This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Metropolitan Property and Casualty
Edwin K. King,
Filed May 6, 2003
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 02007139
Randall Gottschalk, Douglas D. McGhee, Arthur, Chapman, Kettering, Smetak & Pikala, P.A., 500 Young Quinlan Building, 81 South Ninth Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent)
Roy D. Zimmer, Zimmer Law Office, 14300 Nicollet Court, Suite 111, Burnsville, MN 55306 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge, and Anderson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
The district court granted respondent Metropolitan Property and Casualty Insurance Company summary judgment on this insurance-coverage action, reasoning that appellant Edwin K. King breached the insurance contract by failing to appear for a contractually required examination under oath. On appeal, King argues that the district court erred by determining that (1) no genuine issues of material fact remain for trial, (2) the insurance-contract provision requiring an examination under oath is unambiguous, (3) the provision does not violate the Minnesota No-Fault Automobile Insurance Act, and (4) King’s conditional offer to appear for an examination under oath failed to cure his breach of the contract. Because we find no error on any of these issues, we affirm.
In February 2001, appellant Edwin K. King was injured in an automobile accident and made a claim against his automobile insurer, respondent Metropolitan Property and Casualty Insurance Company. Metropolitan’s attorney told King that he would have to submit to an examination under oath, as provided for in the insurance contract. Instead of responding to Metropolitan’s attorney, King’s attorney contacted one of Metropolitan’s claims adjusters to discuss the scope of the examination. On July 19, 2001, Metropolitan’s attorney sent King a letter telling him that the examination under oath was scheduled for August 2, 2001. On July 23, 2001, King’s attorney replied in writing, stating, “Thank you for the correspondence of July 19, 2001. No thank you.”
In December 2001, King petitioned for his claim to be arbitrated. Metropolitan advised King that his petition was “without merit” because he breached the insurance contract by refusing to appear for the examination under oath. King subsequently offered to appear for an examination under oath on the condition that its scope be limited to issues related only to his wage-loss claim. Metropolitan declined King’s offer.
In April 2002, Metropolitan filed a complaint for declaratory relief, seeking a judgment determining that King breached his no-fault insurance contract by failing to appear for the examination under oath and dismissing King’s petition for arbitration. Both parties moved for summary judgment. The district court denied King’s motion, granted Metropolitan’s motion, and ordered that the arbitration between the parties be dismissed because of lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. This appeal follows.
King first argues that that the district court erred by determining that no genuine issue of material fact remains as to whether he refused to appear for an examination under oath. King contends that his July 23, 2001 letter, when considered in the context of his previous discussion with Metropolitan’s claims adjuster, shows that he was merely rejecting the scope of the examination, not the examination itself. Aside from an affidavit of King’s attorney stating that he spoke with one of Metropolitan’s claims adjusters about the scope of the examination, King presented to the district court no evidence supporting his argument.
No genuine issue of material fact remains for trial
when the nonmoving party presents evidence which merely creates a metaphysical doubt as to a factual issue and which is not sufficiently probative with respect to an essential element of the nonmoving party’s case to permit reasonable persons to draw different conclusions.
DLH, Inc. v. Russ, 566 N.W.2d 60, 71 (Minn. 1997).
The district court determined that there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether King refused to attend the contractually required examination under oath because the evidence could lead a reasonable fact-finder to only one conclusion. See id. at 70 (stating that when determining whether material issue of fact exists, court need not ignore conclusion that reasonable persons could only draw one conclusion from evidence). It is clear on the face of the July 23, 2001 letter from King’s attorney that it was written in response to Metropolitan’s request for an examination and that it rejected the request for an examination.
Because our review of the evidence, even when viewed in the light most favorable to King, leads us to conclude that King rejected Metropolitan’s request for him to appear for the contractually required examination under oath, the district court did not err by determining that no genuine issues of material fact remain for trial on that issue.
King next argues that the insurance-contract provision requiring him to submit to an examination under oath is ambiguous because the contract fails to define “examination under oath.” The district court concluded that the provision is unambiguous.
