State Farm.

A.

As Victor recognizes in his brief, this issue has been presented to Illinois courts in the past. Our courts have uniformly held family exclusion clauses similar or identical to the one involved here to be clear, concise, and unambiguous. (Country Mutual Insurance Co. v. Mooney (1978), 59 Ill. App.3d 946, 949, 376 N.E.2d 439, appeal denied (1978), 71 Ill.2d 607; State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Hanson (1972), 7 Ill. App.3d 678, 681, 288 N.E.2d 523, appeal denied (1973), 53 Ill.2d 604; Miller v. Madison County Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. (1964), 46 Ill. App.2d 413, 419, 197 N.E.2d 153.) Nevertheless, Victor argues that his position has merit because since those decisions were handed down, he believes the supreme court has imposed a "new and additional requirement" for testing the clarity of a provision, which was not met here.

As authority for this assertion, Victor refers to United States Fidelity & Guaranty Co. v. Globe Indemnity Co. (1975), 60 Ill.2d 295, 327 N.E.2d 321. In that decision, the court ruled an insurance policy's employee exclusion clause did not exclude insurance coverage for injuries sustained by an employee due to the negligence of an insured other than his employer. In reaching this result, the court stated, "[i]f liability for this latter type occurrence was to be excluded from ...


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