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Guideone America Insurance Co. v. Parker

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

May 22, 2014

GUIDEONE AMERICA INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
STEVE PARKER, LISA PARKER, and MELISSA HILL PARKER, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

GLEN H. DAVIDSON, District Judge.

Presently before the Court in this declaratory judgment action is a motion for summary judgment [22] filed by Plaintiff Guideone America Insurance Company. Upon due consideration, the Court finds that the motion should be granted.

A. Factual and Procedural Background

This case involves a question of insurance coverage, and in particular, whether a certain policy of personal automobile liability insurance issued by Plaintiff Guideone America Insurance Company ("Plaintiff') to Defendant Steve Parker ("Mr. Parker") and his wife, Defendant Lisa Parker ("Mrs. Parker"), extends coverage to their daughter, Defendant Melissa Hill Parker ("Melissa Parker") for liability in connection with an accident that occurred during the effective dates of the policy, but in an automobile not listed on the policy and insured in a separate policy.

Prior to the accident, Plaintiff had issued an insurance policy, Policy Number XXXXXX-XXX, to named insured, Mr. and Mrs. Parker, covering their 2009 Ford Escape LTD and 1997 GMC Sierra 1500 pickup truck (the "subject policy"). See Pl.'s Compl. [1] ¶ 7; Defs.' Answer [11] ¶ 7. Plaintiff had also issued a separate insurance policy to Melissa Parker, covering her 2006 Honda Ridgeline truck (the "policy which is not at issue"). Pl.'s Compl. [1] ¶ 17; Defs.' Answer [11] ¶ 17.

On June 11, 2011, Melissa Parker was driving her 2006 Honda Ridgeline truck when she was involved in a single-vehicle accident in Lee County, Mississippi; her front-seat passenger, Eddie Rayburn Collums, Jr. (the "Decedent"), died from injuries he sustained in the accident. Following the accident, the Decedent's estate filed a wrongful death suit in state court against Melissa Parker and John Does 1-10 seeking damages due to the accident. The Decedent's wrongful death beneficiaries have made a demand upon Plaintiff for coverage under the subject policy, and Melissa Parker has also made a demand for settlement of the claim of the Decedent's estate under the subject policy.

Plaintiff has filed this action seeking a declaratory judgment that there is no coverage under the subject policy for the 2006 Honda Ridgeline truck, which was owned and operated by Melissa Hill Parker at the time of the accident leading to Decedent's death, and consequently, that Plaintiff has no duty to defend or indemnify Mrs. Parker against the wrongful death claims brought by Decedent's estate related to the accident.

Plaintiff now moves for summary judgment, arguing that the subject policy clearly, unambiguously, and enforceably excludes coverage for the subject accident. Defendants have responded to the motion, and Plaintiff has filed a reply. The matter is now ripe for review.

B. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment "should be rendered if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). See FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a); Weaver v. CCA Indus., Inc., 529 F.3d 335, 339 (5th Cir. 2008). The rule "mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a sufficient showing to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial" Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548.

The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Id. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548. Under Rule 56(a), the burden then shifts to the nonmovant to "go beyond the pleadings and by... affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ' designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial'" Id. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548; Littlefield v. Forney Indep. Sch. Dist., 268 F.3d 275, 282 (5th Cir. 2001); Willis v. Roche Biomedical Labs., Inc., 61 F.3d 313, 315 (5th Cir. 1995). "In deciding whether a fact issue has been created, the court must view the facts and the inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Daniels v. City of Arlington, Tex., 246 F.3d 500, 502 (5th Cir. 2001).

C. Discussion and Analysis

"When, as here, jurisdiction is based on diversity, [1] we apply the forum state's substantive law." Bayle v. Allstate Ins. Co., 615 F.3d 350, 355 (5th Cir. 2010). It is undisputed in this case that Mississippi is the forum state, and Mississippi law applies.

"Under Mississippi law, an insurance policy is a contract subject to the general rules of contract interpretation." Essex Ins. Co. v. Greenville Convalescent Home Inc., 236 F.Appx. 49, 51 (5th Cir. 2007) (per curiam) (citing Clark v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 725 So.2d 779, 781 (Miss. 1998)). Under Mississippi law, an insurer has an absolute duty to defend a lawsuit filed against its insured in circumstances covered by the policy. Titan Indem. Co. v. City of Brandon, 27 F.Supp. 3d 693, 697 (S.D.Miss. 1997) (citing State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 233 So.2d 805, 808 (Miss. 1970); So. Farm Bureau Cas. Ins. Co. v. Logan, 119 So.2d 268, 270-71 (Miss. 1960)). The detennination of whether a liability carrier has a duty to defend depends on the policy language and the allegations of the applicable complaint. QBE Ins. Corp. v. Brown & Mitchell, Inc., 591 F.3d 439, 443 (5th Cir. 2009) (citing U.S. Fid. & Guar. Co. v. Omnibank, 812 So.2d 196, 200 (Miss. 2002)). Under this "eight-comers" test, the allegations in the complaint are analyzed against the language in the policy to determine coverage and the duty to defend. Id. If the complaint alleges facts which are arguably within the policy's coverage, a duty to defend arises. Id. ...


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