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Beeman v. ACCC Insurance Co.

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

April 12, 2019

Lester Beeman
v.
ACCC Insurance Company

          Appeal from Montgomery Circuit Court (CV-17-901212)

          EDWARDS, JUDGE.

         In January 2017, Lester Beeman was injured in an automobile accident. At the time of the accident, Beeman was driving an automobile insured under a policy of insurance ("the policy") purchased by Renada Reese from ACCC Insurance Company ("the insurer"). The operator of the other automobile involved in the accident, Kimberly LaChance, was allegedly uninsured.

         In August 2017, Beeman sued LaChance in the Montgomery Circuit Court ("the trial court"), asserting, among other things, claims alleging negligence and wantonness. Beeman amended his complaint in October 2017 to seek an award of uninsured-motorist ("UIM") benefits from the insurer.[1] The insurer moved to dismiss Beeman's claim against it pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Ala. R. Civ. P., arguing that Reese was the "named insured" in the policy and that she had rejected UIM coverage, as permitted by Ala. Code 1975, 32-7-23(a), which reads as follows:

"No automobile liability or motor vehicle liability policy insuring against loss resulting from liability imposed by law for bodily injury or death suffered by any person arising out of the ownership, maintenance, or use of a motor vehicle shall be delivered or issued for delivery in this state with respect to any motor vehicle registered or principally garaged in this state unless coverage is provided therein or supplemental thereto, in limits for bodily injury or death set forth in subsection (c) of Section 32-7-6, [Ala. Code 1975, ] under provisions approved by the Commissioner of Insurance for the protection of persons insured thereunder who are legally entitled to recover damages from owners or operators of uninsured motor vehicles because of bodily injury, sickness or disease, including death, resulting therefrom; provided, that the named insured shall have the right to reject such coverage; and provided further, that unless the named insured requests such coverage in writing, such coverage need not be provided in or supplemental to a renewal policy where the named insured had rejected the coverage in connection with the policy previously issued to him or her by the same insurer."

         After a hearing on the insurer's motion, the trial court granted the motion and dismissed the claim against the insurer. The case proceeded to trial against LaChance, who failed to appear at trial, and the trial court entered a default judgment against her on August 13, 2018. Beeman timely appealed and argues solely that the trial court erred in dismissing his claim against the insurer for UIM benefits. We affirm.

"On appeal, a dismissal is not entitled to a presumption of correctness. Jones v. Lee County Commission, 394 So.2d 928, 930 (Ala. 1981); Allen v. Johnny Baker Hauling, Inc., 545 So.2d 771, 772 (Ala. Civ. App. 1989). The appropriate standard of review under Rule 12(b)(6) is whether, when the allegations of the complaint are viewed most strongly in the pleader's favor, it appears that the pleader could prove any set of circumstances that would entitle her to relief. Raley v. Citibanc of Alabama/Andalusia, 474 So.2d 640, 641 (Ala. 1985); Hill v. Falletta, 589 So.2d 746 (Ala. Civ. App. 1991). In making this determination, this Court does not consider whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail, but only whether she may possibly prevail. Fontenot v. Bramlett, 470 So.2d 669, 671 (Ala. 1985); Rice v. United Ins. Co. of America, 465 So.2d 1100, 1101 (Ala. 1984). We note that a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal is proper only when it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of the claim that would entitle the plaintiff to relief. Garrett v. Hadden, 495 So.2d 616, 617 (Ala. 1986); Hill v. Kraft, Inc., 496 So.2d 768, 769 (Ala. 1986)."

Nance v. Matthews, 622 So.2d 297, 299 (Ala. 1993).

         Because this appeal involves the meaning of terms in an insurance policy, we begin by noting the general rules governing our construction of insurance policies.

"'General rules of contract law govern an insurance contract. Twin City Fire Ins. Co. v. Alfa Mut. Ins. Co., 817 So.2d 687, 691 (Ala. 2001). The court must enforce the insurance policy as written if the terms are unambiguous, id.; Liggans R.V. Ctr. v. John Deere Ins. Co., 575 So.2d 567, 569 (Ala. 1991). Whether a provision of an insurance policy is ambiguous is a question of law. Turvin v. Alfa Mut. Gen. Ins. Co., 774 So.2d 597, 599 (Ala. Civ. App. 2000).'
"Safeway Ins. Co. of Alabama, Inc. v. Herrera, 912 So.2d 1140, 1143 (Ala. 2005). Furthermore, '[t]he identity of the insured and liability of the insurer are determined from the terms of the [insurance] contract.' Kinnon v. Universal Underwriters Ins. Co., 418 So.2d 887, 888 (Ala. 1982)."

Safeway Ins. Co. of Alabama, Inc. v. Thomas, [Ms. 2170088, March 30, 2018] ___ So.3d ___, ___ (Ala. Civ. App. 2018).

         Certain policy documents appear in the record.[2] The initial application for insurance, which was executed in June 2013, indicates that Reese is the sole applicant; in the initial application, Reese specifically rejected UIM coverage.[3] The renewal certificate for the period from January 2017 to July 2017 indicates that the "policyholder" is Reese. Nothing in the initial application, the renewal certificate, or the policy defines the term "named insured" or indicates specifically that Reese is the "named insured" under the policy.[4] Moreover, neither the initial application, which does not list Beeman at all, nor the renewal certificate indicate that Beeman is a "named insured." The renewal certificate reflects that Beeman is listed on the declarations page as a "driver." He is an "insured person" under the policy because he is Reese's son, living in her household, and endorsed on the policy.[5]

         Beeman argues on appeal, as he did below, that he is a "named insured" on the policy and that, therefore, Reese's rejection of UIM coverage is not binding on him. Indeed, our caselaw makes clear that each named insured must reject UIM coverage for himself or herself. See Nationwide Ins. Co. v. Nicholas, 868 So.2d 457 (Ala. Civ. App. 2003) (plurality opinion); State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Martin, 292 Ala. 103, 289 So.2d 606 (1974). However, those cases do not assist us in determining whether Beeman was, in fact, a "named insured," because in both Nicholas and Martin the evidence demonstrated that the plaintiffs ...


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