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Inc. v. Massachusetts Homeland Insurance Co.

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

April 8, 2019

Christy's Auto Rentals, Inc.
v.
Massachusetts Homeland Insurance Company et al.

          Providence County Superior Court (PC 14-2124) Associate Justice Richard A. Licht

          For Plaintiff: Michael R. De Luca, Esq. Stephen J. Sypole, Esq.

          For Defendants: Todd J. Romano, Esq. C. Russell Bengtson, Esq. John A. Donovan III, Esq. Judah H. Rome, Esq.

          Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.

          OPINION

          WILLIAM P. ROBINSON, III ASSOCIATE JUSTICE

         This case arose out of a dispute concerning a motor vehicle collision that occurred in October of 2012 while Christian Lanoie was driving a vehicle that he had rented from Christy's Auto Rentals, Inc. (Christy's). In the wake of that collision, Christy's brought a declaratory judgment action in the Superior Court, naming as defendants both Mr. Lanoie and his insurer, Massachusetts Homeland Insurance Company (Homeland).[1]On January 25, 2016, the Providence County Superior Court denied Christy's motion for summary judgment and granted Homeland's cross-motion for summary judgment, after hearings were conducted with respect to both motions. The grant of summary judgment was predicated on the hearing justice's determination that Christy's lacked standing. However, after ruling that Christy's lacked standing, the hearing justice nonetheless went on to opine that Mr. Lanoie's policy of insurance with Homeland did not provide coverage for the collision at issue and that such coverage was not statutorily mandated.

         Christy's timely appealed to this Court, contending that the hearing justice incorrectly determined: (1) that Homeland did not waive standing as a defense; (2) that Christy's did not have standing to pursue the declaratory judgment action; (3) that Homeland's insurance policy did not provide coverage with respect to the collision at issue; and (4) that coverage was not mandated by G.L. 1956 § 27-7-6.

         For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the hearing justice's ruling with respect to Christy's lack of standing.

         I Facts and Travel

         In relating the pertinent facts, we rely primarily upon the transcripts of the November 17 and December 17, 2015 hearings in the Superior Court as well as other documents contained in the record before us.

         A Underlying Truck Rental Agreement and Accident

         On October 9, 2012, Mr. Lanoie entered into a Rental Agreement with Christy's for the purpose of renting a 2007 Mitsubishi Fuso box truck for one day. At that time, Mr. Lanoie was employed by a barbecue vendor as a manager. It is uncontested that he rented the truck in order to transport barbecue equipment back to the vendor's home base after the equipment had been used at a seasonal fair in Topsfield, Massachusetts. When he entered into the Rental Agreement, Mr. Lanoie declined to purchase the proffered "Liability Protection" option, and he so indicated by affixing his initials to a section of the Rental Agreement that acknowledged that he "agree[d] to be responsible for all damage or loss [he might] cause to others." At the time that he signed the agreement with Christy's, Mr. Lanoie had a personal automobile insurance policy issued by Homeland. That policy covered Mr. Lanoie's personal vehicle from November 6, 2011 through November 6, 2012.

         It is uncontested that, on October 10, 2012, Mr. Lanoie returned the rental vehicle to Christy's and that a corner of the vehicle had been damaged as a result of colliding with a concession trailer at the fair. The concession trailer was owned by Dean and Flynn Fiesta Shows (Dean and Flynn). It appears that the trailer incurred damages in the amount of $1, 300; Dean and Flynn was compensated by Christy's on December 7, 2012. Several months later, in April of 2014, Christy's sued Mr. Lanoie in order to recover the amount paid to Dean and Flynn and to obtain compensation for the damages to the Christy's vehicle. At the same time, Christy's filed the instant declaratory judgment action against Homeland.[2]

         B Declaratory Judgment Action Against Homeland

         In the declaratory judgment action against Homeland, Christy's sought a ruling that the damages Mr. Lanoie caused to its rental vehicle and to the Dean and Flynn trailer were covered under Mr. Lanoie's policy with Homeland. In its answer, Homeland asserted that Mr. Lanoie's policy did "not cover the damages for which the plaintiff complains." Homeland also denied many of the allegations set forth in the petition for declaratory judgment-notably including Christy's allegation that the Superior Court "has jurisdiction to declare the rights, status, and legal relations of the parties pursuant to R.I.G.L. 9-30-1" and its allegation that "[t]here is an actual dispute ...


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