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Conteh v. Allstate Insurance Company

October 04, 2001

JOHN CONTEH, APPELANT
v.
ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY, APPELLEE



Before Terry, Steadman, and Schwelb, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry, Associate Judge

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (Hon. Joan Zeldon, Trial Judge)

Argued December 15, 2000

This is an appeal from an order granting summary judgment to appellee, the defendant below. Appellant Conteh, who was injured in an automobile accident involving an uninsured motorist, filed suit against the driver and owner of the other vehicle seeking damages for his injuries. In the same complaint he included a breach of contract claim against Allstate Insurance Company, his insurance carrier, based on its failure to pay benefits to him under the uninsured motorist provisions of his insurance policy. After a pre-trial conference, however, Mr. Conteh dismissed that action without prejudice. A few months later he filed a new complaint against Allstate only, seeking damages for the same alleged breach of contract. After earlier motions for dismissal (on forum non conveniens grounds) and summary judgment were denied, Allstate filed a renewed motion for summary judgment shortly before the scheduled trial date. This time the court granted Allstate's motion, holding that under Virginia law, specifically Virginia Code § 38.2-2206 (1999), a plaintiff cannot bring a direct action against his insurer without first establishing the legal liability of the uninsured motorist.

On appeal Mr. Conteh argues that the court erred in applying Virginia law because the Virginia statute in question is procedural, not substantive, and hence District of Columbia procedure (which, he asserts, does not require a prior judgment against the uninsured motorist) should have been followed. Given the express terms of the insurance policy, however, we hold that the trial court was correct and affirm the judgment.

I.

On September 8, 1995, Mr. Conteh was involved in an automobile collision in the District of Columbia. While driving his car southbound in the Third Street tunnel, he was struck by another car which, he alleged, was negligently operated by Shamahl Pritchett, a District of Columbia resident. Mr. Conteh, a resident of Virginia, was insured under a policy issued by Allstate.

Conteh received medical treatment for his injuries and presented verification of his losses to Allstate. When Allstate refused to pay his claim, he filed suit against Mr. Pritchett, the driver of the other car, and Robert Edward, the owner of that car, for negligence. In his complaint in that case, which we shall call Conteh I, he also included a breach of contract claim against Allstate. About a year after filing his complaint in Conteh I, he voluntarily dismissed his claims against all of the defendants in that case, without prejudice. *fn1

About six months after Conteh I was dismissed, Mr Conteh filed a new complaint in the trial court, which we shall call Conteh II. This time, however, he only brought the breach of contract claim against Allstate. Allstate initially moved to dismiss the case on the ground of forum non conveniens, but that motion was denied, as was a later motion for summary judgment.

Then, shortly before the scheduled trial date, Allstate filed a renewed motion for summary judgment. In its supporting memorandum, Allstate maintained that the only issue before the court was the alleged breach of contract for failure to pay the uninsured motorist benefits. Allstate asserted that the terms of the insurance policy, which incorporated Virginia Code § 38.2-2206 (1999), *fn2 required the court to apply Virginia law, under which an insured person may not recover uninsured motorist benefits from an insurer until after he or she has obtained a judgment against the uninsured tortfeasor. Allstate specifically cited the recent decision of Judge Gregory Mize in Macci v. Allstate Insurance Co., No. 97-CA-3665 (D.C. Super. Ct. June 29, 1999), which held that, under Virginia law, the plaintiff could not recover from Allstate until after she had obtained judgment against the tortfeasor. Macci, mem. op. at 6 n.5. *fn3 Therefore, Allstate argued, Mr. Conteh could not claim uninsured motorist benefits from Allstate because he had not obtained a judgment against the tortfeasors, Messrs. Pritchett and Edward.

On receiving Allstate's motion, the court continued the trial and set the motion for a hearing. Following that hearing, the court vacated its earlier order denying Allstate's previous motion for summary judgment and granted Allstate's new motion for judgment. The court ruled that, as in Macci, Virginia law was applicable to this insurance contract dispute, under the express terms of the policy. Noting that the initial action against both of the alleged tortfeasors and Allstate had been dismissed without prejudice, the court held:

Virginia law does not allow the insured to sue the uninsured motorist carrier directly without suing the driver/wrongdoer. If plaintiff had pursued Conteh I, he would not be facing the Motion for Judgment filed by Allstate Insurance Company in Conteh II.

In any event, the court will grant judgment for the Defendant based on the reasoning set forth by Defendant in its Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Defendants' Motion for Judgment. See also Macci v. ...


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