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Acadia Insurance Co. v. Pearl River Community College

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

February 21, 2017

ACADIA INSURANCE COMPANY PLAINTIFF
v.
PEARL RIVER COMMUNITY COLLEGE and DONNA P. GREEN, Guardian Ad Litem for L.M.S., a minor DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS

          LOUIS GUIROLA, JR. CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         BEFORE THE COURT is the plaintiff's Motion [24] for Judgment on the Pleadings, filed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Acadia Insurance Company requests a declaratory judgment that it does not owe any duties to the defendants for claims made by Donna P. Green as guardian ad litem for L.M.S. Green brought the underlying complaint against Pearl River Community College in the Circuit Court of Pearl River County after L.M.S. suffered a sexual assault and rape on the PRCC campus. Acadia asserts that the policy of insurance it issued excludes coverage for the injuries alleged by Green. The issues have been fully briefed. After due consideration of the parties' submissions and the relevant law, it is the Court's opinion that the Motion should be granted. Acadia has shown that the policy of insurance excludes coverage for the injuries alleged in the underlying action.

         Accordingly, Acadia owes no duty to defend or indemnify Pearl River Community College.

         BACKGROUND

         According to the allegations in the underlying lawsuit filed by Green against Pearl River Community College (Am. Compl. Ex. 4, ECF No. 15-4), L.M.S. was a 19-year-old student living in a dormitory on the PRCC Poplarville campus when she was sexually abused and molested by another PRCC student, LaDerrick Scott. Green alleges that in 2013, Scott was recruited by PRCC basketball coaches to play basketball for PRCC on an athletic scholarship. Scott was admitted to PRCC despite not being eligible to attend college. Green alleges that PRCC should have known of Scott's propensity for violence from his high school records. Further, Scott was arrested for possession of marijuana twice within six weeks in the fall of 2014, and tested positive for marijuana use in the interim. Nevertheless, he suffered no consequences.

         Green alleges that in the early morning hours of February 8, 2015, Scott was observed by the PRCC women's basketball coach in the hallway of L.M.S.'s all-woman dormitory. Even though men were prohibited from being in the dormitory after ten o'clock p.m., the basketball coach did nothing about Scott's presence there. Further, PRCC failed to notice that the doors to the dormitory were not securely fastened or locked. While he was in the dormitory, Scott entered L.M.S.'s locked room using an access card he had somehow obtained. He then “proceeded to terrorize and threaten Plaintiff's minor and then to forcibly and repeatedly sexually assault and rape the Plaintiff's minor before leaving Room 203 with threats of further bodily harm if the Plaintiff's minor was to follow him.” (Id. at 10).

         Green's claim against PRCC is for negligence, which she alleges PRCC committed by, inter alia, failing to keep the campus and dormitory safe; failing to dismiss Scott from PRCC and the basketball team after he tested positive for marijuana use; improperly recruiting Scott; failing to take action when Scott was observed in the female dorm after hours; failing to properly secure the premises; and failing to follow its own safety policies and procedures. (Id. at 12-15). Green alleges that PRCC's negligence proximately caused L.M.S. to be sexually assaulted and raped.

         Acadia “extended a defense under a reservation of all rights to PRCC, ” (Am. Compl. 3, ECF No. 15), and filed this lawsuit for declaratory judgment. Acadia now requests a judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12.

         DISCUSSION

         “After the pleadings are closed - but early enough not to delay trial - a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). “The standard for dismissal under Rule 12(c) is the same as that for dismissal for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6).” Bosarge v. Miss. Bureau of Narcotics, 796 F.3d 435, 439 (5th Cir. 2015) (citation and brackets omitted). The Court “accept[s] all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Id. “[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation and quotation marks omitted). While the Court will generally not consider matters outside the pleadings in deciding a 12(b)(6) motion, the Fifth Circuit has stated that “it is clearly proper in deciding a 12(b)(6) motion to take judicial notice of matters of public record.” Norris v. Hearst Trust, 500 F.3d 454, 461 n.9 (5th Cir. 2007); see also Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007). The insurance policy and underlying complaint at issue here are the subject of and attached to the Acadia's Amended Complaint. Accordingly, those documents may be considered in connection with this Motion.

         The Duties to Defend and Indemnify

         Under Mississippi law, the determination of whether an insurance company has a duty to defend depends upon the language of the policy as compared to the allegations of the complaint in the underlying action. See U.S. Fid. & Guar. Co. v. Omnibank, 812 So.2d 196, 200 (Miss. 2002); Delta Pride Catfish, Inc. v. Home Ins. Co., 697 So.2d 400, 403 (Miss. 1997). “An insurance company's duty to defend its insured is triggered when it becomes aware that a complaint has been filed which contains reasonable, plausible allegations of conduct covered by the policy. However, no duty to defend arises when the claims fall outside the policy's coverage.” Minn. Life Ins. Co. v. Columbia Cas. Co., 164 So.3d 954, 970 (Miss. 2015) (quoting Baker Donelson Bearman & Caldwell, P.C. v. Muirhead, 920 So.2d 440, 451 (Miss. 2006)). An insurer's “duty to defend is broader than the insurer's duty to indemnify under its policy of insurance: the insurer has a duty to defend when there is any basis for potential liability under the policy.” W.R. Berkley Corp. v. Rea's Country Lane Constr., Inc., 140 So.3d 437, 442 (Miss. Ct. App. 2013) (quoting Titan Indem. Co. v. Pope, 876 So.2d 1096, 1101 (Miss. 2004)). The insurer has an “absolute duty to defend a complaint which contains allegations covered by the language of the policy, ” independent from its duty to indemnify which is determined once the facts have been developed to establish whether the conduct of the insured giving rise to the claim falls under or outside the coverage afforded by the policy. Moeller v. Am. Guar. & Liab. Ins. Co., 707 So.2d 1062, 1069 (Miss. 1996).

         Acadia contends that the Abuse or Molestation Endorsement to the policy excludes coverage for the plaintiffs' injuries. The Endorsement modifies the general liability coverage for “occurrences” and reads:

         This insurance does not apply to “bodily injury, ” “property damage” or “personal and ...


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