This opinion will be unpublished and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

A03-1628

 

Farmers Insurance Group,

Appellant,

 

vs.

 

Shawn Knutson,

Respondent,

 

Jennifer Ann Swift,

Respondent,

 

Steve Hendricks,

Respondent,

 

Sheila Hendricks,

Respondent.

 

Filed April 13, 2004

Reversed and remanded

Harten, Judge

 

Chippewa County District Court

File No. CX-03-277

 

Roger H. Gross, Laura L. Myslis, Gislason & Hunter, LLP, 9900 Bren Road East, Suite 215E, P.O. Box 5297, Minnetonka, MN 55343-2297 (for appellant)

 

Todd A. Johnson, Johnson & Bannon, 2125 South First Street, P.O. Box 1334, Willmar, MN 56201 (for respondent Shawn Knutson)

 

Jennifer A. Swift, 537 Adams Street, Hutchinson, MN 55350 (pro se respondent)

 

Steve Hendricks, Sheila Hendricks, 1425 Jefferson Street Southeast, Hutchinson, MN 55350 (pro se respondents)

 

            Considered and decided by Harten, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Klaphake, Judge.

U N P U B L I S H E D   O P I N I O N

HARTEN, Judge

            Appellant insurer challenges summary judgment, arguing that the district court erred in determining that insurance coverage existed because, although an admission established that respondent driver had respondent-owners’ permission to use the van, later stipulated facts specified that the driver did not obtain permission before driving the van.  Because the admission and the stipulated facts were part of the underlying personal injury action and were improperly considered in the declaratory judgment action on appeal, and because issues of material fact exist as to whether the driver had implied permission to use the van, we reverse and remand.

FACTS

            On the morning of 10 March 2000, Jennifer Ann Swift and Cassandra Hendricks, both age 15 and unlicensed to drive, decided to run away.  They walked from their school to Hendricks’s home; Cassandra Hendricks’s parents, Steve and Sheila Hendricks, were not at home.  A van owned by Hendricks’s parents was in the garage; the girls left in it, with Hendricks driving.

            Swift and Hendricks traveled west from Hutchinson, until they reached Britton, South Dakota, where they decided to return home.  At approximately 5:30 on the morning of 11 March, Swift was driving the van east near Bunde, Minnesota.  The van crossed the center line and collided with a car in which respondent Shawn Knutson was a passenger.  Knutson was injured in the accident.  Both Swift and Steve Hendricks gave statements following the accident, saying that the girls had not obtained prior consent to take the van.

            Roughly six months after the collision, Knutson filed a personal injury action against Swift, her parents Laurie and Jeffrey Swift, Cassandra Hendricks, and her parents, the Hendrickses.  At the time of the accident, the van was insured by American Family Insurance.  American Family retained counsel to represent Swift and the Hendrickses.  On 3 January 2001, Swift and the Hendrickses admitted, in response to Knutson’s request for admissions, that Swift had been driving the Hendrickses’ van with their express or implied permission.

            In November 2001, Knutson signed a Drake v. Ryan agreement, whereby he agreed to accept the American Family policy limit and to refrain from collecting from the personal assets of the Swifts or the Hendrickses.  The agreement explicitly allowed Knutson to collect for any claims from appellant Farmers Insurance Group, which insured Swift’s parents’ vehicle and might be obligated to indemnify Swift or the Hendrickses.  The Swifts’ vehicle was covered by a policy providing that an “insured person” does not include “[a]ny family member who uses a vehicle other than your insured car without having sufficient reason to believe that the use is with the permission of the owner.”

In October 2002, appellant and Knutson stipulated to certain facts, including Steve Hendricks’s statement that “the van ‘was taken without permission’” and Swift’s statement that Hendricks did not lead her to believe that Hendricks had permission to take the van.

            On 30 June 2003, appellant brought this action, seeking a declaratory judgment that Swift did not have sufficient reason to believe that her use of the Hendrickses’ van was with their permission and was therefore not covered by appellant’s policy for any claims arising from the accident.  Appellant moved for summary judgment and argued that the stipulation that the Hendrickses’ van was taken without permission, and not the prior admission that Swift was driving with the Hendrickses’ express or implied permission, bound the parties.  The district court found that appellant had notice of the accident and of its potential liability to indemnify Swift prior to the admission that Swift had the Hendrickses’ permission to drive their van, and that this admission bound appellant.  The district court reasoned that the parties stipulated to statements, and the statements did not conclusively prove that the girls did not have implied permission to drive the van.  The district court also found that the admission should not be stricken because disallowing it would have a prejudicial effect on Knutson’s claim.  The district court denied appellant’s motions for summary judgment and found that the admission conclusively established that Swift had the Hendrickses’ permission when she drove the van.  Accordingly, summary judgment was entered for respondents.  This appeal followed.

