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North Carolina Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co., Inc. v. Martin

Court of Appeals of North Carolina

September 3, 2019

NORTH CAROLINA FARM BUREAU MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
MARINA MARTIN, by and through her natural parent and guardian JEAN O. MARTIN, JEAN O. MARTIN, Individually, and DAVID M. MARTIN, Defendants.

          Heard in the Court of Appeals 20 September 2018.

          Appeal by defendants from order entered 28 September 2017 by Judge J. Carlton Cole in Currituck County No. 16CVS151 Superior Court.

          Young Moore & Henderson, P.A., by Glenn C. Raynor, for plaintiff-appellee.

          Breit Drescher Imprevento, P.C., by Jeffrey A. Breit, for defendants-appellants.

          BERGER, JUDGE.

         Marina Martin ("Marina") by and through her parents, Jean ("Jean") and David Martin ("David"), (collectively, "the Martins"), and Jean, individually appeal the trial court's grant of summary judgment for North Carolina Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company, Inc. ("Farm Bureau"). We affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         On January 6, 2014, Jean operated a 1994 Ford vehicle in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Marina was a passenger in the vehicle. This vehicle was owned by David and Jean with a separate and independent policy of insurance issued in their names. Jean attempted to cross a four-way intersection when another vehicle driven by Santiago T. Livara, Jr., ("Livara") struck the 1994 Ford driven by Jean. Jean and Marina were both injured in the accident. Jean and Marina subsequently sued Livara in Virginia, alleging negligence.

         Both Jean and Marina asserted that they were covered under the uninsured/underinsured motorist ("UM/UIM") provisions of a separate automobile insurance policy issued by Farm Bureau solely to Mary Martin ("Mary"). Mary is Jean's mother-in-law and Marina's paternal grandmother. Mary's policy was in effect on the date of the accident and provided medical coverage and UM/UIM coverage. The policy issued to Mary named only Mary as an owner-insured, and did not identify the 1994 Ford as a covered vehicle.

         The Farm Bureau policy issued to Mary provides, in relevant part:

PART B-MEDICAL PAYMENTS COVERAGE
INSURING AGREEMENT
We will pay reasonable expenses incurred for necessary medical and funeral services because of bodily injury:
1. Caused by accident; and
2. Sustained by an Insured . . . .
"Insured" as used in this Part means:
1. You or any family member;
a. while occupying; or
b. as a pedestrian when struck by;
a motor vehicle designed for use mainly on public roads or a trailer of any type.

Under Mary's policy, an "Insured", and consequently coverage, is limited to "You [Mary] or any family member, which is defined as "a person related to you by blood, marriage or adoption who is a resident of your household." The policy does not define either of the terms "resident" or "household."

         On the date of the accident, Mary was the sole owner of a farm located on Knotts Island, North Carolina ("Martin Farm"). Mary lived alone on Martin Farm Lane, and her mailing address was registered to a Post Office Box in Knotts Island, North Carolina. The Martins lived in a separate and detached house located on the Martin Farm with an address on Bay Orchard Lane. Their mailing address was registered to a different Post Office Box in Knotts Island, North Carolina. The houses share a single driveway, but are both stand-alone houses and located approximately a three to five minute walk from one another. No evidence in the record tends to show either Marina or Jean ever lived with Mary in her residence on Martin Farm Lane.

         Mary and the Martins saw each other almost every day and considered themselves to be a cohesive family unit. The Martins had keys to Mary's house with unlimited access, and Mary had the same access to the Martin's home. Barring unforeseen circumstances or occasional overnight stays, the Martins and Mary lived separately in their respective houses.

         Farm Bureau brought a declaratory judgment action alleging that Jean and Marina did not qualify as "insured[s]" as defined in the policy because they were not "residents" of Mary's "household" at the time of the accident. Farm Bureau and the Martins filed cross-motions from summary judgment and the trial court heard their motions on August 21, 2017. The Martins contended that Marina and Jean are entitled to coverage under Mary's policy because they are her "family member[s]," as defined therein. On September 28, 2017, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Farm Bureau and denied the Martins' motion for summary judgment.

         The Martins timely appealed, arguing that the trial court erred by entering summary judgment in favor of Farm Bureau and concluding that Marina and Jean were not covered under Mary's policy. We affirm.

         Standard of Review

"Although this is an action for declaratory judgment, because it was decided by summary judgment, we apply the standard of review applicable to summary judgment." Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co. v. Paschal, 231 N.C.App. 558, 563, 752 S.E.2d 775, 779 (2014).
Summary judgment is appropriate where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and any party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court may consider the pleadings, depositions, admissions, affidavits, answers to interrogatories, oral testimony and documentary materials. All such evidence must be considered in a light most ...

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