This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 969593
Thomas A. Foster, Thomas A. Foster & Associates, LTD, 80 South Eighth Street, 1840 IDS Center, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for appellant)
Charles F. Webber, Kristen R. Eads, Faegre & Benson LLP, 2200 Wells Fargo Center, 90 South Seventh Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402-3901 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Anderson, Presiding Judge, Harten, Judge, and Stoneburner, Judge.
Appellant Terese Mehran appeals from the district court’s grant of summary judgment to respondent Assicurazioni Generali (AG) in this garnishment action, based on the determination that defendant John Sheehan, Jr. was not an insured under AG’s policy. Because the policy is unambiguous and does not cover Sheehan, we affirm.
At times relevant, Innco, Inc. owned the Park Inn International Hotel in Brooklyn Center and hired LaSalle Group, Inc. to manage the hotel property. Between 1991 and 1992, John Sheehan, Jr. was an agent and employee of Innco. LaSalle Group was obligated under its contract with Innco to procure insurance protecting a property interest in the hotel property. AG issued a general liability policy naming LaSalle Group as the insured, effective September 6, 1992 through September 6, 1993. On March 22, 1993, the policy was amended to add Innco as a named insured on the policy.
LaSalle Group hired Mehran’s Evergreen Cleaning Company to do cleaning work at the hotel. Mehran sued Sheehan for defamation regarding statements Sheehan made on or about November 11, 1992. Sheehan failed to appear and a default judgment was entered against him on May 28, 1997.
On June 17, 1999, Mehran and Sheehan entered into a Miller-Shugart agreement pursuant to which Mehran agreed to seek satisfaction of her judgment only from Sheehan’s insurers, including AG. Mehran brought a garnishment action against AG in an attempt to recover the judgment against Sheehan. After discovery, both parties moved for summary judgment. The district court granted AG’s motion for summary judgment because it is undisputed that Innco did not become a named insured under AG’s policy until over four months after the alleged defamation occurred. Mehran moved for reconsideration, claiming that she did not have sufficient time to conduct discovery. The district court granted Mehran an additional two months to conduct discovery after which the parties resubmitted their cross-motions for summary judgment. The district court again granted AG’s motion and denied Mehran’s motion. Mehran appeals.
On appeal from a grant of summary judgment we determine whether any genuine issues of material fact exist and whether the district court erred in applying the law. State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990). Mehran acknowledges that Innco did not become a named insured on the policy until four months after Sheehan’s alleged defamation occurred. She nonetheless urged the district court to consider extrinsic evidence that Innco was intended to be a named insured from the policy’s inception. But, when a contract is unambiguous, a court “may not consider extrinsic evidence of the parties’ intent.” Brookfield Trade Ctr., Inc. v. County of Ramsey, 584 N.W.2d 390, 392 n.1 (Minn. 1998); see also State by Humphrey v. Delano Cmty. Dev. Corp., 571 N.W.2d 233, 236, 238 (Minn. 1997). The parties agree that the contract is unambiguous and, therefore, the district court did not err by refusing to consider extrinsic evidence. Because there were no genuine issues of material fact concerning who was insured under the policy, the court did not err by granting summary judgment for AG.
As Mehran conceded at oral argument on appeal, she relies primarily on her assertion that AG should be equitably estopped from denying that Innco was covered by the policy. The doctrine of equitable estoppel may be used to bar a party “from denying the truth of representations of fact previously made.” Transamerica Ins. Group v. Paul, 267 N.W.2d 180, 183 (Minn. 1978). In order to invoke the doctrine of equitable estoppel Mehran must prove that (1) promises or inducements were made; (2) she reasonably relied on the promises; and (3) she will be harmed if the court does not apply estoppel. Hydra-Mac, Inc., v. Onan Corp., 450 N.W.2d 913, 919 (Minn. 1990).
Mehran contends that on two occasions AG represented that Innco was insured under the policy at the time of the alleged defamation: first, in a Certificate of Insurance dated July 29, 1993 showing Innco, Inc. as the named insured and the policy effective dates as 9/6/92 – 1/1/94; and second, in AG’s letter to Sheehan written on August 20, 1993 denying coverage for the defamation claim, but stating that the policy was “issued to LaSalle Group * * * and Innco * * * for the period September 6, 1992 to September 6, 1993.” AG points out that both documents were issued after Innco had been added as a named insured. Mehran candidly admits that there is no evidence in the record demonstrating that Mehran relied on either document, but she argues that we can infer reliance because she would not have entered into the settlement agreement unless she believed that there was coverage. Even if we infer that Mehran believed there was coverage, that inference does not lead to even circumstantial evidence of reliance on these particular documents. Furthermore, because the policy unambiguously, and on its face, did not cover Innco or Sheehan at the time of the alleged defamation, Mehran could not have reasonably relied on anything to the contrary. We hold that Mehran, as a matter of law, has failed to present evidence that she relied on statements by AG that Innco was insured at the time of the alleged defamation.
Moreover, estoppel may not be used to enlarge an insurance contract. Shannon v. Great Am. Ins. Co., 276 N.W.2d 77, 78 (Minn. 1979); Twin City Hide v. Transamerica Ins. Co., 358 N.W.2d 90, 93 (Minn. App. 1984). Mehran argues that expanding coverage dates for Innco is not an enlargement of an insurance contract. We disagree. Innco was not insured by AG at the time Sheehan allegedly made the defamatory statements. We refuse to apply the doctrine of equitable estoppel to create a contract that never existed. Consequently, the district court did not err in failing to apply the doctrine of equitable estoppel in this case.