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Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Co. v. Estate of Archie

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

December 21, 2016

TENNESSEE FARMERS MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY
v.
ESTATE OF RICHARD M. ARCHIE AND JESSICA COSSITT

          Session: November 17, 2016

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Shelby County No. CT-002164-14 Rhynette N. Hurd, Judge

         This appeal involves a dispute regarding a household exclusion clause in an automobile insurance policy. Following a motorcycle accident in which the defendant was injured while riding as a passenger of the insured, the insurance company filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the exclusion relieved it of liability for the defendant's claims because the defendant was residing in the insured's household at the time of the accident. Following a bench trial, the trial court found that the defendant was not residing in the insured's household at the time of the accident for purposes of determining liability coverage and denied the insurance company's request for declaratory relief. The insurance company appealed. We affirm.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right: Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed and Remanded.

          Andrew H. Owens and Ashleigh C. Kiss, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellant, Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Company.

          Matthew Porter, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee, Jessica Cossitt.

          Dawn Davis Carson and Jason R. Hollingsworth, Memphis, Tennessee, for the appellee, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company.

          Arnold B. Goldin, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Kenny Armstrong, J., and David R. Farmer, SP. J., joined.

          OPINION

          ARNOLD B. GOLDIN, JUDGE

         Background and Procedural History

         On December 20, 2013, Jessica Cossitt and Richard Archie were involved in a single vehicle accident when a motorcycle owned and operated by Mr. Archie, on which Ms. Cossitt was a passenger, hit a pothole and veered out of control. Mr. Archie died as a result of his injuries; Ms. Cossitt survived but sustained serious personal injuries. At the time of the accident, Mr. Archie had an automobile insurance policy with Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Company ("Tennessee Farmers"). The policy contained the following household exclusion clause: "We do not provide coverage . . . for any person or entity for bodily injury or property damage to any covered person or any person residing in the covered person's household."

         In May 2014, Tennessee Farmers filed a complaint for declaratory judgment in the Shelby County Circuit Court against Ms. Cossitt and Mr. Archie's estate. Tennessee Farmers asserted that the household exclusion clause in Mr. Archie's insurance policy applied to Ms. Cossitt's injuries because she was residing in Mr. Archie's household at the time of the accident. It requested the entry of an order declaring that it had no obligation to defend or pay claims filed by Ms. Cossitt against Mr. Archie's estate arising from the accident.[1] Ms. Cossitt responded, asserting that the exclusion did not apply because she was not residing in Mr. Archie's household at the time of the accident.[2] The case proceeded to a bench trial in May 2016.

         The facts established at trial are largely undisputed. In 2005, Ms. Cossitt was living in a house that she rented from her mother for $600 per month. Around that time, she met Mr. Archie while working as a waitress in a restaurant that he frequented. Although their relationship was never romantic, the two became close friends. In 2011, Mr. Archie also moved into the house that Ms. Cossitt was renting from her mother. He lived there for approximately six months and paid Ms. Cossitt's mother $200 per month in rent. In mid-2012, Mr. Archie moved out and began renting a two-story, three-bedroom house on Ivawood Drive in Bartlett, Tennessee. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Cossitt's mother decided to sell the house she had been renting to her daughter. As a result, Ms. Cossitt moved into a room at the house of another friend. Ms. Cossitt testified that she planned to live with the friend temporarily until she found a better place. She did not pay rent and put the majority of her furniture in storage. Despite having a room at the friend's house, she spent most nights at her boyfriend's house because it was closer to the restaurant where she worked. This arrangement lasted for only a few months, however, as Ms. Cossitt's friend subsequently needed the room for a family member. Although she had been staying at her boyfriend's house most nights, Ms. Cossitt testified that she was not ready to move in with him at the time. When Mr. Archie offered to let her rent an extra bedroom at the house he was renting, she accepted.

         In January 2013, Ms. Cossitt moved into the house that Mr. Archie was renting on Ivawood Drive. Ms. Cossitt testified that she only planned to live at Mr. Archie's house temporarily until she was financially stable. Apart from a bed, she did not bring any of her furniture to the house. She paid Mr. Archie $200 per month in rent. She had her own bedroom on the second floor and unlimited access to all common areas of the house. Although she listed the Ivawood Drive address on her driver's license, she did not receive her mail there. She did not share personal expenses with Mr. Archie and continued to spend most ...


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