United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Greenville Division
CLAUD E. BODDIE, JR. and BEVERLY BODDIE PLAINTIFFS
CEDRIC WALKER, MARY HAYWOOD and STATE FARM INSURANCE COMPANY DEFENDANTS
Michael P. Mills UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE
State Farm has filed a motion for partial summary judgment in
the above-entitled action, arguing that plaintiffs are not
entitled to recover punitive damages against it. Plaintiffs
Claud and Beverly Boddie have responded in opposition to the
motion, and the court, having considered the memoranda and
submissions of the parties, concludes that the issue of
punitive damages would be best addressed at trial, in the
event that the jury renders a compensatory damages verdict
against State Farm. Defendant's motion for summary
judgment will thus be dismissed without prejudice to the
arguments therein being asserted at trial.
is, inter alia, an uninsured motorist
(“UM”) action arising out of a September 3, 2013,
automobile accident between Plaintiff Claud E. Boddie, Jr.
and Defendant Cedric Walker which occurred on Highway 61 in
Cleveland. Following the accident, Mr. Boddie made a claim
for UM benefits with his auto insurance carrier State Farm,
and the handling of his claim was assigned to State Farm
Claim Specialist Gina Robertson. Robertson initially
confirmed coverage, then she focused on determining who
should be considered at fault for the accident. In contending
that Robertson failed to timely investigate the accident,
plaintiffs argue that:
Further, on September 27, 2013 at 12:44 p.m., Ms. Robertson,
made note of the existence of two (2) witness statements
provided to her by Plaintiff, BODDIE. Ms. Robertson notes
that she would follow up with both witnesses. As of the
present date, Defendant, STATE FARM INSURANCE, have made no
effort to reasonably and adequately investigate
Plaintiffs', CLAUD E. BODDIE's and BEVERLY
BODDIE's, claim. Defendant, STATE FARM INSURANCE, did not
contact or attempt to contact witnesses that were mentioned,
provided and/or witnesses and information that was easily
accessible to Defendants.
[Plaintiff's brief at 3].
their brief, plaintiffs takes particular issue with
Robertson's failure to interview Kwame Cleveland, an
eyewitness to the accident, writing that:
Defendant, STATE FARM INSURANCE, had various sources of
information readily available to its adjuster, Gina
Robertson. Plaintiff, CLAUD E. BODDIE, provided the name of
two (2) witnesses. One of those witnesses, Kwame Cleveland,
was actually employed at the gas station where the incident
took place. Mr. Cleveland was an eye witness to the accident
and saw the events that took place. As stated in his attached
affidavit, Mr. Cleveland, gives the same account of the
events as stated by Plaintiff, CLAUD E. BODDIE. Mr. Cleveland
notes that the red car driven by Defendant, CEDRIC WALKER,
was driving at an excessive rate of speed and switched from
the left lane to the right lane and hit Plaintiff, CLAUD E.
BODDIE, in the rear of his vehicle. Further Mr. Cleveland
states that he provided his information as a witness, but was
never contacted to give a statement.
[Plaintiff's brief at 8].
rebuttal, State Farm notes that Robertson made a number of
inquiries vis a vis the claim, and it argues that
the possibility that she might have “left some stones
unturned” is insufficient to establish a claim for
punitive damages. Specifically, State Farm argues that:
Plaintiffs' real complaint is not that State Farm failed
to investigate but that it left some stones unturned.
Plaintiffs argue State Farm should have accepted the written
account of Mr. Cleveland then taken the additional step of
taking his recorded statement. In support, they offer an
affidavit executed by Mr. Cleveland in which he attests that
no one from State Farm contacted him to take his statement.
What Plaintiffs fail to recognize is that an insurer is
“not required to disprove all possible allegations made
by a claimant. They are simply required to perform a prompt
and adequate investigation and make a reasonable, good faith
decision based on that investigation.” Liberty Mut.
Ins. Co. v. McKneely, 862 So.2d 530, 535 (Miss. 2003).
Furthermore, Mr. Cleveland's testimony is irrelevant for
purposes of the present motion since it fails to shed light
on whether State Farm had an “arguable reason”
for its decision. At best, Mr. Cleveland's initial
written account and subsequent affidavit of represent some
“evidence to the contrary” and are therefore
insufficient to forestall summary judgment on the issue of
[State Farm reply brief at 4-5 (some citations omitted)].
considering these issues, this court emphasizes that
Mississippi's punitive damages statute provides for
mandatory bifurcation of punitive damages issues at trial.
Specifically, Miss. Code Ann. § 11-1-65(1)(c) provides
that “[i]f, but only if, an award of compensatory
damages has been made against a party, the court shall
promptly commence an evidentiary hearing to determine whether
punitive damages may be considered by the same trier of
fact.” This court notes that one arguable
interpretation of this statute is that the
“shall” language requires an evidentiary
hearing on punitive damages to be held in the event that such
damages are sought and an award of compensatory damages is
entered against the defendant at trial. And, indeed, the
Mississippi Supreme Court concluded in a 2006 decision that
the § 11-1-65 procedure must be
“meticulously” followed, writing that:
Importantly, our punitive damages statute mandates the
bifurcation of the issues of liability/compensatory damages
and punitive damages. The statute requires that evidence
concerning punitive damages be presented separately at a
subsequent evidentiary hearing to take place, if and only if,
the jury has awarded some measure of compensatory damages.
Thus, the detailed procedure which is outlined above must be
meticulously followed because, without an evidentiary buffer
at trial, juries will ultimately confuse the basic issue of
fault or liability and ...