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West Wind Express v. Occidental Fire & Casualty Company of North Carolina

July 23, 2012

WEST WIND EXPRESS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
OCCIDENTAL FIRE & CASUALTY COMPANY OF NORTH CAROLINA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

In this diversity case, Plaintiff West Wind Express filed a complaint against Defendant Occidental Fire & Casualty Company of North Carolina seeking, among other things, a declaration that West Wind is not obligated to reimburse Occidental for payments it made to settle third-party claims following a December 2005 motor vehicle accident. Before the Court is West Wind's motion [45] for summary judgment as to Count I. For the reasons explained below, the motion [45] is granted.

I.Background*fn1

Unlike most cases at the summary judgment stage, here, the facts are brief and undisputed. Occidental, a North Carolina corporation with its principal place of business in Raleigh, issued a policy of insurance to West Wind, an Illinois corporation engaged in interstate trucking, with its principal place of business in Chicago. [55 at ¶¶ 1-2, 11.] The policy contained an "MCS-90" endorsement, which is designed to comply with regulations promulgated under the Motor Carrier Act of 1980.*fn2 [55 at ¶ 12.] The MCS-90 endorsement provides:

In consideration of the premium stated in the policy to which this endorsement is attached, [Occidental] agrees to pay, within the limits of liability described herein, any final judgment recovered against [West Wind] for public liability resulting from negligence in the operation, maintenance or use of motor vehicles subject to the financial responsibility requirements of Sections 29 and 30 of the Motor Carrier Act of 1980 regardless of whether or not each motor vehicle is specifically described in the policy and whether or not such negligence occurs on any route or in any territory authorized to be served by [West Wind] or elsewhere. * * * [West Wind] agrees to reimburse [Occidental] for any payment made by [Occidental] on account of any accident, claim or suit involving a breach of the terms of the policy, and for any payment that [Occidental] would not have been obligated to make under the provisions of the policy except for the agreement contained in this endorsement. [55 at ¶ 13 (emphasis added).]

On December 23, 2005, a truck displaying West Wind placards and operating authority numbers was involved in an accident with another truck. [59 at ¶ 1.] Following the accident, three lawsuits were filed against West Wind. [55 at ¶ 14.] Occidental denied coverage for the claims arising from the accident, asserting that the West Wind truck was not an "owned auto." [55 at ¶ 15, 59 at ¶ 2.] Occidental also advised West Wind that: (1) Occidental believed that the MCS-90 applied; (2) although Occidental "ha[d] no duty to make any payment unless or until there is a final judgment," it would attempt to settle the claims prior to final judgment; and (3) Occidental would seek reimbursement from West Wind for "any money paid as a result of the accident." [59 at ¶¶ 4-5.]

Occidental resolved the claims for a total of $122,524.34 pursuant to settlements reached with the claimants; the payments were not made pursuant to a verdict, court order, or final judgment. [55 at ¶¶ 16-30, 59 at ¶ 10.] Thereafter, Occidental sought reimbursement from West Wind. [55 at ¶ 31.] West Wind refused to reimburse Occidental.

West Wind subsequently filed its complaint. In Count I (declaratory judgment), West Wind seeks a declaration that it is not obligated to repay any sums to Occidental as a result of the December 23, 2005, accident. In Count II (bad faith insurance practices), West Wind seeks a finding that Occidental's conduct in pursuing reimbursement constitutes bad faith pursuant to the Illinois Insurance Code, 215 ILCS 5/155, as well as monetary damages. Previously, this Court granted West Wind's request that discovery proceed in two phases, based on the limited initial discovery targeted at Count I. [See 20.] Thereafter, West Wind moved for summary judgment on Count I. [45.]

II.Legal Standard

Summary judgment is proper where "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). In determining whether there is a genuine issue of fact, the Court "must construe the facts and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Foley v. City of Lafayette, 359 F.3d 925, 928 (7th Cir. 2004).

To avoid summary judgment, the opposing party must go beyond the pleadings and "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986) (internal quotation omitted). A genuine issue of material fact exists if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. at 248. The party seeking summary judgment has the burden of establishing the lack of any genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). In turn, summary judgment is proper against "a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Id. at 322. And the non-moving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In other words, "[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-movant's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-movant]." Anderson, 477 U.S at 252.

III.Analysis

As previously discussed, here, the facts are undisputed. The only question is a legal one: Does the MCS-90 require West Wind to reimburse Occidental for payments made pursuant to settlements? The Seventh Circuit addressed this question in a similar case and answered, "No." See Auto Owners Ins. Co. v. Munroe, 614 F.3d 322 (7th Cir. 2010). This binding precedent begins and ends our inquiry.

In Munroe, after a severe tractor-trailer accident, the claimants entered a settlement agreement that released the allegedly liable motor carrier from any individual liability above its liability insurance coverage. Id. at 323. The insurer brought a declaratory judgment action to establish that the policy limited coverage to $1,000,000. Id. After the district court sided with the insurer, the claimants appealed, arguing that the coverage limit was higher either: (1) under the terms of the policy or (2) under the Motor Carriers Act, as implemented through the MCS-90 endorsement. Id. at 323, 326. As to the second issue, the court explained that, "because the [claimants] have ...


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