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United Equitable Insurance Co. v. Longmire

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Fourth Division

December 26, 2019

UNITED EQUITABLE INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
JAVON P. LONGMIRE, BELINDA LONGMIRE, FOUNDERS INSURANCE COMPANY, CHANEL GODFREY, and DONTEA WILLIAMS, Defendants. Founders Insurance Company and Belinda Longmire, Defendants-Appellees. FOUNDERS INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
DONTEA WILLIAMS, CHANEL GODFREY, BELINDA LONGMIRE, and THE BOARD OF EDUCATION FOR THE CITY OF CHICAGO, Defendants.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Nos. 16 CH 3900 16 CH 3975 (cons.) The Honorable Diane Joan Larsen, Judge Presiding.

          Attorneys for Appellant: Samuel A. Shelist, of Shelist & Pena, LLC, of Chicago, for appellant.

          Attorneys for Appellee: Robert Schlacks, of Avalon Law, P.C., of Oakbrook Terrace, for appellee Belinda Longmire. Sarah Marazas, of Law Office of Shari Shelmadine, of Des Plaines, for other appellee.

          PRESIDING JUSTICE GORDON delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Lampkin and Reyes concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          GORDON PRESIDING JUSTICE

         ¶ 1 The instant appeal arises from a collision between a vehicle operated by Belinda Longmire and a vehicle owned by Chanel Godfrey, operated by Dontea Williams. Longmire was insured by United Equitable Insurance Company (UEIC), while Godfrey was insured by Founders Insurance Company (Founders).[1] Longmire first filed a claim with Founders for injuries she allegedly suffered from the collision, but Founders denied her claim, stating that there was no coverage under the Founders policy because Williams did not possess a valid driver's license at the time of the accident. As a result, Longmire then sought coverage under the uninsured motorist provision of her UEIC policy and also filed suit against both Godfrey and Williams.

         ¶ 2 Both insurers filed declaratory judgment actions in connection with the accident. Founders sought a finding that it did not owe Godfrey or Williams a duty to defend Longmire's lawsuit, since Williams was not a licensed driver at the time of the collision. UEIC sought a finding that Longmire was not owed coverage under UEIC's uninsured motorist provision, because Godfrey was insured. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Founders, finding that Godfrey and Williams were excluded under the Founders policy. Subsequently, the trial court also granted summary judgment in favor of Longmire with respect to UEIC's action, finding that Longmire was entitled to uninsured motorist coverage. UEIC appeals both grants of summary judgment, and for the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         ¶ 3 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 4 I. UEIC Complaint

         ¶ 5 On March 18, 2016, UEIC filed a complaint for declaratory judgment in case No. 16 CH 3900 against Longmire, Longmire's husband Javon, Founders, Godfrey, and Williams, alleging that UEIC was the insurer under an automobile insurance policy issued to Javon and Longmire. The complaint alleged that, after an accident between Longmire and Williams, Longmire and Javon made an uninsured motorist claim with UEIC. However, the complaint alleged that the vehicle Williams had been driving was owned by Godfrey and was insured by Founders, meaning that there was no viable uninsured motorist claim through UEIC. The complaint further alleged that, even if Williams was not licensed at the time of the accident, Godfrey regularly had Williams operate her vehicle for her benefit, so coverage was owed to Godfrey by Founders.

         ¶ 6 The complaint also alleged that UEIC requested a physical inspection of the vehicle in order to determine whether there was "actual physical contact" between the vehicles but that Longmire and Javon refused to provide the vehicle for an inspection. According to the complaint, they did arrange for their own inspection, which "indicated there was no evidence of actual physical contact," which precluded an uninsured motorist claim. The complaint alleged that Longmire and Javon's failure to cooperate also breached conditions in the insurance policy, meaning that they were not entitled to coverage.

         ¶ 7 The complaint sought a court order finding (1) that UEIC was not obligated to pay any money to any defendants, (2) that there was no coverage under the policy, (3) that there was no duty to defend or to indemnify, (4) that the claim was "null and void under the policy," and (5) that "coverage is excluded."

