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Stanley v. Government Employees Insurance Co.

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fourth Division

January 25, 2018

STANLEY
v.
GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES INSURANCE COMPANY.

          DILLARD, C. J., RAY and SELF, JJ.

          Dillard, Chief Judge.

         In this civil action, Jason Stanley sued Alissa Young, alleging that while driving a vehicle owned by his employer, he suffered injuries in a head-on collision with a vehicle driven by Young. In addition, Stanley sought uninsured-motorist ("UM") coverage from his fiancé's parents' automobile insurance carrier, Government Employees Insurance Company ("GEICO"). GEICO filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Stanley was not an insured under the policy and, thus, was not entitled to UM coverage. The trial court granted GEICO's motion, and Stanley now appeals, arguing that the court erred in ruling that he was not an insured under the policy and in failing to rule on his motion to set aside its judgment based on previously unconsidered evidence. For the reasons set forth infra, we affirm.

         Viewed in the light most favorable to Stanley (i.e., the nonmoving party), [1] the record shows that on January 20, 2015, GEICO issued an automobile insurance policy to Allen and Rosa McMillan, who are the parents of Stanley's fiancé, Robmeka Scott. The policy's declaration page listed the McMillans as the "Named Insureds" and Stanley as an "Additional Driver." And at that time, the McMillans, Stanley, and Scott resided in the same home.

         On May 28, 2015, Stanley was driving a vehicle owned by his employer, when he was involved in a head-on collision with a vehicle driven by Young. As a result of the accident, Stanley suffered serious injuries. Later, Stanley submitted a claim to Young's insurer, State Farm, but State Farm denied his claim, informing him that Young's policy had lapsed at the time of the accident. Consequently, Stanley submitted a UM claim to GEICO under the McMillans' policy, but GEICO also denied coverage.

         On April 25, 2016, Stanley filed a lawsuit against Young, alleging that the collision was a result of her negligence and seeking damages for his injuries. Stanley also served GEICO with a summons and copy of the complaint. GEICO filed an answer and cross claim against Young. Thereafter, GEICO filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Stanley was not an insured under the policy and, thus, was not entitled to UM coverage under the policy's terms. Stanley filed a response, but on February 27, 2017, the trial court issued an order granting summary judgment in favor of GEICO.

         Subsequently, at Stanley's request, the trial court granted a 30-day extension of time in which to file his notice of appeal. Then, on March 30, 2017, Stanley filed a motion to set aside the trial court's grant of summary judgment, arguing that Robmeka Scott was actually his common-law wife, rather than his fiancé, and therefore, he was covered by her parents' policy as a relative of the named insureds. GEICO filed a response, but before the trial court ruled on the motion, Stanley filed his notice of appeal of the summary-judgment order.

         Summary judgment is proper if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law."[2] If summary judgment is granted, it enjoys no presumption of correctness on appeal, and it is our responsibility to determine if the requirements of OCGA § 9-11-56 (c) have been satisfied.[3] In conducting this de novo review, we are charged with "viewing the evidence, and all reasonable conclusions and inferences drawn from the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant."[4] Bearing these guiding principles in mind, we turn now to Stanley's specific claims of error.

         1. Stanley contends that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to GEICO, arguing that he was insured under the terms of the McMillans' GEICO policy and, thus, was entitled to UM coverage. We disagree.

         It is well established in Georgia that insurance contracts are "governed by the rules of construction applicable to other contracts, and words in the policy must be given their usual and common signification and customary meaning."[5] It is similarly well established that the hallmark of contract construction is to "ascertain the intention of the parties, as set out in the language of the contract."[6] And when the language of an insurance policy defining the extent of an insurer's liability is "unambiguous and capable of but one reasonable construction, the courts must expound the contract as made by the parties."[7] Importantly, the proper construction of a contract, and whether the contract is ambiguous, are "questions of law for the court to decide."[8]

         In this matter, the Declaration Page of the GEICO policy at issue lists the McMillans as the Named Insureds and lists Stanley as an Additional Driver. Under the provision titled "Section I - Liability Coverages, " the policy defines "Insured" to mean "a person or organization described under 'persons insured.'" And it defines "You and your" to mean "the policyholder named in the declarations or his or her spouse if a resident of the same household." But under the Georgia Amendment to the policy, the definition of "You and your" is modified slightly and provides: "You and your means the named insured shown in the declarations or his or her spouse if a resident of the same household." Under the heading titled "Persons Insured, " the policy provides as follows:

Who Is Covered
Section I applies to the following with regard to a non ...

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