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2004-UP-438 - Pennsylvania National Mutual v. Corley
PER CURIAM: Pennsylvania National Mutual Casualty Insurance Company sued for declaratory judgment claiming that policy exclusi

THIS OPINION HAS NO PRECEDENTIAL VALUE.  IT SHOULD NOT BE CITED OR RELIED ON AS PRECEDENT IN ANY PROCEEDING EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY RULE 239(d)(2), SCACR.

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals

Pennsylvania National Mutual Casualty Insurance Company,        Appellant,

v.

Larry Corley, Anna Corley, Robbie Pearson and Audrey Pearson, d/b/a Pearson’s Funeral Home, Warren Robinson and State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company,        Respondents.


Appeal From Richland County
G. Thomas Cooper, Jr., Circuit Court Judge


Unpublished Opinion No. 2004-UP-438
Heard June 8, 2004 – Filed August 4, 2004


APPEAL DISMISSED


F. Barron Grier, III, and Joseph Henry, both of Columbia, for Appellant.

E. Dale Lang, Jr., James B. Lybrand, Jr., Paul T. Collins, and Larry Cornell Smith, all of Columbia, for Respondents.

PER CURIAM:  Pennsylvania National Mutual Casualty Insurance Company sought a declaratory judgment that policy exclusions absolved it of the duty to provide a defense for or indemnify Pearson’s Funeral Home for injuries sustained by Pearson’s employee.  The circuit court held policy exclusions did not apply.  We dismiss Pennsylvania National’s appeal as moot.

FACTS

Larry Corley was injured in a collision involving a hearse and another limousine while chauffeuring for Pearson’s.  Pearson’s insured all three vehicles under a commercial automobile insurance policy issued by Pennsylvania National. 

Corley and his wife brought an action against Pearson’s and Warren Robinson, the other limousine driver, alleging negligence and loss of consortium.  Pennsylvania National denied liability coverage.  Before Pennsylvania National’s denial of benefits could be adjudicated, the Corleys’ suit was removed from the active roster.  The Corleys later refiled their suit specifically seeking recovery under the uninsured motorist provisions of Pearson’s policy.          

Before the Corleys’ suit was restored to the active roster, Pennsylvania National brought a declaratory judgment action arguing policy exclusions disallowed both liability and uninsured motorist coverage and, consequently, it had no duty to defend or indemnify the funeral home in the Corleys’ underlying tort suit.  Pennsylvania National added State Farm, the Corleys’ automobile insurer, as a defendant in an amended complaint, but requested no specific relief from the insurer.  Following a hearing, the circuit court determined policy exclusions were inapplicable.  Pennsylvania National appealed.

While the appeal was pending, Pennsylvania National entered into a written agreement and release with the Corleys settling their tort claim for $50,000.  The agreement released all parties from liability for injuries arising from the automobile accident, and Pennsylvania National purported to reserve the right to seek recovery against State Farm for the sum paid to the Corleys. 

STANDARD OF REVIEW

A declaratory judgment action to determine insurance coverage is an action at law.  Pennell v. Foster, 338 S.C. 9, 14, 524 S.E.2d 630, 633 (Ct. App. 1999).  In an action at law, the appellate court may only correct errors of law and will uphold the circuit court’s factual findings if any evidence supports them.  Townes Assocs., Ltd. v. City of Greenville, 266 S.C. 81, 86, 221 S.E.2d 773, 775 (1976). 

LAW/ANALYSIS

Pennsylvania National contends the trial court erred in determining the exclusions of liability and uninsured motorist coverage did not apply to the Corleys’ claims.  We dismiss Pennsylvania National’s appeal as moot.

Pennsylvania National claims it reserved its claims denying coverage and retained a subrogation right against State Farm by including the following clause in the agreement it entered into with the Corleys:

Further, the undersigned in settling this action acknowledge that the named plaintiff Larry Corley will no longer have an interest in the declaratory judgment action currently on appeal but that Pennsylvania National Mutual Casualty Insurance Company will maintain its rights to assert that it is not the provider of coverage and will seek repayment of the amounts paid in settlement from State Farm Insurance Company.  Nothing in this Release is intended nor should be interpreted as barring that claim.

Pennsylvania National reasons if this court accepts the reservation clause as valid and determines the circuit court erred in finding the policy exclusions inapplicable, it would then be able to seek reimbursement of the settlement money from State Farm pursuant to State Farm’s uninsured coverage policy on the Corleys. 

Pennsylvania National’s amended complaint merely added State Farm as a defendant in its declaratory judgment action.  The complaint demanded no relief from State Farm and failed to provide any additional facts that would support a finding State Farm was primarily or secondarily liable for Corley’s injuries.  Therefore, the extent of State Farm’s liability was never presented to the circuit court for its determination and may not be addressed by this court for the first time on appeal.  United Student Aid Funds, Inc. v. South Carolina Dep’t of Health & Envtl. Control, 356 S.C. 266, 273, 588 S.E.2d 599, 602 (2003) (An issue neither raised to nor ruled upon by trial court is unpreserved for appellate review.); Heins v. Heins, 344 S.C. 146, 152, 543 S.E.2d 224, 227 (Ct. App. 2001) (“[O]rdinarily a party may not receive relief not contemplated in his pleadings.”); Cf. Rushing v. Intex Prods., Inc., 285 S.C. 595, 599, 330 S.E.2d 555, 557 (Ct. App. 1985) (In a declaratory judgment action, the court may grant affirmative relief not requested if party has pleaded facts upon which such relief may be granted.). 

The only issue Pennsylvania National presented for determination in its pleadings was whether it was liable for the Corleys’ injuries under the liability and uninsured motorist coverage provisions of its own policy.  Pennsylvania National settled the question of its own liability when it voluntarily settled with the Corleys and had the Corleys relieve all concerned parties from liability.  As a result, there is no remaining claim upon which this court may grant effective relief.  When some event occurs making it impossible for the reviewing court to grant effective relief, the case is moot and may be properly dismissed.  Curtis v. State, 345 S.C. 557, 567-68, 549 S.E.2d 591, 596 (2001) (holding a case becomes moot when some event occurs making it impossible for the reviewing court to grant effective relief); Byrd v. Irmo High Sch., 321 S.C. 426, 430, 468 S.E.2d 861, 864 (1996) (holding the appellate courts will not pass on moot or academic questions or make an adjudication where there remains no actual controversy).

APPEAL DISMISSED.

HEARN, C.J., STILWELL, J., and WILLIAMS, A.J., concur.