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Progressive Gulf Insurance Co. v. Kennedy

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Eastern Division

June 4, 2014

PROGRESSIVE GULF INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
CHAZ B. KENNEDY, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

KEITH STARRETT, District Judge.

For the reasons stated below, the Court grants Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment [34]. The Court will enter a separate judgment in accordance with Rule 58.

I. BACKGROUND

Defendant Chaz Kennedy is the named insured under a commercial auto policy issued by Plaintiff Progressive Gulf Insurance Company. The policy insures Kennedy's two International tractors, but it contains a "Non-Trucking" endorsement. Therefore, the policy provides liability coverage for bodily injury and property damage arising from Kennedy's use of the insured trucks, but not when they are being used to transport goods.

On January 15, 2013, Kennedy was driving one of the insured trucks in Jones County, Mississippi, while transporting wood chips in a trailer owned by Defendant Mike Ashley. Kennedy collided with a car driven by Defendant Kassie Ford. Ford later made a claim on the policy issued by Progressive for bodily injuries arising from the accident. Progressive denied Ford's claim, stating that the policy excludes coverage for damages arising from Kennedy's use of the truck for transporting goods.

Progressive later filed this declaratory judgment action, naming Kennedy, Ford, and Ashley as Defendants. Progressive seeks a declaratory judgment that the policy does not provide defense or indemnity to any of the Defendants for claims for bodily injury or property damage arising from the accident. Its Motion for Summary Judgment [34] is ripe for review.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Rule 56 provides that "[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a); see also Sierra Club, Inc. v. Sandy Creek Energy Assocs., L.P., 627 F.3d 134, 138 (5th Cir. 2010). "Where the burden of production at trial ultimately rests on the nonmovant, the movant must merely demonstrate an absence of evidentiary support in the record for the nonmovant's case." Cuadra v. Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., 626 F.3d 808, 812 (5th Cir. 2010) (punctuation omitted). The nonmovant "must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Id. (punctuation omitted). "An issue is material if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action." Sierra Club, Inc., 627 F.3d at 138. "An issue is genuine' if the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Cuadra, 626 F.3d at 812.

The Court is not permitted to make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Deville v. Marcantel, 567 F.3d 156, 164 (5th Cir. 2009). When deciding whether a genuine fact issue exists, "the court must view the facts and the inference to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Sierra Club, Inc., 627 F.3d at 138. However, "[c]onclusional allegations and denials, speculation, improbable inferences, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic argumentation do not adequately substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." Oliver v. Scott, 276 F.3d 736, 744 (5th Cir. 2002).

III. PLAINTIFF'S DUTY TO INDEMNIFY AND/OR DEFEND KENNEDY

A. Plaintiff's Claim

The Court's ultimate goal in applying an insurance policy is to "render a fair reading and interpretation of the policy by examining its express language and applying the ordinary and popular meaning to any undefined terms." Corban v. United Servs. Auto. Ass'n, 20 So.3d 601, 609 (Miss. 2009). "In Mississippi, insurance policies are contracts, and as such, they are to be enforced according to their provisions." Id.

First, where an insurance policy is plain and unambiguous, a court must construe that instrument, like other contracts, exactly as written. Second, it reads the policy as a whole, thereby giving effect to all provisions. Third, it must read an insurance policy more strongly against the party drafting the policy and most favorably to the policy holder. Fourth, where it deems the terms of an insurance policy ambiguous or doubtful, it must interpret them most favorably to the insured and against the insurer. Fifth, when an insurance policy is subject to two equally reasonable interpretations, a court must adopt the one giving the greater indemnity to the insured. Sixth, where it discerns no practical difficulty in making the language of an insurance policy free from doubt, It must read any doubtful provision against the insurer. Seventh, it must interpret terms of insurance policies, particularly exclusion clauses, favorably to the insured wherever reasonably possible. Finally, although ambiguities of an insurance policy are construed against the insurer, a court must refrain from altering or changing a policy where terms are unambiguous, despite resulting hardship on the insured.

Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Lake Caroline, Inc., 515 F.3d 414, 419 (5th Cir. 2008); see also Corban, 20 So.3d at 609; Guidant Mut. Ins. Co. v. Indem. Ins. Co. of N. Am., 13 So.3d 1270, 1281 (Miss. 2009); United States ...


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