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Martin v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division II

March 18, 2015

DEBORAH MARTIN, as administrator of the ESTATE OF AMANDA MICHELLE MARTIN, APPELLANT
v.
NATIONWIDE MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, APPELLEE

APPEAL FROM THE BENTON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [No. CV-2013-774-5] HONORABLE DOUG SHRANTZ, JUDGE.

Martin Law Firm, by: Aaron L. Martin, for appellant.

Benson & Associates, P.L.C., by: Joe Benson and Justin Bennett, for appellee.

WAYMOND M. BROWN, Judge.

Appellant appeals from the circuit court's grant of appellee's motion for summary judgment. On appeal, appellant argues that (1) the circuit court lacked authority to vacate its original order denying summary judgment, (2) appellee's motion for reconsideration failed to state or allege proper grounds for the circuit court to vacate its prior order, and (3) the circuit court's order to vacate its prior order denying summary judgment was not authorized. We affirm.

On July 31, 2011, Amanda Martin and Richard Copp were involved in an automobile collision resulting in both of their deaths. At the time of the accident, Copp was operating a vehicle owned by Rhonda Stanley, the named insured and policyholder of appellee. On May 23, 2013, the Estate of Amanda Martin, appellant, filed a complaint for declaratory judgment to have the circuit court find that Copp was an insured under appellee's liability automobile insurance policy issued to Stanley. In its answer filed August 26, 2013, appellee denied that Copp was an insured or an insured driver under the policy, because he did not have permission to use the vehicle and because of a coverage exclusion for driving on a suspended driver's license.

Appellee filed a motion for summary judgment and a separate brief in support thereof on December 9, 2013. Appellant responded on December 30, 2013, to which appellee responded on January 7, 2014. A hearing on appellee's summary judgment motion was held on January 28, 2014. At the conclusion of the hearing, the court orally denied appellee's motion, but allowed appellee ten days to plead further. Appellant's counsel was ordered to provide the court with an order. Appellant's counsel failed to submit an order to the court.

On February 6, 2014, appellee filed a document titled "Motion for Consideration of Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment." Appellant's response and brief in support was filed on February 18, 2014.

On April 17, 2014, the circuit court entered a letter opinion noting that it had ruled from the bench at the January 28, 2014 hearing; that appellee had moved to reconsider prior to an order being entered to which appellant responded; and that the motion was ripe. The court stated the following:

Previously at hearing of the motion, the Court found that the term "partner" as used in the contract of insurance was ambiguous and denied the motion for summary judgment. Upon reconsideration, the Court acts to correct a mistake.
The initial question that must be answered in this matter is whether there was insurance that provides coverage for Mr. Copp. The answer to that question is no. The policy clearly excludes drivers who have a suspended license. Mr. Copp's license was suspended. Therefore, he was not insured under the policy in question.

Accordingly, the court granted appellee's motion for summary judgment. The same was memorialized in an order filed on May 5, 2014. This timely appeal followed.

All three of appellant's arguments on appeal are made pursuant to Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 60(a).[1] She makes no argument that factual questions remain unanswered, arguing solely that the court was not authorized to modify its oral order under Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 60(a).[2] Accordingly, we only address appellant's assertion that the circuit court lacked authority to reconsider its oral ruling and issue a different ruling under Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 60(a).

Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 60(a) states that "[t]o correct errors or mistakes or to prevent the miscarriage of justice, the court may modify or vacate a judgment, order or decree on motion of the court or any party, with prior notice to all parties, within ninety days of its having been filed with the clerk." This rule permits modification or change to an order within ninety days after it has been filed. Though the court orally denied ...


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