Whether a contract is ambiguous is a legal determination, which this court reviews de novo. See Frost-Benco Elec. Ass’n v. Minnesota Pub. Utils. Comm’n, 358 N.W.2d 639, 642 (Minn. 1984). “A writing is ambiguous if, judged by its language alone and without resort to parol evidence, it is reasonably susceptible of more than one meaning.” Landwehr v. Landwehr, 380 N.W.2d 136, 138 (Minn. App. 1985) (citation omitted); see also Brookfield Trade Ctr., Inc. v. County of Ramsey, 584 N.W.2d 390, 394 (Minn. 1998) (stating that “contract is ambiguous if its language is reasonably susceptible to more than one interpretation”).
The language at issue is found in section VII(8) of the insurance contact between King and Metropolitan. That section provides that “[a]ny person making a claim must, as soon as possible: * * * submit to examinations under oath as often as we [Metropolitan] reasonably may require.” Examination-under-oath provisions in insurance contracts have existed in Minnesota for more than 100 years. See Hamberg v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 68 Minn. 335, 337, 71 N.W. 388, 388 (1897) (noting insurance-policy requirement that insured submit to examination in presence of notary). The Supreme Court has determined that the purpose of such a provision is to facilitate the expedient investigation of claims:
The object of the provisions in the policies of insurance, requiring the assured to submit himself to an examination under oath, to be reduced to writing, was to enable the company to possess itself of all knowledge, and all information as to other sources and means of knowledge, in regard to the facts, material to their rights, to enable them to decide upon their obligations, and to protect them against false claims.
Claflin v. Commonwealth Ins. Co. of Boston, Mass., 110 U.S. 81, 94-95, 3 S. Ct. 507, 515 (1884). Because the examination-under-oath provision in Metropolitan’s contract is not reasonably susceptible of more than one meaning, the district court did not err by determining that the provision is unambiguous.
King argues that the examination-under-oath provision is “tantamount to formal discovery” and, therefore, conflicts with the Minnesota No-Fault Automobile Insurance Act’s stated purpose of easing the burden of litigation. See Minn. Stat. § 65B.42(4) (2002) (stating that purposes of no-fault act include easing of burden of litigation on courts and simplifying litigation). Statutory interpretation is a question of law, which this court reviews de novo. Nelson v. Am. Family Ins. Group, 651 N.W.2d 499, 503 (Minn. 2002).
No section of the no-fault act prevents insurers from investigating claims or requesting that insureds provide insurers with information. Furthermore, Minnesota law requires that insurance companies “institute, implement, and maintain” an antifraud plan that is designed, in part, to diminish “claims fraud.” Minn. Stat. § 60A.954, subd. 1(1) (2002). Examination-under-oath provisions are designed to diminish claims fraud. See Claflin, 110 U.S. at 94-95, 3 S. Ct. at 515 (noting that object of examination-under-oath provision is to protect insurers against false claims).
Because insurance providers are required to investigate claims and because examination-under-oath provisions do not conflict with the No-Fault Act, King’s argument is without merit.
King argues that because he offered to undergo a limited examination under oath, the district court erred by granting summary judgment to Metropolitan. He relies on McCullough v. Travelers Cos., 424 N.W.2d 542 (Minn. 1988), in which Travelers requested that its insured appear for an examination under oath pursuant to the provision of a fire-insurance policy. The insured’s attorney responded that the insured was unavailable on the selected date, and Travelers agreed to reschedule the examination. Neither party contacted the other to reschedule. When the insured filed suit, Travelers moved for summary judgment, arguing that the insured’s action was barred because he breached a policy condition precedent to bringing suit, that is, submitting to an examination under oath. The district court granted Travelers’ motion, and this court affirmed. The supreme court reversed, holding that because the insured had not “exhibited an unwillingness to submit to an examination whether by express refusal or through a pattern of non-cooperation” and because the insured had “expressed a willingness to be examined shortly after commencing suit,” a failure to submit to an examination was not fatal to the insured’s ability to bring suit under the contract. Id. at 545.
But neither of the elements the supreme court relied on in McCullough is present here: (1) King expressly refused to appear for an examination under oath, and (2) after Metropolitan notified King that his claim was barred because he had breached the cooperation provision in his policy by refusing to submit to an examination under oath, King agreed to an examination only if its scope was limited to his wage-loss claim and did not extend to the merits of his claim generally, a limitation that does not appear in the policy’s examination-under-oath provision. Therefore, the district court did not err by granting summary judgment to Metropolitan.