This opinion will be unpublished and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

A03-1609, A03-1835

 

Great West Casualty Company,
Appellant (A03-1609),
Respondent (A03-1835),

vs.

Carolina Casualty Insurance Company,
Respondent (A03-1609),
Appellant (A03-1835),

Select Transportation, Inc., d/b/a M&M Trucking,
Respondent,

Shawn Everhardt,

Respondent,

 

Carrielee Perez,

trustee and next of kin of Kevin Vance,

Respondent,

 

Mad Dog Trucking, Inc.,

Respondent,

 

Northland Insurance Company,

Respondent.  

 

Filed May 4, 2004

Reversed and remanded

Minge, Judge

 

Kanabec County District Court

File No. C4-02-547

 

 

Michael W. McNee, Andrea E. Reisbord, Tamara L. Novotny, Cousineau, McGuire & Anderson, 1550 Utica Avenue South, 600 Travelers Express Tower, Minneapolis, MN 55416 (for appellant Great West)

 

Frederick L. Grunke, Rajkowski Hansmeier Ltd., 11 Seventh Avenue North, P.O. Box 1433, St. Cloud, MN 56302 (for respondent Carolina Casualty)

 

John R. Crawford, Daniel E. Hintz, Johnson & Lindberg, P.A., 7900 International Drive, Suite 960, Minneapolis, MN 55425-1582 (for respondent Select Transportation)

 

Richard J. Nygaard, Steven R. Kluz, Jr., Paula Duggan Vraa, Rider, Bennett, Egan & Arundel, LLP, 333 South Seventh Street, Suite 2000, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent Carrielee Perez)

 

Stacy E. Cudd, Daniel A. Haws, Murnane, Conlin, White & Brandt, 444 Cedar Street, 1800 U.S. Bancorp/Piper Jaffray Plaza, St. Paul, MN 55101 (for respondent Northland)

 

            Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge; Kalitowski, Judge; and Minge, Judge.
 

U N P U B L I S H E D  O P I N I O N

 

MINGE, Judge

 

This proceeding consolidates related appeals from a summary judgment holding trucking firms and their insurers liable in a wrongful death action.  We consider challenges to the determinations that respondent Everhardt and the insurer of his truck, Great Western Casualty Company, are primarily liable and that other insurers and trucking firms are liable for excess damages.  Because there are genuine issues of material fact and because there is no evidence to support a finding of liability as to one of the trucking firms and its insurer, we reverse the entry of summary judgment and remand. 

 

FACTS

Respondent Shawn Everhardt drives and owns his own truck.  In July 2001, he was seeking work and talked to Mahna Dauer, the vice president and co-owner of respondent Mad Dog Trucking, Inc. (Mad Dog).  Mad Dog had leased two of its trucks with drivers to Select Transportation, Inc. (Select) to haul concrete panels on a job for Murphy Rigging & Erecting (Murphy Rigging) in south Minneapolis.  Dauer told Everhardt that Select might be looking for another truck and driver on the Murphy Rigging job.  Dauer called Select and spoke with its president, Mark Christenson, about Everhardt’s availability to work for Murphy Rigging.  Christenson allegedly told Dauer to send Everhardt to Select’s office to fill out an application.  While Everhardt did not go to Select’s office, Mad Dog had copies of some of Select’s contract documents, which Dauer gave to Everhardt and helped him complete.  However, none of these documents were signed by Select.

On August 7, 8, and 13, 2001, Everhardt drove his truck tractor to the Murphy Rigging job site and began hauling loads for Select even though he did not have a signed agreement or any of the required placards on his vehicle indicating that he was driving for or leased to Select.  Select’s representative at the job site was Jeremiah Mitchell, an independent owner/operator who acted as liaison at the job site between Select and the various drivers.  On the days that Everhardt hauled loads, he filled out job tickets and gave these tickets to Mitchell.  Select processed the job tickets and sent invoices to Murphy Rigging for payment.

            When Everhardt arrived at the site on August 14, Mitchell told him that he was not needed that day, that there had been a complaint that he did not have Select placards on his truck, and that he should obtain placards.  Select alleged that its officers and managers had not realized that Everhardt had been working at the site, and when it learned he was there, it instructed Mitchell that Everhardt could not drive until he had completed all required paperwork and obtained placards.  In fact, Mitchell and the Mad Dog drivers had completed Select’s application process, which included drug testing, background checks, reference checks, and vehicle inspections.

            Upon learning that he could not drive his truck on the Murphy Rigging job on August 14, Everhardt apparently decided that he would use the day to repair his truck, obtain Select placards, and complete Select’s paperwork.  This required that he travel to Rogers, on the northwest edge of the Twin Cities metropolitan area.  After first moving a trailer at the job site at the request of Mitchell, Everhardt drove his truck without any trailer (bobtailing) from the Murphy Rigging site in south Minneapolis to a repairs/parts shop in St. Paul.  Since the shop was not yet open when he arrived, Everhardt decided to purchase fuel at a nearby service station before returning to the highway.  En route to the service station, his truck struck and killed Kevin Vance. 

