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Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance v. Michael John Eisenman

September 19, 2012


Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Michael R. McLaughlin, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Horton, Justice.

2012 Opinion No. 127

Stephen Kenyon, Clerk

The decision of the district court is reversed and the case is remanded for entry of a judgment in favor of Farm Bureau.

This appeal arises from a declaratory judgment action brought by Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company of Idaho (Farm Bureau). Farm Bureau commenced the action in response to a claim for insurance benefits filed by the personal representatives of the estate of a deceased policyholder (the Estate). Farm Bureau requested a judgment declaring that the Estate is not an "insured" under the decedent's insurance policy (the Policy) and is therefore not entitled to payment of wrongful death damages under the Policy's underinsured motorist coverage. The district court granted the Estate's motion for summary judgment, determining that Idaho's wrongful death statute, I.C. § 5-311, entitles the insured's Estate to recover damages for wrongful death and that the Policy provided coverage for those damages. Farm Bureau timely appealed. We reverse.


Farm Bureau sold Patricia Eisenman an insurance policy that provided coverage up to $500,000 for damages caused by an underinsured motorist. While crossing a Boise street on November 30, 2007, Eisenman was struck and killed by a car driven by a drunk driver. The driver's insurance carrier paid the Estate $50,000, which was the limit of the policy's liability coverage. Because the liability limit of the driver's policy was less than Eisenman's underinsured motorist coverage limit, the driver is an underinsured motorist within the definition in Eisenman's policy.

Eisenman is survived by four adult children: Michael Eisenman, Kathryn Marie, Rebecca McGavin, and Peter Eisenman (the Heirs). None of the Heirs were named as insureds on the Policy nor did any of the Heirs live with Eisenman at the time of her death. Michael Eisenman and Kathryn Marie were appointed to serve as personal representatives of the Estate. On April 28, 2010, the Estate submitted a proof of loss to Farm Bureau. Pursuant to the underinsured motorist provision, the Estate claimed medical and funeral expenses and sought payment of damages for wrongful death under I.C. § 5-311. Eisenman's policy provided accidental death coverage, and Farm Bureau paid that benefit to the Estate as well as $22,941.40 for the "special damages" listed in the proof of loss. However, Farm Bureau denied the claim for wrongful death damages.

Farm Bureau first filed an action for declaratory relief on May 26, 2010. Farm Bureau later amended the complaint and asked for a declaration that the Heirs and the Estate "are not insureds under [the Policy] and that they cannot recover underinsured motorist payments under the underinsured motorist coverage . . . ." The Estate and Heirs counterclaimed against Farm Bureau for breach of contract. The parties filed motions for summary judgment on the issue of whether the Estate or the Heirs are entitled to payment of wrongful death damages under the Policy's underinsured motorist coverage provisions. The district court denied Farm Bureau's motion and granted summary judgment in favor of the Estate and Heirs. Farm Bureau timely appealed and asks this Court to vacate the district court's judgment and enter judgment in its favor.


This Court reviews appeals from an order of summary judgment de novo and uses the same standard the trial court uses in ruling on a motion for summary judgment. Curlee v. Kootenai Cnty. Fire & Rescue, 148 Idaho 391, 394, 224 P.3d 458, 461 (2008) (citing Lockheed Martin Corp. v. Idaho State Tax Comm'n, 142 Idaho 790, 793, 134 P.3d 641, 644 (2006)). Under that standard, summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, depositions, 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." I.R.C.P. 56(c).

Additionally, we construe disputed facts in favor of the non-moving party, and draw all reasonable inferences from the record in favor of the non-moving party. Curlee, 148 Idaho at 394, 224 P.3d at 461. Where "the evidence reveals no disputed issues of material fact, then only a question of law remains, over which this Court exercises free review." Lockheed, 142 Idaho at 793, 134 P.3d at 644.

This Court exercises free review over questions of statutory interpretation and application. Flying Elk Inv., LLC v. Cornwall, 149 Idaho 9, 15, 232 P.3d 330, 336 (2010) (citations omitted). On review, "[a]n unambiguous statute must be given its plain, usual, and ordinary meaning. Statutory provisions should not be read in isolation but instead are interpreted in the context of the entire document." Id. "A statute is ambiguous where the language is capable of more than one reasonable construction." Hayden Lake Fire Prot. Dist. v. Alcorn, 141 Idaho 388, 398, 111 P.3d 73, 83 (2005) (quotation omitted), rev'd on other grounds by Farber v. Idaho State Ins. Fund, 152 Idaho 495, 272 P.3d 467 (2012). However, statutory language is not ambiguous "merely because the parties present differing interpretations to the court." State v. Doe, 140 Idaho 271, 274, 92 P.3d 521, 524 (2004) (citing Matter of Permit No. 36-7200, 121 Idaho 819, 823, 828 P.2d 848, 852 (1992)).

In interpreting an insurance policy, "where the policy language is clear and unambiguous, coverage must be determined, as a matter of law, according to the plain meaning of the words used." Cascade Auto Glass, Inc. v. Idaho Farm Bureau Ins. Co., 141 Idaho 660, 662, 115 P.3d 751, 753 (2005) (quoting Clark v. Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 138 Idaho 538, 541, 66 P.3d 242, 245 (2003)). A policy is ambiguous if it "is reasonably subject to conflicting interpretations." Cherry v. Coregis, 146 Idaho 882, 884, 204 P.3d 522, 524 (2009) (citing Farmers Ins. Co. of Idaho v. Talbot, 133 Idaho 428, 432, 987 P.2d 1043, 1047 (1999)). We exercise free review in determining whether ...

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