United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division
L. Christensen, Chief District Judge
the Court is Defendant Mountain West Farm Bureau Mutual
Insurance Company's ("Mountain West") motion
for summary judgment, Plaintiff William Durbin and Carol
Durbin's ("Plaintiffs") cross motion for
summary judgment, and Plaintiffs' motion to certify motor
vehicle liability insurance stacking questions to the Montana
Supreme Court. For the reasons explained below, the Court
grants Mountain West's motion for summary judgment and
denies Plaintiffs' motions.
and Procedural History
10, 2014, Plaintiffs sustained personal injuries in a motor
vehicle accident. The vehicle was operated by Holly Berner,
and owned by AEC, Inc. Mountain West provided coverage to its
insureds, Berner and AEC, Inc., pursuant to Policy No.
BPM04242 (the "Policy"). Plaintiffs filed a civil
lawsuit in the Montana Twenty-First Judicial District,
William and Carol Durbin v. Holly Berner and AEC,
Inc., Cause No. DV 14-112. The parties settled, and as
part of that agreement, Mountain West's insureds
confessed judgment in the amount of $1, 500,
000.Mountain West paid the policy limits of
$500, 000 to Plaintiffs.
Plaintiffs seek a declaration that the Policy's bodily
injury liability coverage "stacks, " requiring
payment of an additional $1, 000, 000 by Mountain West. In
its Counterclaim, Mountain West seeks a declaration that the
Policy's liability coverage is limited to $500, 000. The
parties both move for summary judgment on this legal issue.
Plaintiffs also move the Court to certify the issue of
stacking of bodily injury liability coverage to the Montana
is entitled to summary judgment if it can demonstrate that
"there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and
the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Summary judgment is warranted where the
documentary evidence produced by the parties permits only one
conclusion. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 251 (1986). Only disputes over facts that might
affect the outcome of the lawsuit will preclude entry of
summary judgment; factual disputes that are irrelevant or
unnecessary to the outcome are not considered. Id.
at 248. In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, a court
must view the evidence "in the light most favorable to
the opposing party." Tolan v. Cotton, 134 S.Ct.
1861, 1866 (2014) (quoting Adickes v. S.H. Kress &
Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970)). "[T]he evidence of
the nonmovant is to be believed, and all justifiable
inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Id.
at 1863 (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).
to Rule 15 of the Montana Rules of Appellate Procedure, a
federal district court in Montana Court may certify questions
to the Montana Supreme Court for instruction. See
Mont. R. App. P. 15(3). "The decision to certify a
question to a state supreme court rests in the 'sound
discretion' of the district court."
EckardBrandes, Inc. v. Riley, 338 F.3d 1082, 1087
(9th Cir.2003) (quoting Louie v. United States, 776
F.2d 819, 824 (9th Cir.1985)). Even where state law is
unclear, resorting to the certification process is not
obligatory. Lehman Bros. v. Schein, 416 U.S. 386,
390 (1974). "If the state's highest appellate court
has not decided the question presented, then [a United States
District Court] must predict how the state's highest
court would decide the question." Orkin v.
Taylor, 487 F.3d 734, 741 (9th Cir. 2007). In the
absence of Montana Supreme Court precedent, a federal
district court sitting in Montana may look to decisions from
other jurisdictions, other relevant state cases, and
secondary sources such as the Restatement to determine how
the Montana Supreme Court would resolve the issues.
EckardBrandes, 338 F.3d at 1087.
Stacking of Bodily Injury Coverages
usual principles of contract interpretation apply in this
case. It is well-established in Montana that the
"construction and interpretation of a contract is a
question of law" for the court to decide. Corporate
Air v. Edwards Jet Center, 190 P.3d 1111, 1120 (Mont.
2008). When "the language of an agreement is clear and
unambiguous, and as a result, susceptible to only one
interpretation, the court's duty is to apply the language
as written." Rich v. Ellingson, 174 P.3d 491,
495 (Mont. 2007). The court is to "'give effect to
the mutual intention of the parties as it existed at the time
of contracting, so far as the same is ascertainable and
lawful.'" Corporate Air, 190 P.3d at 1120
(quoting Mont. Code Ann. § 28-3-301). To that end, the
court must read the contract as a whole, giving "effect
to every part if reasonably practicable, each clause helping
to interpret the other." K&R Partnership v. City
of Whitefish, 189 P.3d 593, 600 (Mont. 2008) (quoting
Mont. Code Ann. § 28-3-202). If the terms of a contract
are clear, "the court must determine the intent of the
parties from the wording of the contract alone."
Rich, 174 P.3d at 495.
Limitation of a single claim
Mountain West argues that its Policy clearly limits coverage
to $500, 000 per accident, regardless of the number of autos
covered or premiums charged. The Policy defines an
"accident" as a "continuous or repeated
exposure to the same conditions resulting in 'bodily
injury' or 'property damage.'" (Doc. 3-1 at
17.) The Policy further states on the Declaration Page that
the "Liability -Combined Single Limit" is
"$500, 000." (Doc. 3-1 at 6.) Thus, Mountain West
contends that because the parties agree that only one
accident caused the Plaintiffs' injuries, the
"combined single limit" of $500, 000 for the one
accident is the limit Mountain West is obligated to pay under
Court agrees that under general contract interpretation
principles, the Policy is unambiguous that the limitation of
bodily injury coverage for one accident is $500, 000. ...