IN THE SUPREME COURT OF APPEALS OF WEST
September 1997 Term
WEST VIRGINIA INSURANCE COMPANY, A CORPORATION,
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Hampshire
Honorable Donald H. Cookman, Judge
Civil Action No. 95-C-72
Submitted: October 14, 1997
Filed: November 21, 1997
Jacques R. Williams,
A. Sims, Esq.
Hamstead, Hamstead & Williams Debra Tedeschi Hall, Esq.
Morgantown, West Virginia Sims & Hall
Attorney for the Appellant Elkins, West Virginia
Attorneys for the Appellee
The Opinion of the Court was delivered PER CURIAM.
SYLLABUS BY THE COURT
circuit court's entry of summary judgment is reviewed de novo."
Syllabus Point 1, Painter v. Peavy, 192 W.Va. 189, 451
S.E.2d 755 (1994).
2. "A motion for summary judgment should be granted only when it is clear that there is no genuine issue of fact to be tried and inquiry concerning the facts is not desirable to clarify the application of the law." Syllabus Point 3, Aetna Casualty & Surety Company v. Federal Insurance Company of New York, 148 W.Va. 160, 133 S.E.2d 770 (1963).
3. "An insurance policy should never be interpreted so as to create an absurd result, but instead should receive a reasonable interpretation, consistent with the intent of the parties." Syllabus Point 2, D'Annunzio v. Security-Connecticut Life Insurance Company, 186 W.Va. 39, 410 S.E.2d 275 (1991).
Per Curiam:See footnote 1
This is an
appeal by Martha A. Mulledy from a summary judgment order of the
Circuit Court of Hampshire County declaring that the appellant's
right to recover under a fire insurance policy issued by West
Virginia Insurance Company was limited to $2,750.00. The court
also dismissed a bad faith settlement claim brought by the
appellant against the West Virginia Insurance Company. In the
present proceeding the appellant claims that the trial court
improperly construed a provision contained in the relevant
insurance policy. After reviewing the questions presented and the
documents filed in this case, this Court disagrees with the
appellant's assertions and affirms the judgment of the Circuit
Court of Hampshire County.
The appellee in this proceeding, West Virginia Insurance Company, issued an insurance policy to the appellant, Martha A. Mulledy, insuring the appellant's residence located on Jersey Mountain Road near Romney, West Virginia. The policy covered not
only the residence, but Ms. Mulledy's personal effects. The
policy placed a personal property coverage limit (a Coverage C
limit) of $27,500.00 on personal property covered by the policy.
The policy also contained the following provision around which
the dispute in the present case centers:
We cover personal property owned by or in the care of an insured. Coverage for personal property usually on residential premises of an insured other than the insured premises is limited to 10 percent of the Coverage C limit.
In 1992, the
appellant entered a nursing home in Slanesville, West Virginia,
and after she entered the nursing home, her daughter, Diana Iser,
removed certain of the appellant's personal effects to her own
home for safe keeping. On November 23, 1994, a fire destroyed Ms.
Iser's home, and, in the course of the fire, the personal
property which Ms. Iser had removed from the appellant's home was
the fire, a claim was filed with the West Virginia Insurance
Company for $31,025.21 for the appellant's property which was
destroyed in the Iser fire.
Because of the provision limiting coverage of personal property located off the insured real premises to ten percent of the coverage limits, the West Virginia Insurance Company offered to pay the appellant only $2,750.00 for the property destroyed in the Iser fire.
After the West
Virginia Insurance Company refused to pay more than $2,750.00 for
the personal property which was destroyed, the appellant brought
the present action in the Circuit Court of Hampshire County. In
her complaint, she claimed that she was entitled to recover up to
the maximum policy limits of $27,500.00, and she also sought
damages and costs because of West Virginia Insurance Company's
refusal to settle the claim in what she considered to be a fair
discovery both parties moved for summary judgment, and by order
entered on May 29, 1996, the court granted the motion of West
Virginia Insurance Company. In granting that motion the court
The language relied upon by the Defendant, West Virginia Insurance Company, is not ambiguous, and provides that all property loss occurring away from the insured premises is limited to 10% of the Coverage C limit. Thus, the clear meaning of the limitation on Coverage C limits the amount of coverage available to the Plaintiff to $2,750.00.
