United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
C. DEVER III Chief United States District Judge
12, 2017, Jane Carter ("Carter" or
"plaintiff') sued Fidelity Life Association
("Fidelity" or "defendant") for breach of
contract in Wayne County Superior Court [D.E. 1-1]. On August
11, 2017, Fidelity removed the action to this court [D.E. 1
]. On December 1, 2017, Fidelity moved for judgment on the
pleadings [D.E. 13]. On January 22, 2018, Carter responded in
opposition [D.E. 15]. On February 5, 2018, Fidelity replied
[D.E. 16]. As explained below, the court grants
Fidelity's motion for judgment on the pleadings.
issued two life insurance policies to William Kearney (the
"insured"). See Compl. [D.E. 1-1] ¶
4; Answer [D.E. 9] ¶ 4. Carter is the record
beneficiary. See [D.E. 9-1] 9, 18. The policies
cover accidental deaths and provide that "[u]pon receipt
of due proof of the Accidental Death of the Insured while
coverage on such Insured is in force, Fidelity Life
Association will pay the Death Benefit of this policy if the
Insured dies solely as a result of injuries."
Id. at 2, 11; see Compl. ¶ 5. The
policies, however, include numerous exceptions to coverage
including a "blood alcohol exclusion" that applies
when the insured dies while "operating a motor vehicle
and is determined to have a blood alcohol level exceeding the
legal limit as defined by state law." [D.E. 9-1] 8, 17.
11, 2016, the insured was operating an all-terrain vehicle
("ATV") on a public road in Pikeville, North
Carolina. See [D.E. 9-2] 6. The insured crashed the
ATV vehicle and died from blunt head trauma. See
Id. at 6, 9. Thereafter, Carter submitted claims
under the life insurance policies. See [D.E. 1-1]
¶ 9. Fidelity denied the claims and invoked the
"blood alcohol exclusion" to the policies because
the insured's blood alcohol level was 0.21 when he
crashed the ATV. See id; [D.E. 13] 3 n.2.
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) permits a party to move for
judgment on the pleadings "[a]fter the pleadings are
closed-but early enough not to delay trial."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). A motion for judgment on the pleadings
should be granted if "the moving party has clearly
established that no material issue of fact remains to be
resolved and the party is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law." Park Univ. Enters, v. Am. Cas. Co. of
Reading, 442 F.3d 1239, 1244 (10th Cir. 2006) (quotation
omitted), abrogated on other grounds by
Magnus, Inc. v. Diamond State Ins. Co., 545
Fed.Appx. 750 (10th Cir. 2013) (unpublished); see
Mavfield v. Nat'l Ass'n for Stock Car Auto
Racing, Inc., 674 F.3d 369, 375 (4th Cir. 2012);
Burbach Broad. Co. of Del, v. Elkins Radio Corp.,
278 F.3d 401, 405-06 (4th Cir. 2002). The court may consider
the pleadings and any materials referenced in or attached to
the pleadings, which are incorporated by reference. See
Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c); Favetteville Inv'rs v. Commercial
Builders. Inc., 936 F.2d 1462, 1465 (4th Cir. 1991). A
court also may consider "matters of which a court may
take judicial notice." Tellabs. Inc. v. Makor Issues
& Rights. Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007).
same standard of review applies under Rule 12(b)(6) and Rule
12(c). See, e.g.. Burbach Broad. Co. of
Del., 278 F.3d at 405-06. When a court reviews a motion
for judgment on the pleadings, it must construe the facts and
reasonable inferences "in the light most favorable to
the [nonmoving party]." Massev v. Ojaniit, 759
F.3d 343, 347, 352-53 (4th Cir. 2014) (quotation omitted);
see Clatterbuck v. City of Charlottesville.
708 F.3d 549, 557 (4th Cir. 2013), abrogated on
other grounds by Reed v. Town of Gilbert,
135 S.Ct. 2218 (2015); Burbach Broad. Co. of Del.,
278 F.3d at 406. Nevertheless, when analyzing a motion for
judgment on the pleadings, a court must determine whether a
pleading is legally and factually sufficient. See
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-80, 684 (2009);
Bell AH. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 554-70
(2007); Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302
(4th Cir. 2008). Thus, a pleading "must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim
to relief that is plausible on its face."
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quotation omitted);
see Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570;
Giarratano, 521 F.3d at 302. Moreover, a court need
not accept a pleading's legal conclusions drawn from the
facts. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79;
Giarratano, 521 F.3d at 302. Similarly, a court
"need not accept as true unwarranted inferences,
unreasonable conclusions, or arguments."
Giarratano, 521 F.3d at 302 (quotation omitted).
court has subject-matter jurisdiction based on diversity.
