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Horace Mann Insurance Company v. Williams

May 06, 2002

HORACE MANN INSURANCE COMPANY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
SHIRLENE WILLIAMS, MARION WILLIAMS, AS ADM'X OF THE ESTATE OF ERICA WILLIAMS, DECEASED, AND EUGENE WILLIAMS, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County No. 99 CH 1120 The Honorable John K. Madden, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cousins

Released for publication.

On January 22, 1999, Horace Mann Insurance Company (Horace Mann) filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a declaration that Horace Mann had no obligation to submit to arbitration or to provide insurance coverage under its policy to Marion Williams, Erica Williams (deceased), and Eugene Williams, asserting that they were not insured under the policy issued to Shirlene Williams.

The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The trial court granted Horace Mann's motion for summary judgment and denied the Williamses' cross-motion. The Williamses filed a motion for reconsideration. The motion was denied. Shirlene Williams, Marion Williams, as administratrix of the estate of Erica Williams, and Eugene Williams appeal the trial court's order granting summary judgment and present the following issues on appeal: (1) whether the trial court erred as a matter of law in granting Horace Mann's motion for summary judgment and in denying defendants' motion for reconsideration; (2) whether the term "lives with," as it is used in the policy of insurance, is ambiguous and should be strictly construed against the insurer and in favor of the covered; and (3) whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the defendants, there is ample evidence in the record to support the fact that Marion, Erica, and Eugene Williams lived with the named insured, Shirlene Williams.

BACKGROUND

Marion Williams and Shirlene Williams have lived in a building on Constance Avenue in Chicago, Illinois, since August or September 1984. The building was originally built as a two-flat. The building has a first floor apartment and a second floor apartment. Each apartment has a separate kitchen with a refrigerator, a dining room, and three bedrooms.

Shirlene Williams, her mother, Rachel Williams, her daughter, Allison, and her sister, Marion Williams, and Marion's two children, Erica and Eugene Williams resided in the building. Also residing in the building was Charles Wright. Wright is Erica and Eugene's father and Marion's live-in boyfriend.

On December 28, 1988, Horace Mann issued an automobile policy to Shirlene Williams. On May 29, 1989, Erica and Eugene Williams were passengers in a vehicle driven by Charles Wright which collided with another vehicle. Eugene suffered injuries and Erica suffered fatal injuries as a result of the accident. Shirlene Williamses policy was in effect at the time of the accident.

On November 6, 1998, attorney Edward Scanlon sent a letter to Horace Mann on behalf of Marion Williams, as administratrix of the estate of Erica Williams, and Eugene Williams, requesting coverage under the uninsured and underinsured motorist provisions of the policy issued to Shirlene Williams. Marion Williams demanded $200,000 in the settlement of her claim, $100,000 representing the policy limit for uninsured motorist coverage and $100,000 for underinsured motorist coverage. Eugene Williams demanded $30,000 under the uninsured motorist coverage and $30,000 for underinsured motorist coverage. The Williamses further sought arbitration.

On December 2, 1998, Horace Mann advised attorney Scanlon that there existed questions of coverage under the policy and the Williamses request for arbitration was denied until the questions of coverage were resolved by a court of law.

The policy at issue here provides:

"Who is an insured?

When we refer to your car, a newly acquired car or a temporary substitute car insured means:

1. you;

2. your relatives ***." (Emphasis omitted and added.)

A "relative" is defined by the policy as "a person related to you by blood, marriage or adoption who lives with you." (Emphasis added.)

Horace Mann filed a complaint for declaratory judgment on January 22, 1999, asserting that Marion Williams did not have any rights under the policy of insurance issued to Shirlene Williams and Horace Mann had no duty to submit to arbitration with the Williamses.

The Williamses answered the complaint, requesting the court to order Horace Mann to arbitrate the claims, to declare that Horace Mann had an obligation to Marion, Erica, and Eugene Williams under the policy, and to declare that Marion, Erica, and Eugene Williams were insured under the policy with Horace Mann. The Williamses reasoned that Marion, Erica, and Eugene Williams were all living with Shirlene Williams on December 28, 1988, and May 29, 1989, and, accordingly, were insured under the terms and conditions of the policy.

Marion Williams stated during deposition that the two interior doors in the foyer of the two-flat building were "[n]ever ever locked." She stated that the keys used to lock and unlock the interior doors were not the same keys used on the main entrance. The upstairs apartment had one kitchen, one living room, one dining room, and one bathroom. The downstairs apartment also had one kitchen, one living room, one dining room, and one bathroom. Additionally, there was a kitchen area and bathroom in the basement. The building contained one washer and one dryer located in the basement that everyone used. Marion Williams testified that her mother, Rachel Williams, cooked for everyone in the house in the downstairs kitchen and they ate their meals downstairs, as well.

Marion stated that there were three separate phone lines in the building and all three were used by all members of the house. Marion explained that she primarily used one particular phone line because the other phone line was the line that her sister, Shirlene, used to "operate her TDD." The phone line that Marion used rang only upstairs. The other two numbers at the address rang downstairs.

Marion Williams testified that the "gas bill comes for the whole house," the electric bills come separately and each come addressed to Shirlene Williams, and she pays half of the electric bill. Marion stated that tax bills and mortgage bills were in both her name and Shirlene's name.

Marion was asked the following during deposition:

"Q: Now, your daughter Erica Williams and your niece Allison Jenkins are actually biologically first cousins, correct?

A: That is correct.

Q: How did they consider themselves, though, while they lived together in your home ...


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