The court also found that the appellant had not substantially
prevailed on her complaint, and, as a consequence, her bad faith
settlement claim was without merit.
In the present proceeding the appellant claims that the trial court wrongly interpreted the coverage limit provision in issue in this case and erred in awarding West Virginia Insurance Company summary judgment.
In Syllabus Point 1 of Painter v. Peavy, 192 W.Va. 189, 451 S.E.2d 755 (1994), this Court stated:
A circuit court's entry of summary judgment is reviewed de novo.
The Court has also indicated that:
A motion for summary judgment should be granted only when it is clear that there is no genuine issue of fact to be tried and inquiry concerning the facts is not desirable to clarify the application of the law.
Syllabus Point 3, Aetna Casualty & Surety Company v.
Federal Insurance Company of New York, 148 W.Va. 160, 133
S.E.2d 770 (1963).
question which confronts this Court in the present case is
whether the circuit court properly construed the language of the
policy issued by the West Virginia Insurance Company to limit the
appellant's personal property coverage for the property located
in her daughter's home to $2,750.00.
indicated, the specific policy language stated:
Coverage for personal property usually on residential premises of an insured other than the insured premises is limited to 10 percent of the Coverage C limit.
The appellant has taken the position that this language limits the Coverage C limit to $2,750.00 only for property owned by her, and located on residential premises, other than
the insured premises, owned by her. She essentially takes the
position that her daughter's property was not owned by her, and,
thus, the limitation does not apply.
This Court has
stated in Syllabus Point 2 of D'Annunzio v. Security-
Connecticut Life Insurance Company, 186 W.Va. 39, 410 S.E.2d
275 (1991), that:
An insurance policy should never be interpreted so as to create an absurd result, but instead should receive a reasonable interpretation, consistent with the intent of the parties.
See also, McGann v. Hobbs Lumber Company, 150 W.Va.
364, 145 S.E.2d 476 (1965).
It is apparent that in the present case the West Virginia Insurance Company intended to place a Coverage C limit on recoveries on property by the insured when such property was located on premises other than the insured premises. Although the language of the policy makes reference to "residential premises of an insured other than the insured premises," there is nothing to indicate that the appellant had any residential premises other than the insured premises at the time the policy was entered into, and the Court believes that a construction of the policy language which would restrict the application of the limitation solely to residential premises of the insured, other than the insured premises, would produce an absurd result. The appellant essentially could, under such a strained construction, place her property anywhere other than on premises owned by her, and the property would be covered up to $27,500.00, the limits of Coverage C. She, in effect,
could place it outside on the street and have it stolen or
destroyed by the elements and still be able to recover the full
Coverage C amount. It is absurd to believe that the insurance
company intended to insure property for $27,500.00 if it was on
the street and exposed to the elements, but for only $2,750.00 if
it was in residential premises, other than the insured premises,
owned by the insured.
After a de
novo review of this case, this Court cannot conclude that the
trial court committed reversible error in interpreting the policy
in the manner provided in the circuit court's May 29, 1996 order,
or that further inquiry into the facts is desirable to clarify
the application of the law.
In view of the
foregoing, the judgment of the Circuit Court of Hampshire County
Footnote: 1 1 We point out that a per curiam opinion is not legal precedent. See Lieving v. Hadley, 188 W.Va. 197, 201 n.4, 423 S.E.2d 600, 604 n.4 (1992) ("Per curiam opinions . . . are used to decide only the specific case before the Court; everything in a per curiam opinion beyond the syllabus point is merely obiter dicta. . . . Other courts, such as many of the United States Circuit Courts of Appeals, have gone to non-published (not-to-be- cited) opinions to deal with similar cases. We do not have such a specific practice, but instead use published per curiam opinions. However, if rules of law or accepted ways of doing things are to be changed, then this Court will do so in a signed opinion, not a per curiam opinion.").
Converted by Andrew Scriven