may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Larry Alexander, d/b/a ANCO, Inc.,
St. Croix Valley Insurance Services, Inc.,
Commercial Associates of Minnesota, et al.,
United Fire & Casualty Company,
Filed August 12, 1997
Ramsey County District Court
File No. CX938618
Larry Alexander, 175 North Lexington Parkway, St. Paul, MN 55104 (Appellant Pro Se)
David Johnson, 10860 Ironwood Drive, Chisago City, MN 55013 (Appellant Pro Se)
Tony R. Krall, David M. Hudson, Hanson, Lulic & Krall, 920 Second Avenue South, Suite 500, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for Respondent, United Fire & Casualty Company)
James O. Redman, Bradley J. Betlach, Bassford, Lockhart, Truesdell & Briggs, P.A., 3550 Multifoods Tower, 333 South 6th Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for Respondents, St. Croix Valley Insurance Services, Inc. and Commercial Associates of Minnesota, et al.)
Considered and decided by Lansing, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and Harten, Judge.
An insured and an alleged loss payee appeal the dismissal of their claims following the denial of insurance coverage on the loss of a truck. Because the evidence supports the district court's findings and because the district court did not err in its application of the law, we affirm.
Alexander filed suit against Johnson, the agencies, and United; and Johnson filed cross claims against the agencies and United. Each alleged breach of contract, negligence, and conspiracy. The district court has issued a number of orders in conjunction with this protracted litigation. The two orders relevant to this appeal are the November 27, 1995 order dismissing Johnson's claims for negligence and conspiracy and awarding the agencies costs and disbursements; and the October 11, 1996 order dismissing Johnson's cross-claim for breach of the insurance contract and dismissing Alexander from the suit.
Alexander offers two arguments on appeal against his dismissal: (1) he maintains that the listing of ANCO, Inc., rather than his name individually, was a mistake and that, applying Wisconsin law, the loss payee designation must be reformed and cannot be the basis for an insurer's defense; and (2) he argues that United's concession was a stipulation and became the law of the case.
The parties dispute whether Minnesota or Wisconsin law governs the case, but we need not decide that issue because we find no conflict in the substantive law. See Davis v. Furlong, 328 N.W.2d 150, 152-53 (Minn. 1983) (choice-of-law analysis appropriate where conflict in substantive law exists). Because Alexander made a misrepresentation when he requested that ANCO, Inc. be named the loss payee, there was no mutual mistake, and he is not entitled to reformation under Wisconsin or Minnesota law. See Wis. Stat. Ann. § 631.08(2) (West 1995) ("[m]istake in designating the person to whom the insurance is payable in a policy of property insurance does not void the policy nor constitute a defense for the insurer unless the mistake was due to misrepresentation or concealment by the owner of the property" (emphasis added)); Center St. Fuel Co. v. Hanover Fire Ins. Co., 272 Wis. 370, 75 N.W.2d 462, 464 (1956) (reformation of insurance contract more easily achieved than other contracts, but party seeking reformation still has duty to establish policy did not contain provisions then desired by him, that such provisions resulted from mutual mistake, and that both parties intended different agreement); Nichols v. Shelard Nat'l Bank, 294 N.W.2d 730, 734 (Minn. 1980) (contract may be reformed if written instrument failed to express real intentions of parties and failure was due to mutual mistake). The listing of ANCO, Inc. on the certificate of insurance was not a mistake entitling Alexander to reformation under Wisconsin or Minnesota law, and the district court did not err in rejecting Alexander's argument.
During the course of this litigation, United made in-court and written statements conceding that Alexander was the loss payee under the insurance contract. When confronted with United's motion to dismiss Alexander from the suit, the district court initially ruled that United's concessions had become the "law of the case" and rejected the motion. But upon reconsideration the court reversed its law-of-the-case ruling and granted the dismissal. Alexander asserts on appeal that the reversal was unwarranted because the concessions should be binding on the insurer. We disagree.
The law-of-the-case doctrine finds its purpose in judicial economy and requires the court to avoid revisiting issues that have already been fully litigated. Lange v. Nelson-Ryan Flight Serv., Inc., 263 Minn. 152, 156, 116 N.W.2d 266, 269 (1962), cert. denied, 371 U.S. 953, 83 S. Ct. 508 (1963). The doctrine "applies when the appellate court has ruled on a legal issue and remanded for further proceedings on other matters." Sigurdson v. Isanti County, 448 N.W.2d 62, 66 (Minn. 1989). The issue decided on appeal becomes the "'law of the case' and may not be relitigated in the trial court or reexamined in a second appeal." Id. Normally the doctrine is not applied by a district court to its own decisions. Kornberg v. Kornberg, 542 N.W.2d 379, 386 n.2 (Minn. 1996).