            Vance’s mother, Carrielee Perez, brought a wrongful death action against Everhardt, Select and Mad Dog.  Everhardt’s insurance company, Great West Casualty Company (Great West), in turn brought a declaratory judgment action to determine whether its non-trucking use policy provided coverage, or whether coverage existed under Select’s policy with Carolina Casualty Insurance (Carolina) or Mad Dog’s policy with Northland Insurance (Northland).

            Perez, Select, Great West, Northland, and Carolina brought cross-motions for summary judgment.  In April 2003, the district court granted Perez’s motion, denied summary judgment for all other parties, and found Great West primarily liable and Carolina and Northland liable for the excess damages.  Great West appealed the decision in May 2003.  In June 2003, this court remanded the appeal for a final judgment on the amount of coverage available under the Carolina and Northland policies.  In September 2003, the district court assigned primary liability coverage to Great West in the amount of $1 million, excess liability coverage to Carolina in the amount of $1 million, and excess liability coverage to Northland in the amount of $750,000.  This appeal followed. 

D E C I S I O N

On review of summary judgment, this court must determine whether there are any genuine issues of material fact and whether the district court erred in applying the law.  State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990).  On appeal, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.  Fabio v. Bellomo, 504 N.W.2d 758, 761 (Minn. 1993).  We will “not resolve or decide issues of fact but only determine whether there are issues of fact to be tried.”  Jonathan v. Kvaal, 403 N.W.2d 256, 259 (Minn. App. 1987), review denied (Minn. May 20, 1987).  Where there is any doubt as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact, we must resolve such doubt in favor of finding that a fact issue exists.  Poplinski v. Gislason, 397 N.W.2d 412, 414 (Minn. App. 1986), review denied (Minn. Feb. 18, 1987).

I.

The first issue is whether the district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Perez and imposing primary liability on Everhardt’s insurer, Great West, when it found that an exclusionary clause in Great West’s policy was ambiguous.  Construction of an insurance policy is a question of law.  Iowa Kemper Ins. Co. v. Stone, 269 N.W.2d 885, 886-87 (Minn. 1978).  When the facts are not in dispute, the appellate court independently reviews the district court’s interpretation of the insurance contract.  Nat’l City Bank of Minneapolis v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 447 N.W.2d 171, 175 (Minn. 1989).

An appellate court will construe exclusions from coverage narrowly against the insurer.  Am. Family Ins. Co. v. Walser, 628 N.W.2d 605, 609 (Minn. 2001).  The burden of proving that the policy exclusion bars coverage rests on the insurance company.  Illinois Farmers Ins. Co. v. Duffy, 618 N.W.2d 613, 615 (Minn. App. 2000).  If the language of the insurance policy is unambiguous, the court must give the language its ordinary meaning.  Nat’l Farmers Union Prop. & Cas. Co. v. Anderson, 372 N.W.2d 71, 74 (Minn. App. 1985).  But, if the policy is ambiguous, the ambiguity must be resolved in favor of the insured.  Columbia Heights Motors, Inc. v. Allstate Ins. Co., 275 N.W.2d 32, 36 (Minn. 1979).  “In construing an insurance contract, the policy must be considered as a whole.”  Am. Hoist & Derrick Co. v. Employers’ of Wausau, 454 N.W.2d 462, 466 (Minn. App. 1990), review denied (Minn. June 26, 1990).  A reviewing court must not read an ambiguity into plain language.  Jenoff, Inc. v. New Hampshire Ins. Co., 558 N.W.2d 260, 262 (Minn. 1997).

The relevant language of the exclusionary clause at issue in Great West’s non-trucking use policy reads:

15.  Trucking Operations

This insurance does not apply to:

a. A covered “auto” while used to carry property in any business; or

b. A covered “auto” while used in the business of anyone to whom the “auto” is rented, leased or loaned.[1]

           

The district court found that the language “in the business of” was ambiguous and should therefore be resolved in favor of coverage for Everhardt.  The court also found that it was unclear whether Everhardt was furthering Select’s business interests or personal activities at the time of the accident.

            We have previously held that the phrase “in the business of” in a similar Great West policy was not ambiguous.  Steele v. Great W. Cas. Co., 540 N.W.2d 886, 889-90 (Minn. App. 1995), review denied (Minn. Feb. 9, 1996).  In Steele, we stated that “[a]mbiguity does not arise merely because a policy must be read with some care.”  Id.  Ultimately, in Steele we declined to find an ambiguity in the policy and noted that the repeated mention of “non-trucking use” in the text of the policy and a definition that equated “trucker” with business use enabled this court to determine whether Great West’s policy applied.  Id. at 890.  Since the policy before us contains the same language, phrases, and definitions, we find that the plain language of this policy does not present a patent ambiguity.

The question then becomes whether the phrase “in the business of” in the Great West policy presents a latent as opposed to patent ambiguity.  A latent ambiguity is one that arises where the defect

does not appear on the face of language used or an instrument being considered.  It arises when language is clear and intelligible and suggests but a single meaning, but some extrinsic fact or some extraneous evidence creates a necessity for interpretation or a choice between two or more possible meanings.

