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Heimer v. Companion Life Insurance Co.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

January 2, 2018

Beau Darrell Heimer, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Companion Life Insurance Company, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued November 30, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan at Grand Rapids. No. 1:15-cv-0033 Janet T. Neff, District Judge.

         ARGUED:

          Kimberly J. Ruppel, DICKINSON WRIGHT PLLC, Troy, Michigan, for Appellant.

          Christopher P. Desmond, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Kimberly J. Ruppel, DICKINSON WRIGHT PLLC, Troy, Michigan, for Appellant.

          Christopher P. Desmond, Detroit, Michigan, for Appellee.

          Before COLE, Chief Judge; McKEAGUE and STRANCH, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          COLE, CHIEF JUDGE.

         This matter is about whether a contract should mean what it says. After Beau Darrell Heimer was injured in a motorbike accident, he filed an insurance claim with Companion Life for the bill. Companion Life denied the claim, citing a plan exclusion that disclaimed coverage for injuries resulting from the "illegal use of alcohol." But the district court read "illegal use of alcohol" to disclaim coverage only for the illegal consumption of alcohol, and not for Heimer's illegal post-consumption conduct of operating a motorbike while under the influence of alcohol. The district court's reading is consistent with the ordinary meaning of "use" and best gives effect to the contract as a whole. We affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Heimer was only a year over the legal drinking age on a fateful night in April 2013. That night, he and his friends drank and, later, rode their motorbikes in a field in Michigan. While riding their motorbikes, Heimer and one of his friends collided. Heimer suffered extensive injuries and incurred more than $197, 333.50 in medical bills. Medical records indicate that Heimer's blood alcohol level shortly after the crash was 0.152, nearly twice the limit to legally use an off-road vehicle in Michigan.

         Heimer was insured by Companion Life. As required by his plan, he submitted a medical claim form shortly after the accident, but the plan administrator denied coverage. The plan administrator pointed to a plan exclusion that disclaimed coverage for "[s]ervices, supplies, care or treatment of any injury or [s]ickness which occurred as a result of a ...


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