Whether Alexander individually was the intended loss payee under the insurance contract was not at issue when the insurance company made its concession or when the district court referred to Alexander as the loss payee. Therefore, the issue was not "fully litigated," and the law-of-the-case doctrine is not applicable.
Alexander has failed to show that the district court erred in dismissing him from the suit. He is not entitled to reformation under Wisconsin or Minnesota law, and the law-of-the-case doctrine does not serve to bind United to its earlier concessions that Alexander was a party in interest. Because we affirm Alexander's dismissal from the case, we need not address the other issues he has raised on appeal.
United denied Johnson's claim to collect on the allegedly stolen truck because of material misrepresentations. The district court found that Johnson had provided a false business address; he had misrepresented the extent of his relationship to Alexander; and he had made false statements under oath about the events surrounding the alleged theft of the truck. The evidence supports those findings.
The policy states that it is void if the insured "at any time, intentionally conceal[s] or misrepresent[s] a material fact concerning * * * a claim * * * ." Under insurance provisions voiding a policy for misrepresentation or fraud, willful or intentional misstatements calculated to deceive the insurer operate to void the policy. Bahr v. Union Fire Ins. Co., 167 Minn. 479, 482, 209 N.W. 490, 491 (1926). Whether a misrepresentation is willful or intentional is normally a question of fact. Hodge v. Franklin Ins. Co., 111 Minn. 321, 324, 126 N.W. 1098, 1099 (1910). But when material facts are undisputed, the district court may enter summary judgment if, as a matter of law, those facts compel one conclusion. Sauter v. Sauter, 244 Minn. 482, 486, 70 N.W.2d 351, 354 (1955).
The evidence is undisputed that Johnson lied about the circumstances surrounding the loss of the vehicle. Those circumstances are material because they directly relate to the claim filed. Because the evidence compels a finding that Johnson made material misrepresentations after the loss, the district court did not err by ruling, as a matter of law, that the contract was void. See, e.g., Woods v. Independent Fire Ins. Co., 749 F.2d 1493, 1496 (11th Cir. 1985) (contract void when insured admits to misrepresentation after loss; materiality of misrepresentation determined as matter of law by court).
Johnson's negligence claim against the agencies was dismissed because United ultimately admitted that Johnson had applied for comprehensive coverage. That admission eliminated any claim that the agencies had been negligent in forwarding documentation of the appropriate coverage to United and eliminated any potential harm Johnson could have suffered from such alleged negligence. Therefore, the district court did not err in dismissing his negligence claim.
Likewise, the court did not err in dismissing Johnson's claim alleging conspiracy. "Conspiracy involves persons combining in order to achieve an unlawful objective or to use unlawful means to achieve a lawful objective. * * * Persons combining to achieve goals which they have a legal right to seek, even if they are maliciously motivated, do not conspire." Senart v. Mobay Chem. Corp., 597 F. Supp. 502, 504-05 (D. Minn. 1984) (citing Harding v. Ohio Cas. Ins. Co., 41 N.W.2d 818, 824-25 (Minn. 1950)). Johnson has failed to show that United and the agencies had an illegal objective. Nor has he demonstrated that the "means" used to assist United in achieving its objective were in any way unlawful. Because United had a legal right to deny Johnson's claims, any lawful assistance provided by the agencies to United in exercising that right could not be conspiracy.
Johnson and Alexander assert that United should be responsible for the agencies' costs. But the agencies did not incur expenses because of a suit brought by United; rather, they were sued by Johnson and Alexander. Pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 549.094 (1996) a prevailing party is entitled to its costs and disbursements. Alexander and Johnson have not challenged the reasonableness or necessity of the award. See Jonsson v. Ames Const. Inc., 409 N.W.2d 560, 563 (Minn. App. 1987) ("[A]bsent a specific finding that the costs were unreasonable, the court shall approve recovery of disbursements."), review denied (Minn. Sept. 30, 1987). The district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding costs and disbursements to the agencies.
The parties have submitted cross-motions to strike a number of materials included in one another's appendices. Because the issues in this case could be fully resolved without consideration of those materials, we decline to reach the merits of those motions.
[ ]1In this context Alexander also argues that it would be illegal for United knowingly to enter into an insurance agreement with a non-existing entity. Wis. Stat. Ann. § 631.07(1) (West 1995) ("No insurer may knowingly issue a policy of insurance to a person without an insurable interest in the subject of the insurance."). But there is no evidence that United knew ANCO, Inc. did not exist at the time it issued the policy. Indeed, the problem resulted from Alexander's own misrepresentation.