 

Black’s Law Dictionary 883 (6th ed. 1990).  Here, the phrase “in the business of” is susceptible to at least two possible interpretations.  These are that (1) the phrase is limited to hauling a load for one who has leased the truck (auto); or (2) the phrase includes undertaking any activities that ultimately benefit the lessee. 

What is troubling here is that the applicability of paragraph 15(b) of Great West’s policy and the determination of whether its language is ambiguous are dependent on a series of factual determinations that are disputed.  There may be a latent ambiguity or no ambiguity over whether Everhardt was acting “in the business of” Select at the time of the accident.  To decide, one must resolve disputed evidence and determine the relationship between Everhardt and Select.  This includes determining what Select knew regarding Everhardt’s work at the job site, and the nature of Select’s instructions to Mitchell regarding Everhardt on the morning of the accident.  After reviewing the record and the arguments on appeal, it is evident that there are numerous genuine issues of material fact, the resolution of which is necessary to deciding this issue.  Accordingly, summary judgment was not appropriate.

II.

The next issue is whether the district court erred in finding that an implied lease existed between Select and Everhardt.  To determine whether an implied agreement exists, courts look to the conduct and acts of the parties.  Northland Ins. Co. v. Bennett, 533 N.W.2d 867, 872 (Minn. App. 1995).  In Northland, this court found that an implied truck lease agreement existed by examining the totality of the contacts between the parties.  Id.  We noted that the trucking company had represented to the Department of Transportation that the driver would be operating under its authority and had certified that the driver’s vehicle would abide by safety and inspection laws.  Id. at 873.  Additionally, the company had paid the driver’s registration fee and tariffs, and had given the driver various certification forms indicating its authority over the driver.  Id.

Here, to support its finding that an implied lease exists, the district court found that

failure to complete the application process does not bar recovery under [Select’s] insurance policy.  Shawn Everhardt had worked three days for Select on the Murphy Rigging site, had filled out job tickets that Select used to bill Murphy Rigging for the work [Everhardt] performed, and [Everhardt] was on his way to their office at the time of the accident at their direction.

 

The record, however, indicates that the level and nature of the contacts between Select and Everhardt is highly disputed.  While no one disputes that Everhardt actually worked on the Murphy Rigging site for three days, the deposition by Select president Mark Christensen indicates that Select had no knowledge of his presence, whereas the deposition of Jeremiah Mitchell indicates that Select did have knowledge.  There is also conflicting evidence whether Select directed Everhardt to travel to its offices or whether Mitchell was to merely tell Everhardt that he could no longer work at the Murphy Rigging site, and Everhardt, on his own initiative, began driving to Select’s offices.  Further, it is also unclear what was said to Christensen by Dauer of Mad Dog regarding Everhardt, whether Christensen even knew Everhardt’s name, and whether Select ever received a copy of the operating agreement Everhardt signed.

Utilization of the totality of the contacts test in this instance requires the district court to make conclusions from highly disputed facts concerning the contacts between the parties.  This kind of fact finding by the district court is impermissible on a motion for summary judgment.  Because the conduct and acts of the parties are material in determining whether an implied lease existed between Select and Everhardt and because these facts here are highly disputed by the parties, we conclude summary judgment was not appropriate.

III.

The final issue is whether the district court erred in finding that an implied lease agreement existed between Everhardt and Mad Dog which exposed Mad Dog and its insurer, respondent Northland, to liability.  The district court found an implied lease relationship between Everhardt, Select, and Mad Dog because the co-owner of Mad Dog had arranged for Everhardt to work on the Murphy Rigging site.  The court found that Mad Dog had informed Everhardt of the possibility of work with Select, provided and helped Everhardt fill out Select paperwork, and provided Everhardt with job tickets.  According to the district court, these facts alone meant that Everhardt was working under the authority of Mad Dog.   

The facts concerning Everhardt’s relationship with Mad Dog are not in dispute.  The evidence shows that there was no written agreement between Everhardt and Mad Dog and that no agreement was even contemplated.  There is no evidence in the record to support the finding that Mad Dog had any authority over Everhardt or the hiring and firing decisions regarding his working for Select, or any control as to the nature of Everhardt’s job duties at the work site.  Finally, although Mad Dog had leased two other drivers to Select for the Murphy Rigging site, these drivers went through Select’s formal application and hiring process and were in a position different from Everhardt.  There is no evidence that Everhardt would not have had to complete the same application process upon a referral from Mad Dog.  Further, the district court made its findings regarding Mad Dog despite other findings that Everhardt was actually under an implied lease agreement with Select and working at the direction and authority of Select at the time of the accident.  Given the totality of the contacts test discussed above, the facts cited by the district court are insufficient to support a finding that Everhardt was leased to Mad Dog.  Therefore, we reverse the district court’s finding that Mad Dog had authority over Everhardt and its subsequent finding that its insurer, respondent Northland, has any liability under its policy and we remand with instructions to enter summary judgment in favor of Mad Dog and Northland.

Reversed and remanded.



[1] “Auto” is a term of art in the policy and includes trucks.