D E C I S I O N

            On appeal from summary judgment, appellate courts ask (1) whether any genuine issues of material fact exist and (2) whether the district court erred in its application of the law.  State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990).  A motion for summary judgment is granted when the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, show there is no genuine issue of material fact and that either party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.  Fabio v. Bellomo, 504 N.W.2d 758, 761 (Minn. 1993).  On appeal, evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.  Denelsbeck v. Wells Fargo & Co., 666 N.W.2d 339, 345 (Minn. 2003).

            Issues of insurance coverage are questions of law subject to de novo review.  State Farm Ins. Cos. v. Seefeld, 481 N.W.2d 62, 64 (Minn. 1992).  The interpretation of an insurance policy is a question of law that is also reviewed de novo.  Thommes v. Milwaukee Ins. Co., 641 N.W.2d 877, 879 (Minn. 2002).  Courts may apply general principles of contract interpretation when analyzing insurance policies.  Progressive Specialty Ins. Co. v. Widness ex rel. Widness, 635 N.W.2d 516, 518 (Minn. 2001).  Appellant argues that the district court erred as a matter of law by finding that appellant’s policy covered Swift in the accident.

            The record in the instant litigation is a curiosity.  It contains a formal admission made by Swift and the Hendrickses indicating that Swift had been driving the Hendrickses van with their express or implied consent.  It also contains a stipulation of facts executed by appellant and Knutson accepting Steve Hendricks’s statement that the van was taken without permission and Swift’s statement that Cassandra Hendricks did not lead Swift to believe that Hendricks had permission to take the van.  But both the admission and the stipulation occurred in the underlying personal injury action.  The case before us on appeal is the declaratory action, not the personal injury action.

            Appellant argues that the stipulated facts supersede the admissions made almost two years earlier.  But any matters admitted in responses to a formal request for admissions are conclusively established unless a court permits withdrawal or amendment.  Minn. R. Civ. P. 36.02; see also, Security State Bank of Aitkin v. Morlock, 355 N.W.2d 441, 445 (Minn. App. 1984) (“A Rule 36 admission is comparable to an admission in pleadings, rather than to an evidentiary admission of a party.”).  Facts admitted under Rule 36 are “no longer in issue until some action is taken to apprise the court and adversary that a litigant wishes to abandon the position he formerly has taken and change his course of procedure” through amendment or withdrawal.  Phelps v. Benson, 252 Minn. 457, 476, 90 N.W.2d 533, 546 (1958).  There is no indication in the record that Swift or the Hendrickses ever sought to withdraw or amend their admissions under the rules.

            Rule 36.02 also provides that a party’s admission is “for the purpose of the pending action only and is not an admission by that party for any other purpose nor may it be used against that party in any other proceeding.”  Here, the admission was made during the underlying personal injury action, not the pending declaratory judgment action that is the subject of this appeal.  Therefore, the district court improperly considered the admission in the declaratory action now before us.

            The stipulated facts were also filed as part of the underlying personal injury action.  Where parties stipulate to an issue, that issue generally is not treated as having been litigated unless the parties manifest an intent that the stipulation will be binding in other actions.  G.A.W. III v. D.M.W., 596 N.W.2d 284, 287 (Minn. App. 1999), review denied (Minn. 28 Sept. 1999).  There is nothing in the stipulated facts or elsewhere indicating the parties’ intent to be bound by the stipulated facts in any other action.  Therefore, the district court likewise improperly considered the stipulated facts from the personal injury action in the declaratory judgment action.

            Absent the admission and the stipulated facts, the record in the declaratory judgment action consists of the summons and complaint from the personal injury action, appellant’s insurance policy that potentially covered Swift in the accident, the Drake v. Ryan agreement, and statements made by Swift and Steve Hendricks several days after the accident.  Viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to respondent, we conclude that the record contains a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Swift had “sufficient reason to believe” that she drove the van with the Hendrickses’ permission.  Accordingly, we reverse the summary judgment and remand for trial of the declaratory action.

            Reversed and remanded.