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McMorris v. Tally

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

May 14, 2015

RONALD W. McMORRIS d/b/a TAYLORSVILLE INSURANCE AGENCY AND AMERICAN RELIABLE INSURANCE COMPANY, INC.
v.
JOE TALLY

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: SMITH COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT. DATE OF JUDGMENT: 05/29/2013. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. EDDIE H. BOWEN. TRIAL COURT ATTORNEYS: WILLIAM RUFFIN, CLARK MONROE, LARA A. COLEMAN.

FOR APPELLANTS: LARA A. COLEMAN, DAVID A. BARFIELD, GROVER CLARK MONROE, II, BENNY McCALIP " MAC" MAY.

FOR APPELLEE: JAMES W. NOBLES, JR., WILLIAM R. RUFFIN.

DICKINSON, PRESIDING JUSTICE. WALLER, C.J., RANDOLPH, P.J., LAMAR, CHANDLER AND COLEMAN, JJ., CONCUR. KITCHENS, J., DISSENTS WITH SEPARATE WRITTEN OPINION JOINED BY KING, J. PIERCE, J., NOT PARTICIPATING. KITCHENS, JUSTICE, DISSENTING.

OPINION

Page 290

DICKINSON, PRESIDING JUSTICE

¶1. More than three years after learning his insurance policy had expired and his agent had not procured a replacement policy, Joe Tally sued his insurance agent, Ronald McMorris, in tort, claiming he " breached a standard of care recognized in the State of Mississippi to the insured for not notifying [him] of the cancellation of [his insurance] policy." [1] Because Tally failed to bring his claims within the three-year statute of limitations, his claims are time-barred. We reverse the circuit court's denial of McMorris's motion for summary judgment and we render judgment in his favor.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶2. In January 2006, Joe Tally purchased a one-year farmers and ranchers occurrence-based liability policy with American Reliable Insurance Company through McMorris and his insurance agency, Taylorsville Insurance Agency. Less than two months into the policy, on March 23, 2006, Dixie Speciality Insurance, one of American Reliable's general agents, sent Tally a notice that it would not renew the policy. Tally claims that he never received this notice. Once his policy expired on January 29, 2007, Tally's farm lacked any liability coverage.

Page 291

¶3. On February 8, 2008, the Fortenberrys--while riding their motorcycle down a country highway--hit one of Joe Tally's donkeys that had escaped from his farm. Within days of the accident, Tally called McMorris to report the accident and make a claim against his farm-liability policy. Several days later, McMorris informed Tally that his farm-liability policy had expired on January 29, 2007. Even though Tally was aware that he had purchased a one-year policy and that he had not paid any premium for a renewal, he claims he was unaware he was uninsured until the accident in February 2008.

¶4. In the aftermath of the accident, on March 19, 2008, Tally sent McMorris a demand letter stating that he now knew his farm-liability policy had expired, but that he expected McMorris's agency would " take care of this matter." McMorris's agency and American Reliable both refused to provide coverage for the accident or to take responsibility for the claim.

¶5. On January 5, 2009, the Fortenberrys sued Tally for injuries sustained in the accident with Tally's donkey. On November 16, 2011, the trial court granted Tally leave to file a third-party complaint against McMorris and American Reliable. And on January 3, 2012, Tally finally asserted his claims against McMorris and American Reliable.

¶6. In his third-party complaint, Tally requested: (1) a declaration that American Reliable provided coverage for the accident and that McMorris breached his standard of care by not notifying Tally that his policy would not be renewed; (2) damages caused by McMorris's failure to notify Tally that the policy was not renewed; and (3) an injunction against American Reliable and McMorris requiring them to provide a defense and coverage for the accident.

¶7. Both McMorris and American Reliable denied Tally's claims and both later requested that Tally's claims be severed. After conducting discovery, both filed motions for summary judgment. McMorris argued that Tally's claims were barred by the general three-year statute of limitations.[2] American Reliable also argued that Tally's claims were time-barred and that Tally was presumed to have received notice that his policy was not renewed.

¶8. After the trial court denied both motions for summary judgment, we granted both parties permission to file interlocutory appeals. Once the appeals were lodged in this Court, we granted a joint motion to dismiss American Reliable from the case, leaving McMorris as the lone defendant.

ANALYSIS

¶9. The sole issue before this Court is whether Tally's claims against his insurance agent McMorris are barred by Mississippi's three-year statute of limitations.[3] We review de novo,[4] a trial court's decision to grant or deny a motion for summary judgment based on the statute of limitations and as in all summary judgment cases, we view the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.[5]

¶10. Both parties agree that Section 15-1-49 applies, but they disagree about

Page 292

when the time began to run on Tally's claims. Under Section 15-1-49, " [a]ll actions for which no other period of limitation is prescribed shall be commenced within three (3) years next after the cause of such action accrued, and not after." [6] This Court has been clear that the statute of limitations begins to run when an insured--or uninsured, as the case may be--learns that there is a problem with an insurance policy, or that no insurance policy is in effect.[7]

¶11. In Oaks v. Sellers, we held that, once the uninsured claimed he was covered under a policy and his claim was denied, the statute of limitations began to run on any claim against his insurance agents for failure to procure necessary coverage.[8] We explained that when the claim of coverage was denied, this " placed [the uninsured] on notice of a possible problem with the procurement and understanding of the terms of his insurance policy," and at this point, the statute of limitations began to run.[9] We flatly rejected the uninsured's argument that the statute of limitations did not begin to run until he was charged with liability, which the uninsured labeled an " actual injury." [10]

¶12. And in Bank of Commerce v. Southgroup Insurance and Financial Services, LLC, we again held that knowledge of an insurance agent's alleged misrepresentation was sufficient to start the statute of limitations running.[11] Once the plaintiff bank learned its insurance coverage was inadequate, the statute of limitations on claims against its insurance agent started ticking.[12]

¶13. In this case, Tally denies that he received the March 23, 2006, letter informing him that his policy would not be renewed. But it is undisputed that on March 19, 2008, he knew that his liability policy with American Reliable had expired, and that his farm was not covered by any liability policy. As soon as he learned that he had no liability coverage, he suffered a cognizable injury. Tally immediately could have filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that he was covered by American Reliable ...


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