from Mobile Circuit Court (CV-16-902314).
insurance-coverage case stems from an accident in which
Zachariah Cowart ("Zachariah") ran over his wife
Misty Cowart ("Misty"). Misty was partially
compensated for her injuries under one provision of her
automobile-insurance policy ("the policy"), and she
seeks to use the uninsured-motorist provision of the policy
to make up the difference. The trial court entered a summary
judgment in favor of the insurer and upheld its denial of
uninsured-motorist benefits to Misty. That judgment, however,
is not supported by the language of the policy. For that
reason, and because there are key factual questions that are
unresolved, we reverse the summary judgment and remand the
case for further proceedings.
and Procedural History
case arises from an accident involving Misty and Zachariah.
On November 8, 2014, after an argument broke out between the
couple, Zachariah decided to leave the house by automobile,
despite the fact that he was intoxicated. Zachariah was
unable to locate the keys to the company car that he
typically drove, so he instead took the keys to the 2013 Jeep
Wrangler sport-utility vehicle ("the Jeep")
typically driven by Misty. Despite Misty's protest,
Zachariah started the Jeep and began to drive off. In doing
so, he knocked Misty down with the vehicle and ran over her
left leg, causing compound fractures to her leg and ankle. At
the time of the accident, both Misty and Zachariah were named
insureds under the policy, which was issued by GEICO Casualty
Company ("GEICO") and covered the Jeep.
November 2, 2016, Misty sued Zachariah in the Mobile Circuit
Court alleging negligence and wantonness. She subsequently
accepted a settlement from GEICO for the limits of the
bodily-injury-liability provision of the policy, even though
that settlement did not fully compensate her for her
injuries. On October 31, 2017, the trial court granted a
joint stipulation for dismissal with prejudice as to
Zachariah was dismissed from the case, Misty amended her
complaint to name GEICO as a defendant and demand payment
under a separate provision of the policy for
uninsured-motorist coverage. On June 5, 2018, GEICO filed a
motion for a summary judgment. GEICO argued that the policy
specifically excluded uninsured-motorist coverage for
injuries caused by the operator of an "insured
auto" and that the policy definition of an "insured
auto" included all vehicles listed on the declarations
page, one of which was the Jeep. In support of its motion,
GEICO attached a copy of the policy and an excerpt from
Misty's deposition in which she described being injured
by Zachariah while he was operating the Jeep.
opposed GEICO's motion for a summary judgment. In her
brief, she pointed out that the policy definition of an
"insured auto" excluded a vehicle being used
without the permission of its owner, thus rendering such a
vehicle an uninsured automobile that would be covered by the
policy's uninsured-motorist provision. She submitted an
affidavit stating that the Jeep had been purchased by
Zachariah and given to her as a gift; that she had refinanced
the Jeep, naming herself as a co-borrower; that she made the
monthly loan payments for the vehicle after it was
refinanced; that there was a clear understanding between her
and Zachariah that the Jeep was her vehicle; that she was the
sole and exclusive driver of the Jeep; and that Zachariah did
not have a key to the Jeep. The affidavit also stated that
Zachariah had taken the Jeep without her permission at the
time of the accident. Misty submitted copies of the
refinancing documents referred to in the affidavit, as well
as excerpts from Zachariah's testimony in their March 5,
2015, divorce proceeding as evidence that she was the owner
of the Jeep and that Zachariah was using it without her
permission at the time of the accident. Because she allegedly
owned the Jeep and because Zachariah had allegedly used the
Jeep without her permission, she argued that the Jeep was an
"uninsured auto" under the policy and that she was
therefore entitled to compensation under the
response to Misty's opposition, GEICO argued that because
Misty was married to Zachariah when he purchased the Jeep and
at the time of the accident, the Jeep was marital property.
GEICO argued that because Zachariah had an ownership interest
in the vehicle, he did not legally have to obtain Misty's
permission before using the vehicle. Accordingly, GEICO
argued, the Jeep did not fall within the unpermitted-use
exception to the "insured auto" definition in the
policy, making the Jeep an "insured auto" that was
not covered under the uninsured-motorist provision.