         ¶ 8 Attached to the complaint was a copy of the UEIC policy that was effective at the time of the accident. The named insured on the policy was Javon, and Longmire was listed as an additional insured. Part II of the policy concerned uninsured motorist coverage and provided:

"J-UNINSURED MOTORIST BODILY INJURY; K-UNINSURED MOTORIST PROPERTY DAMAGE. To pay all sums which the insured or his legal representative shall be legally entitled to recover as damages from the owner or operator of an uninsured motor vehicle because of property damage to a vehicle described in the policy and bodily injury, including death resulting therefrom sustained by the insured, caused by accident and arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use of such uninsured motor vehicle, provided, for the purpose of this coverage, determination of whether the insured or such representative is legally entitled to recover damages, and if so the amount thereof, shall be made by agreement between the insured or such representative and the Company or, if they fail to agree, by arbitration. Recovery under this Part for 'property damage' is subject to the payment of a specific separate premium for uninsured motorist property damage liability."

         ¶ 9 The definition section of Part II defined an" 'uninsured motor vehicle'" as follows:

" 'uninsured motor vehicle' includes a trailer of any type and means:
(a)a motor vehicle or trailer with respect to the ownership, maintenance or use of which, there is no bodily injury liability bond or insurance policy applicable at the time of the accident with respect to any person or organization legally responsible for the use of such automobile, or said bond or insurance policy has limits less than that required by the Illinois Financial Responsibility Law;
(b) a hit-and-run motor vehicle;
(c) a motor vehicle where on, before or after the accident date the liability insurer thereof is unable to make payment with respect to the legal liability of its insured within the limits specified in the policy because of the entry by a court of competent jurisdiction an order or rehabilitation or liquidation by reason of insolvency on or after the accident date ***."

         ¶ 10 The "Conditions" section of the policy set forth a number of conditions of coverage, including a condition concerning proof of a claim under part II, which provided, in relevant part:

"10. Proof of Claim; Medical Report-Part II and Part III. As soon as practicable, the insured or other person making claim shall give to the Company written proof, under oath, if required, including full particulars of the nature and extent of the injuries, treatment, and other details entering into determination of the amount payable."

         ¶ 11 Also attached to the complaint was a letter dated July 7, 2015, from UEIC to Longmire's attorney. The letter provided:

"We are in receipt of your lien relative to the above captioned matter. Please provide us with a copy of the Illinois Crash Report. Before we can accept this as an Uninsured Motorist Claim, we must have the following information:
1. A completed Proof of Claim Form to be filled out by your client and returned to United Equitable Insurance. (Attached)[2]
2. Proof that the tortfeasor was, in fact, uninsured at the time of the loss; certification of both the owner and driver through the Secretary of State.
3. Photographs of the damage to your client's vehicle, or location on [sic] where we can send our outside adjuster to inspect the damages to the vehicle (if applicable).
4. Copies of all itemized medical bills and records.
Should you have any additional questions, or would like to discuss this further, please feel free to contact me."

         ¶ 12 II. Founders Complaint

         ¶ 13 On March 22, 2016, Founders filed a complaint for declaratory judgment in case No. 16 CH 3975 against Williams, Godfrey, Longmire, and the Board of Education for the City of Chicago, [3] alleging that Founders was the insurer under an automobile insurance policy issued to Godfrey. The complaint alleged that, on February 12, 2014, while driving Godfrey's vehicle, Williams was involved in an accident with Longmire, as a result of which Longmire filed suit in case No. 16 M1 300209.[4] The complaint alleged that, after investigation, Founders discovered that Williams did not possess a valid driver's license at the time of the accident. Since Williams did not possess a driver's license, the complaint alleged that he could not have had a "reasonable belief that he was entitled to drive or operate the Godfrey vehicle" at the time of the accident and, therefore, liability coverage was specifically excluded under the policy. Accordingly, the complaint alleged that Founders owed no duty to defend or indemnify Williams or Godfrey in connection with the accident and that neither Longmire nor the Board was entitled to collect any monies from Founders.

         ¶ 14 Attached to the complaint was a copy of the Founders policy in effect at the time of the accident, which listed Godfrey as the named insured. Part I of the policy set forth the terms of liability coverage and provided:

"Coverage A-Bodily Injury Liability; Coverage B-Property Damage Liability. To pay on behalf of the insured all sums which the insured shall become legally obligated to pay as damages, because of:
A. bodily injury, or
B. property damage
arising out of the operation, maintenance or use of the owned automobile or any non-owned automobiles and the Company shall defend any suit alleging such bodily injury or property damage and seeking damages which are payable under the terms of this policy, even if any of the allegations of the suit are groundless, false or fraudulent; but the Company may ...

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