The central question presented is whether a shipper can maintain a direct action against the insurer of an interstate motor carrier whose employee stole the shipper's cargo. We answer in the negative and so affirm the trial court's grant of summary judgment 1
to the insurer.
According to the amended complaint, Dundee Mills, Inc. contracted with American Transportation Systems, Inc. to arrange for the delivery of a load of towels from Georgia to Miami, Florida. ATS selected W & A Harris Enterprises, Inc. to deliver the cargo, which never reached its destination because Harris's driver stole the load in transit. 2
Mills sued ATS, Harris, and John Deere Insurance Company to recover for the loss of its towels.
John Deere had issued a motor truck cargo insurance policy to Harris which was in effect at the time of the loss, but the policy excluded coverage for losses caused even indirectly by the dishonest or illegal acts of Harris, its employee, or agents. Based on this policy exclusion, John Deere moved for summary judgment which the trial court granted. On appeal, Mills argues that it was entitled to a direct recovery under the insurance policy irrespective of any exclusions which might apply to Harris. We disagree because, in this instance, Mills cannot maintain a direct action against the insurer, John Deere.
We conduct a de novo review of a trial court's grant of summary judgment. 3
In so doing, we construe the evidence in favor of the nonmovant to determine if any genuine issue of material fact exists and if the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. 4
1. The general rule is that an insurer may not be joined as a party defendant with its insured when there has been no judgment obtained against the insured. 5
Mills argues that it can nevertheless maintain this direct action against the insurer under OCGA 46-7-12
and (e) 7
because it is a third-party beneficiary of the insurance contract. 8
Although OCGA 46-7-12
authorizes a shipper, such as [appellant Mills], to bring a direct action against the insurer who provides liability coverage to a motor common carrier, that statute does not apply to a cause of action which arises out of interstate commerce. 9
"The sustaining of actionable injury is, under the statute, the only condition precedent to a suit on the policy." 10
But since it is undisputed that the loss of Mills's cargo occurred in interstate commerce, OCGA 46-7-12
cannot serve as the basis for a direct action by the shipper against the insurer John Deere based on the motor truck cargo coverage policy it issued to Harris. 11
2. The trial court concluded that the direct action statute was inapplicable, in part, because Mills failed to prove that the John Deere policy was approved by the Georgia Public Service Commission, and this ruling is enumerated as error.
Mills filed a cross-motion for summary judgment (but expressly based on the pleadings), and in reply, John Deere noted that Mills had not alleged and proved that the John Deere policy was approved by the Georgia PSC. Defendants further refuted any such contention with unrebutted evidence that Harris had no intrastate authority on file with the PSC, nor any insurance policy or endorsements because at all pertinent times the Georgia PSC did not require proof of insurance for carriers of general commodities cargo.
Summary judgment can be granted to a nonmoving party provided that the grant is proper in all other respects. 12
A plaintiff proceeding against an insurer under OCGA 46-7-12
must prove the existence of the policy of insurance, although the limits of coverage should be kept from the jury. 13
While a nonmovant has no obligation to rebut issues not raised in a summary judgment motion, 14
here the issue of PSC approval of the John Deere policy was clearly raised by the evidence submitted in opposition to Mills's cross-motion for summary judgment. In that context, the trial court did not err in ruling that Mills bore the onus of proving that the PSC had approved John Deere's motor truck cargo insurance policy, as this is a prerequisite to a direct action against the insurer under OCGA 46-7-12
3. Mills relies on the policy itself as authority for this direct action. John Deere agreed to pay
any shipper or consignee for all loss of or damage to all property belonging to such shipper or consignee, and coming into the possession of the insured in connection with such transportation service, for which loss or damage the insured may be held legally liable . . . . 15
John Deere's cargo insurance endorsement is required by federal regulations for motor common carriers. 16
Consistent with these requirements, the endorsement provides coverage of up to $5,000 for loss or damage to property carried on any one motor vehicle. Relying on Commercial Union Ins. Co. v. Bradley Co., 17
Mills argues that this endorsement allows it to sue John Deere directly. We disagree.
First, the language of this endorsement has been held to provide only contingent liability 18
and so does not of its own force authorize a direct action against the insurer. Second, the Supreme Court of Georgia has concluded that the federal law requiring a motor carrier to provide surety for damage to cargo does not itself authorize a direct action against the motor carrier's insurer. 19
Third, the correct statement of the holding in the Commercial Union case, as applied to the facts of this case, is: "As a judgment creditor of [Harris], [Mills] would, however, be authorized to bring a direct action against [John Deere] in [its] capacity as [Harris's] liability insurer." 20
It is undisputed that Mills has not obtained any judgment against Harris. If and when it does, it is then free to pursue John Deere as a potential source of satisfaction. 21
The trial court correctly ruled that John Deere is not subject to a direct action by the aggrieved shipper in this case involving cargo lost in interstate commerce.
Dennis, Corry & Porter, Alisa W. Terry, Scott W. McMickle, for appellee.