24, 2018, the trial court granted GEICO's motion for a
summary judgment on the ground that the Jeep fell within the
definition of "insured auto" in the policy. Misty
seeks reversal of the summary judgment in favor of GEICO. We
review a summary judgment under the following standard:
"[When a party] appeals from a summary judgment, our
review is de novo. EBSCO Indus., Inc. v. Royal Ins. Co.
of America, 775 So.2d 128 (Ala. 2000). We apply the same
standard of review the trial court used in determining
whether the evidence presented to the trial court created a
genuine issue of material fact. Jefferson County
Comm'n v. ECO Preservation Services, L.L.C., 788
So.2d 121 (Ala. 2000) (quoting Bussey v. John Deere
Co., 531 So.2d 860, 862 (Ala. 1988)). Once a party
moving for a summary judgment establishes that no genuine
issue of material fact exists, the burden shifts to the
nonmovant to present substantial evidence creating a genuine
issue of material fact. Bass v. SouthTrust Bank of
Baldwin County, 538 So.2d 794, 797-98 (Ala. 1989).
'Substantial evidence' is 'evidence of such
weight and quality that fair-minded persons in the exercise
of impartial judgment can reasonably infer the existence of
the fact sought to be proved.' West v. Founders Life
Assur. Co. of Florida, 547 So.2d 870, 871 (Ala. 1989).
In reviewing a summary judgment, we view the evidence in the
light most favorable to the nonmovant and entertain such
reasonable inferences as the jury would have been free to
draw. Jefferson County Comm'n v. ECO Preservation
Servs., L.L.C., supra (citing Renfro v. Georgia
Power Co., 604 So.2d 408 (Ala. 1992))."
Nationwide Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. DPF Architects,
P.C., 792 So.2d 369, 372 (Ala. 2000).
analyze this appeal in two parts. First, we interpret the
language of the policy. Second, we determine whether Misty
has presented sufficient evidence to create genuine issues of
material fact regarding whether she was the sole owner of the
Jeep and whether she denied Zachariah permission to use the
vehicle at the time of the accident.
Interpretation of Policy Language
adhere to the following principles of construction when we
interpret an insurance contract:
"'The law of this state regarding the construction
of insurance policies is well settled and clear. "The
contract of insurance will be construed strictly against the
insurer and liberally in favor of the insured [citations
omitted.] ...." ... Exceptions to coverage in a policy
of insurance must be interpreted as narrowly as possible in
order to provide maximum coverage of the insured.
Employers Insurance Co. of Alabama, Inc. v. Jeff Gin
Co., 378 So.2d 693 (Ala. 1979); Westchester Fire
Insurance Co. v. Barnett Millworks, Inc., 364 So.2d 1137
(Ala. 1978); Life Insurance Co. of Georgia v.
Miller, 292 Ala. 525, 296 So.2d 900, on remand 53
Ala.App. 741, 296 So.2d 907 (1974); see Booker T.
Washington Burial Ins. Co. v. Williams, 27 Ala.App. 393,
173 So. 269 (1937). Finally, the provisions in an automobile
liability policy are to be construed liberally in favor of
the insured. United States Fidelity & Guaranty Co. v.
Baker, 24 Ala.App. 274, 134 So. 894, cert.
denied, 223 Ala. 172, 134 So. 896 (1931).'"
Hall v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 514 So.2d
853, 856-57 (Ala. 1987) (quoting Cotton States Mut. Ins.
Co. v. Michalic, 443 So.2d 927, 930 (Ala. 1983),
overruled on other grounds by Holt v. State Farm Mut.
Auto. Ins. Co., 507 So.2d 388 (Ala. 1986)). In doing so,
we strive to "give insurance policies a plain meaning
construction." Ho Bros. Rest. v. Aetna Cas.
&Sur. Co., 492 So.2d 603, 605 (Ala. 1986).
We further recognize that "[a]n insurance policy must be
read as a whole. The provisions of the policy cannot be read
in isolation, but, instead, each provision must be read in
context with all other provisions." Allstate Ins.
Co. v. Hardnett, 763 So.2d 963, 965 (Ala. 2000) (citing
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