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Cunningham v. USAA Casualty Insurance Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

July 10, 2018

JOSEPH LEE CUNNINGHAM, deceased, and CARRIE D. CUNNINGHAM, as administrator of the estates of JOSEPH LEE CUNNINGHAM, Plaintiffs,



         Staff Sargent Joseph Lee Cunningham died on August 7, 2014 when his car was struck by an uninsured driver. As executrix of her husband's estate, Carrie Cunningham brings this action against defendant USAA Casualty Insurance Company, the company that provided uninsured motorist (UM) coverage to the couple under their auto insurance policy. Ms. Cunningham contends that because she and her late husband purchased coverage for multiple vehicles under the same USAA policy, Alabama's uninsured motorist coverage statute permits her to stack the coverage limits for each insured vehicle. On this basis, Ms. Cunningham seeks a total of $300, 000 from USAA, $200, 000 more than the company has paid on her claim. USAA contends that the Cunningham's policy does not allow internal stacking and that Alabama's law allowing internal stacking does not apply to this case. USAA asks the Court to enter judgment in its favor on these grounds. For the reasons explained below, the Court grants USAA's motion and enters judgment in USAA's favor.


         As a member of the armed forces, Mr. Cunningham was stationed in various locations during his career. (Doc. 21-1, pp. 153-54). Mr. Cunningham purchased the USAA auto insurance policy at issue in 2011 while he was stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia, where he and his family had lived for several years. (Doc. 21-1, pp. 154-55, 182, 198). In November 2011, Mr. Cunningham was transferred to a duty station in Kansas. (Doc. 21-1, pp. 182, 189). The first address Mr. Cunningham listed on the auto policy was in Junction City, Kansas. (Doc. 21-1, p. 103).

         Mr. Cunningham's family joined him in Ogden, Kansas in June 2012. The Cunninghams then bought a home in Trussville, Alabama, and in August of 2013, Ms. Cunningham and the couple's four daughters moved to the Trussville home. (Doc. 21-1, pp. 154, 170, 177). Mr. Cunningham remained in Kansas. (Doc. 21- 1, p. 168). Mr. Cunningham moved to Manhattan, Kansas after his family's departure. (Doc. 21-1, pp. 177-78). According to Ms. Cunningham, Mr. Cunningham visited the Trussville home on six occasions and stayed for multiple days each time while he was stationed in Kansas. (Doc. 21-1, pp. 168-69).

         Mr. Cunningham completed his assignment in Kansas in June of 2014. (Doc. 21-1, p. 70). He spent the month of July with his family in Trussville before moving in August to his new duty station in Georgia. (Doc. 21-1, pp. 169-70). Mr. Cunningham was driving in Tattnall County, Georgia at the time of his death. (Doc. 25, p. 25).

         At the time of Mr. Cunningham's death, his auto insurance policy covered three vehicles: a Honda minivan, a Chevrolet pickup truck, and a Lexus sedan, the vehicle involved in Mr. Cunningham's fatal crash. (Doc. 21-1, p. 6). Before the accident, USAA mailed the final policy renewal notice to Mr. Cunningham's address in Manhattan, Kansas. (Doc. 21-1, pp. 6, 54-55). The policy was designated as a “Kansas Auto Policy.” (Doc. 21-1, p. 6). The policy stated that each insured vehicle was garaged in Manhattan, Kansas, though Ms. Cunningham testifies that the garage location for the minivan was later changed to Alabama. (Doc. 21-1, pp. 6, 222).

         After leaving Kansas, Mr. Cunningham updated his USAA policy information once with a new address in Glennville, Georgia near his new duty station at Fort Stewart. (Doc. 21-1, pp. 104, 120). When USAA processed the UM claim arising from the fatal accident, the company was aware of Mr. Cunningham's Georgia address and of the USAA homeowner's policy on the family's Trussville home. (Doc. 21-1, pp. 94, 99). When USAA reviewed the UM claim on Mr. Cunningham's policy, the company concluded that Mr. Cunningham's Lexus was primarily garaged in Georgia and that internal stacking did not apply to the claim. (Doc. 21-1, pp. 77, 98).


         “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). To demonstrate that there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact that precludes summary judgment, a party opposing a motion for summary judgment must cite “to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). When considering a summary judgment motion, the Court must view the evidence in the record and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. White v. Beltram Edge Tool Supply, Inc., 789 F.3d 1188, 1191 (11th Cir. 2015). “The court need consider only the cited materials, but it may consider other materials in the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3).


         The Cunningham's USAA auto insurance policy does not permit internal stacking of coverage limits. (Doc. 21-1, p. 22). Ms. Cunningham contends that Alabama's Uninsured Motorist Coverage Statute modifies the policy to permit internal stacking. The Court disagrees.

         a. Alabama's Uninsured Motorist Coverage Statute

         A dispute over a claim for insurance coverage is governed by the common law of contracts. Strength v. Ala. Dept. of Fin., Div. of Risk Mgmt., 622 So.2d 1283, 1289 (Ala. 1993). A federal court exercising diversity jurisdiction over a state law contract claim applies the choice of law principles of the state in which it sits. Michel v. NYP Holdings, Inc., 816 F.3d 686, 694 (11th Cir. 2016). Although Alabama courts generally apply the substantive law of the state where the parties made their contract, the general rule is displaced “when the case involves a ...

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