may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Denise Cooper, et al.,
State Farm Automobile Casualty Insurance Company,
Filed September 9, 1997
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 966685
John M. Steele, 418 Groveland Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55403 (for appellant)
Emilio R. Giuliani, Lori L. Jensen-Lea, LaBore & Giuliani, 10285 Yellow Circle Drive, P.O. Box 70, Hopkins, MN 55343 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Amundson, Presiding Judge, Norton, Judge, and
Appellants Denise Cooper and Bruce Cooper challenge the dismissal of their declaratory judgment action against respondent State Farm Insurance Company for underinsured motorist (UIM) benefits. We affirm.
Denise Cooper was injured in an automobile accident that involved a vehicle owned by Rainbow Tree Company. When the Coopers sought to recover from Rainbow for injuries suffered in the accident, Rainbow and the Coopers agreed to submit their dispute to binding arbitration. In the arbitration proceeding, the Coopers were awarded $620,000.
The arbitration award exceeded Rainbow's automobile insurance policy limits by $120,000, and the Coopers sought UIM benefits from State Farm, their UIM carrier. When State Farm refused to pay UIM benefits, the Coopers brought this declaratory judgment action and moved to have judgment entered against State Farm. The district court denied the motion to enter judgment and dismissed the action.
D E C I S I O N
In determining issues of law, we "may make an independent judgment based on our own interpretation of applicable statues and case law." In re Welfare of M.B.P., 473 N.W.2d 389, 390 (Minn.App.1991), review denied (Minn. Oct. 11, 1991).
The Coopers contend that State Farm was contractually obligated to pay them UIM benefits because their arbitration award exceeded the tortfeasor's policy limits by $120,000. They argue that arbitration awards have the same finality that characterize judgments based on jury verdicts and should be accorded the same treatment. They cite the following language from Employers Mut. Cos. v. Nordstrom, 495 N.W.2d 855, 858-59 (Minn. 1993) in support of their argument.
The tort judgment establishes conclusively the damages to which the claimant is "legally entitled"; if such damages exceed the tort insurance limits, the excess is payable by the underinsurer to the extent of its coverage without the need for arbitration.
The Coopers contend that "arbitration" and "tort judgment" are interchangeable and merely represent different conflict resolution processes that both result in judgments that trigger payment of UIM benefits when damages exceed the tortfeasor's insurance policy limits. But the Coopers' argument ignores the statutory requirement that an arbitration award must be confirmed by the court before judgment can be entered in conformity with the award.
Minn. Stat. § 572.18 (1996) provides:
Upon application of a party, the court shall confirm an award, unless within the time limits hereinafter imposed grounds are urged for vacating or modifying or correcting the award, in which case the court shall proceed as provided in sections 572.19 and 572.20.
Minn. Stat. § 572.21 (1996) provides:
Upon the granting of an order confirming, modifying or correcting an [arbitration] award, judgment or decree shall be entered in conformity therewith and be enforced as any other judgment or decree.
Under the plain language of Minn. Stat. §§ 572.18, 572.21 an arbitration award is not the equivalent of a tort judgment. An arbitration award cannot be entered as a judgment unless it is confirmed by the court.
The Coopers claim that their application for confirmation was not challenged on any of the grounds provided in sections 572.19 or 572.20, and, therefore, their arbitration award should be treated as if confirmation had occurred and judgment should have been entered under Minn. Stat. § 572.21. But the record does not support this claim. The Coopers' counsel stated at oral argument that an application for confirmation was filed, but our review of the record revealed no application. Because the Coopers did not obtain an order confirming the arbitration award, the district court did not err in denying their motion to enter judgment against State Farm and dismissing their declaratory judgment action.