What Is A Person’s Primary Residence

Grand Prairie lawyers and those in Dallas, Fort Worth, and the DFW area need to be aware of this case if they handle insurance cases.
The case is out of the United States 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The opinion was issued in July, 2012. The style of the case is, “State Farm Fire and Casualty Company v.Matthew Lange” (and others parties involved).
Here are some facts upon which summary judgment was granted in favor of State Farm:
On February 5, 2009, Lange was the driver of an automobile involved in an accident in which two of Lange’s passengers were killed. At the time of the accident, Lange’s parents owned a Personal Liability Umbrella Policy insured by State Farm. Under the terms of the policy, State Farm agreed to provide a defense to the insured in the event of a lawsuit stemming from a covered loss and also agreed to pay any damages resulting from a covered loss. The policy defined “insured” to mean “you [the named insureds, Stephen and Marilyn Lange] and your relatives whose primary residence is your household.” The policy listed Lange’s parents’ address as being in Meyersville, Texas.
Lange had lived at the Meyersville address with his parents while attending grade school and high school. Lange graduated from high school in 2004, and at some time in 2005 he began working full time in Victoria, Texas, which is approximately 45 miles from Meyersville. In April 2005, Lange moved out of his parents’ home and moved into an apartment with friends. In July 2005, Lange and some friends moved into a house on Gottfried Road in Victoria. Lange lived at this house until October 2007, when he moved into his own apartment in Victoria (the “Victoria apartment”). On the rental application for the Victoria apartment, Lange listed the house on Gottfried Road as his “current home address” and listed his father, Stephen Lange, as an emergency contact with whom he would not be living. Lange stated in his deposition that he moved to the Victoria apartment in order to be closer to work and to school, where he was taking night classes in pursuit of a welding certificate. The initial term of the lease on the Victoria apartment was six months. Lange twice extended the term of the lease, with the second extension set to expire on June 30, 2009.
The Victoria apartment was furnished with a bed, two couches, a television, and a plastic tool box used as a television stand, furnishings which Lange described as “basic things just to get by the day with.” Lange slept in the Victoria apartment during the week, but on many weekends he returned to the Meyersville home. Lange stated that in any given month, he stayed at the Meyersville home at least two weekends, but often stayed there three weekends and sometimes as many as four. On these weekends, Lange typically arrived at the Meyersville home on Friday evening and returned to the Victoria apartment on Sunday evening, but occasionally he did not arrive in Meyersville until Saturday. Lange’s childhood bedroom in the Meyersville home had been maintained as such, and he slept in his bedroom when he spent the weekends there. He kept what he characterized as his “prize possessions” in the Meyersville home: his firearms, good clothes, trophies, photographs, a four- wheeler vehicle, and his two dogs. Lange explained that he kept these expensive items at the Meyersville home to protect them from being stolen. Lange had a key to the Meyersville home and could come and go as he pleased and could make free use of the resources in the home.
Several documents identified the Victoria apartment as Lange’s address. The utilities for the Victoria apartment were in Lange’s name and the bills came to the apartment. While living at the Victoria apartment, Lange purchased a truck, listing the Victoria apartment as his address on the sales contract and the certificate of title. Lange filled out a credit application in connection with the purchase, listing the Victoria apartment as his current address and the Meyersville home as his previous address. Lange financed the truck with a loan from Texas Dow Employees Credit Union. He listed the Victoria apartment as his address on the loan application and the statements for the loan were mailed to the Victoria apartment. Lange applied for a second loan from Texas Dow on January 21, 2009, again listing the Victoria apartment as his present address.
There were also several documents on which Lange listed the Meyersville home as his address. Lange listed the Meyersville home as his address in the application for his own automobile liability insurance with State Farm, the vehicle registration for his four-wheeler, and his tax returns. He was registered to vote in Meyersville. His credit card statements, cell phone bills, and 401(k) statements were all sent to the Meyersville home. Lange explained that he had most of his important bills and paperwork mailed to the Meyersville home because he “never checked [his] mail” at the Victoria apartment and his parents would tell him when important mail came. The Meyersville home was also listed as his address on his driver’s license, though this license was issued when Lange was sixteen (and living in the Meyersville home full time) and was not renewed before the accident in February 2009.
