NEWSTROM et al.
AUTO-OWNERS INSURANCE COMPANY.
MCFADDEN, P. J., BRANCH and BETHEL, JJ.
McFadden, Presiding Judge.
appeal from summary judgment rulings in a declaratory
judgment action presents a choice-of-law question - does
Georgia or California law determine whether Jenna Newstrom,
Cheryl Newstrom, and David Newstrom can pursue an
uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM) claim against Owners
Insurance Company("Owners") under a policy issued
and delivered in Georgia for an accident that occurred in
California and involved a car garaged and principally used in
California. Because this is a procedural matter rather than a
substantive matter, Georgia law applies, and under Georgia
law the Newstroms may not pursue their claim. So we affirm
the trial court's grant of summary judgment to Owners and
his denial of summary judgment to the Newstroms.
Facts and procedural posture.
appeal from the denial or grant of summary judgment, the
appellate court must conduct a de novo review of the evidence
to determine whether there exists a genuine issue of material
fact, and whether the undisputed facts, viewed in the light
most favorable to the nonmoving party, warrant judgment as a
matter of law." Landrum v. Infiniti Safeguard Ins.
Co., 318 Ga.App. 701 (734 S.E.2d 520) (2012) (citation
and punctuation omitted).
viewed, the facts show that on September 27, 2013,
22-year-old Jenna Newstrom was injured in a car accident in
California. At the time she was a California resident, but
the car she was driving was registered in Georgia where her
parents, Cheryl and David Newstrom, lived. That car was
insured under the parents' policy with Owners ("the
policy"), which was issued in Georgia and included UM
coverage providing that Owners would "pay compensatory
damages . . . any person is legally entitled to recover from
the owner or operator of an uninsured automobile because of
bodily injury sustained by an injured person while occupying
an automobile which is covered by . . . the policy." The
policy declarations page in effect at the time of the
accident indicated that the car's "territory"
was Hall County, Georgia and that it was "driven to work
or school more than 3 miles but less than 15 miles by a 51
year old driver, " apparently referring to Cheryl
Newstrom. However, the car was purchased in California and
used exclusively by Jenna Newstrom in California. (The
Newstroms argue that the insurance agent who sold them the
policy knew that the car was used by Jenna Newstrom in
California. This fact is not material to our disposition of
the accident, Jenna Newstrom settled her claims against the
other driver for his insurance policy limits and signed a
general release of her claims against him arising from the
accident. She then made a claim for UM benefits from Owners
and sent Owners a letter demanding binding underinsured
motorist arbitration under California law. See Cal. Ins. Code
§ 11580.2 (f). Owners declined to participate in the
Newstroms then brought this declaratory judgment action in
Georgia, seeking declarations that Owners must provide UM
coverage under the policy for their claims and that Owners
has a duty to participate in the California arbitration
procedure. Owners counterclaimed, seeking declarations that
Jenna Newstrom fully released her claims against the other
driver and that, consequently, none of the Newstroms are
entitled to recovery under the UM policy. Both sides moved
for summary judgment, and the trial court granted summary
judgment to Owners and denied summary judgment to the
Choice of law.
Newstroms argue that the outcome of this case depends on
whether we apply Georgia or California law, because the two
states have different rules regarding the effect of a general
release to a tortfeasor on a claimant's ability to pursue
UM benefits, and because California requires arbitration of
disputes about UM coverage. In Allstate Ins. Co. v.
Duncan, 218 Ga.App. 552 (462 S.E.2d 638) (1995), we
addressed a choice-of-law issue in the context of an
insurance policy that included UM coverage:
When a choice-of-law question arises in a contract action
brought in Georgia, substantive matters such as the validity
and construction of the contract are governed by the
substantive law of the state where the contract was made (or
is to be performed, if that is a different state); but
procedural and remedial matters are governed by the law of
Georgia, the forum state.
Id. at 552 (1) (citation omitted). We held that the
question in Allstate Ins. Co. - "what a party
injured by an unknown driver must do to recover from his own
uninsured motorist carrier" - was "a procedural and
remedial matter, and thus [was] governed by Georgia
law." Id. at 552-553 (1) (citation omitted).
this analysis, we conclude that Georgia law governs this
case. The parties are not disputing the nature, construction,
or interpretation of the policy. Instead, they are disputing
(1) the effect of a general release on the Newstroms'
ability to recover UM benefits and (2) the method of
resolving that dispute. These questions concern what the
Newstroms must do to recover from their own UM carrier,
Owners. So, as in Allstate Ins. Co., this case
involves procedural and remedial matters governed by Georgia
law, the law of the forum in which the Newstroms brought this
action. Allstate Ins. Co., supra at 552-553 (1).
support of their argument that we should apply California
law, the Newstroms cite Amica Mut. Ins. Co. v.
Bourgault, 263 Ga. 157 (429 S.E.2d 908) (1993), and
St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Hughes, 321
Ga.App. 738 (742 S.E.2d 762) (2013). These decisions are
inapposite, because they concern substantive rather than
procedural issues. The question in Amica Mut. Ins.
Co. was the validity of an exclusion in a UM policy, 263
Ga. at 157, and ...