Thus, the court applies state substantive law and federal
procedural rules. See Erie R.R. v.
Tompkins. 304 U.S. 64, 78-80 (1938); Dixon v.
Edwards. 290 F.3d 699, 710 (4th Cir. 2002).
Fidelity's motion for judgment on the pleadings requires
the court to consider the parties' state-law claims and
defenses, and the parties agree that North Carolina law
applies. Accordingly, the court applies North Carolina law,
and the court must determine how the Supreme Court of North
Carolina would rule. See, e.g.. Twin City Fire
Ins. Co. v. Ben Arnold-Sunbelt Beverage Co. of S.C.. 433
F.3d 365. 369 C4th Cir. 2005V "If the Supreme Court of
[North Carolina] has spoken neither directly nor indirectly
on the particular issue before us, [this court is] called
upon to predict how that court would rule if presented with
the issue." Id. (quotation
omitted). In making that prediction, the court may
consider opinions of the North Carolina Court of Appeals,
treatises, and the practices of other states. See
North Carolina law, interpreting a written insurance contract
is a question of law for the court. See Briges v. Am.
& Efird Mills. Inc., 251 N.C. 642, 644, 111 S.E.2d
841, 843 (1960); N.C. Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co. v.
Mizell, 138 N.C.App. 530, 532, 530 S.E.2d 93, 95 (2000).
"Where a policy defines a term, that definition is to be
used. If no definition is given, non-technical words are to
be given their meaning in ordinary speech, unless the context
clearly indicates another meaning was intended."
Gaston Cty. Dyeing Mach. Co. v. Northfield Ins. Co.,
351 N.C. 293, 299-30, 524 S, E.2d 558, 563 (2000) (quotation
omitted): see Plum Props.. LLC v. N.C. Farm Bureau Mut.
Ins. Co., 802 S.E.2d 173, 175 ( N.C. App. 2017);
Mizell, 138 N.C.App. at 532-33, 530 S.E.2d at 95. A
court may engage in judicial construction where the language
used in the policy is ambiguous. See
Mizell, 138 N.C.App. at 532, 530 S.E.2d at 95.
Courts construe ambiguities against the insurer and in favor
of the insured. See Id. Language is not
ambiguous, however, "simply because the parties contend
for differing meanings to be given to the language."
Id., 530 S.E.2d at 95.
seeks a judgment on the pleadings that it is not liable to
pay Carter benefits under the life insurance policies. In
support, Fidelity cites the "blood alcohol
exclusion" in the policies. It provides "[n]o
Accidental Death Benefit... will be payable if the
Insured's death results directly or indirectly from...
[d]eath while the Insured is operating a motor vehicle and is
determined to have a blood alcohol level exceeding the legal
limit as defined by state law." [D.E. 9-1] 8, 17. The
parties do not dispute that the North Carolina legal blood
alcohol limit is .08, or that the insured's blood alcohol
level was 0.21 when he crashed his ATV. See N.C. Gen. Stat.
§ 20-138.1; [D.E. 13] 3 n.2. The parties dispute,
however, whether an ATV is a "motor vehicle" under
policy does not define "motor vehicle." Thus, the
court must apply the ordinary, nontechnical meaning of
"motor vehicle." The term "motor vehicle"
has an ordinary, non-technical meaning that encompasses the
ATV. The dictionary defines "motor vehicle" as
"an automotive vehicle not operated on rails;
especially: one with rubber tires for use on
highways." Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Motor Vehicle,
motor vehicle (last visited Apr. 30, 2018);
see also Vehicle, Black's Law
Dictionary (10th ed. 2014) (defining "vehicle" as
"[a]n instrument of transportation or conveyance").
Similarly, North Carolina's Motor Vehicle Act defines
"motor vehicle" as "[e]very vehicle which is
self-propelled and every vehicle designed to run upon the
highways which is pulled by a self-propelled vehicle."
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-4.01(23). The Motor Vehicle Act
further defines "vehicle" as
[e]very device in, upon, or by which any person or property
is or may be transported or drawn upon a highway, excepting
devices moved by human power or used exclusively upon fixed
rails or tracks; provided, that for the purposes of this
Chapter bicycles and electric assisted bicycles shall be
deemed vehicles and every rider of a bicycle or an electric
assisted bicycle upon a highway shall be subject to the
provisions of this Chapter....
Id. § 20-4.01(49). The definition contains two
exceptions: (1) "a device which is designed for and
intended to be used as a means of transportation for a person
with a mobility impairment, " and (2) "an electric
personal assistive mobility device." Id. As
evidenced by the exceptions, the Motor Vehicle ...