After the accident, Lange was interviewed by Diana Osterhout, a State Farm employee. Lange told her that on the date of the accident he lived at the Victoria apartment and had been living there for about a year. In response to her question as to whether he considered the move to the Victoria apartment temporary or permanent, Lange stated that he considered it temporary because he was “planning on . . . settling down in a house but . . . wound up staying [in the Victoria apartment] a little bit longer than [he] thought [he] was going to.” When she asked Lange whether he considered himself to be residing mainly in the Victoria apartment or in the Meyersville home, Lange responded “both.” Lange also signed a statement saying: “At the time of the motor vehicle accident on February 5, 2009, my primary residence was my apartment in Victoria, Texas.” However, in his deposition taken over a year later, Lange stated that if he had been asked at the time of the accident, he would have said that his “primary residence was the Meyersville address and the apartment was temporary.”
Osterhout also interviewed Lange’s mother, who said that she considered Lange to have been residing at the Victoria apartment on the date of his accident. Lange’s mother also said that she considered his move to the Victoria apartment to be a permanent move and that she did not consider him to be a resident of her home on the date of the accident. Lange’s father stated in his deposition that he would have said Lange was living at the Victoria apartment if he had been asked on the date of the accident. Lange’s father also said, however, that he considered the Victoria apartment to be a temporary address for Lange and considered the Meyersville home to be Lange’s permanent residence.
After investigating the facts surrounding the accident, State Farm filed suit against Lange, seeking a declaration that Lange’s primary residence at the time of the accident was the Victoria apartment and that therefore he did not qualify as an “insured” under the policy. The families of the two passengers killed in Lange’s accident intervened in the suit, aligned in interest with Lange. State Farm and the Intervenors filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The district court concluded that Lange’s primary residence was the Victoria apartment and that he was not an insured under the policy, and therefore granted summary judgment in favor of State Farm and denied the Intervenors’ motion. Lange and the Intervenors timely appealed.
Discussion In it’s discussion of the case, the court pointed out:
The term “primary residence” is not defined in the policy. The parties have not identified nor have we found any Texas case interpreting the phrase “primary residence” in the insurance context. The district court determined that “primary residence” was unambiguous as a matter of law and relied upon several dictionaries to determine its plain meaning. Neither party argues that the term is ambiguous and neither party argues that the district court erred in determining its meaning.
Random House Websters Unabridged Dictionary says “Primary” means “first or highest in rank or importance,” “chief,” or “principle.” The court thus agreed with the lower court that a primary residence is one’s chief, principle, and most important residence.
The Court then said that taking all of the uncontroverted evidence into account and viewing that evidence in the light most favorable to Lange, we agree with the district court that the Victoria apartment was Lange’s primary residence. At the time of his accident, Lange was an adult who had graduated from high school almost five years beforehand and had moved out of his parents’ home almost four years beforehand. Lange worked full time and lived in an apartment 45 miles away from his parents’ home, and he slept in this apartment the majority of evenings. While Lange stresses that he returned to his parents’ home on the weekends, he testified that he generally spent one weekend a month at the Victoria apartment, and occasionally he would spend two weekends in a month at his apartment. Based upon the time spent in each location, the nature of Lange’s weekends at the Meyersville home appears to be that of a frequent guest rather than someone who was principally residing there. Although Lange kept several important possessions at the Meyersville home, he did this out of a fear that the items would be stolen. That he stored prized items for protection in his parents’ home does little to support the conclusion that he primarily lived with his parents.
There is evidence, both in the nature of documents bearing Lange’s address and in statements made by Lange and his parents, supporting each location as Lange’s primary residence. Nevertheless, viewing all of this evidence in the light most favorable to Lange, it is insufficient to overcome the other objective evidence indicating that the Victoria apartment was Lange’s primary residence.
It is noteworthy that Lange was being interviewed and giving statements to the insurance company before consulting with an attorney. A person should never do this.

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