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Jeans v. Doe

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

September 26, 2018

VICKIE JEANS PLAINTIFF
v.
JOHN DOE AND XYZ CORPORATIONS 1-2 AND SHELTER MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY AND SHELTER GENERAL INSURANCE COMPANY DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NEAL B. BIGGERS, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This cause comes before the court upon the defendants' motion for summary judgment. Upon due consideration of the motion, response, exhibits, and applicable authority, the court is ready to rule.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         On June 6, 2016, the plaintiff, Vickie Jeans, was traveling southbound on Highway 51 in Hernando, Mississippi, in her 2013 Hyundai Accent. Traveling directly in front of her was a truck driven by an unidentified driver. As the two vehicles traveled southbound on Highway 51, a piece of wood was propelled from the truck in front of the plaintiff, striking her windshield and allegedly causing injuries to her. The truck did not stop after the accident, and the owner/operator is unknown. The plaintiff therefore alleges that the truck owner/operator is an “uninsured motorist” as defined by the plaintiff's uninsured motorist policy issued by the defendant Shelter Mutual Insurance Company (“Shelter Mutual”) and that the truck was a “hit-and-run motor vehicle” as defined by the policy.

         At the time of the incident, the plaintiff was insured under Shelter Mutual policy number 23-1-9898379-1, which insured her vehicle with uninsured motorist coverage in the amount of $25, 000 each person and $50, 000 each accident, subject to the terms, conditions, and declarations of the policy. According to the defendants, Shelter General Insurance Company did not issue any applicable policy to the plaintiff.

         Following the accident, the plaintiff made a claim for uninsured motorist benefits under her Shelter Mutual policy for injuries she allegedly sustained in the accident. Defendant Shelter Mutual denied her claim on the basis that her vehicle never came into actual physical contact with another vehicle, as the policy specifically excludes situations such as this involving debris colliding with an insured or vehicle occupied by an insured.

         In response to Shelter Mutual's denial of coverage, the plaintiff filed the instant lawsuit in the Circuit Court of DeSoto County, Mississippi, on June 23, 2017, seeking actual damages for her injuries and punitive damages because she alleges claims for bad faith denial of coverage. The defendants were served with process on July 25, 2017, and subsequently and timely removed the action to this court on August 11, 2017, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441, invoking the court's diversity of citizenship jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The defendants now move for summary judgment.

         Standard of Review

         “The 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). On a motion for summary judgment, the movant has the initial burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). If the movant makes such a showing, the burden then shifts to the non-movant to “go beyond the pleadings and . . . designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324. Further, the non-movant “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).

         When deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the underlying facts in the “light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.” United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962). As such, all reasonable inferences must be drawn in favor of the non-movant. Id. Before finding that no genuine issue for trial exists, the court must first be satisfied that no rational trier of fact could find for the non-movant. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (1986). “Summary judgment, although a useful device, must be employed cautiously because it is a final adjudication on the merits.” Jackson v. Cain, 864 F.2d 1235, 1241 (5th Cir. 1989).

         Analysis

         The defendants argue that Shelter Mutual's policy language and provisions plainly, unambiguously, and specifically exclude uninsured motorist coverage in situations such as the instant case where propelled debris collides with a vehicle occupied by an insured. The defendants assert that summary judgment is appropriate here because there are no genuinely contested issues of material fact and the interpretation of insurance policy language is a question of law. Lewis v. Allstate Ins. Co., 730 So.2d 65, 68 (Miss. 1998).

         The language and provisions of insurance policies are viewed as contracts and are subject to the same rules of interpretation as other contracts. Hankins v. Maryland Cas. Co./Zurich Am. Ins. Co., 101 So.2d 645, 653 (Miss. 2012). Under Mississippi law, when the language of an insurance policy is plain and unambiguous, the court will afford the language its plain, ordinary meaning and will apply the language as written. Lewis, 730 So.2d at 68. Accordingly, “the appropriate analysis should . . . be driven by . . . the policy language. The policy either affords coverage or not, based upon application of the policy language to the facts presented.” Hankins, 101 So.2d at 653 (citing Architex Ass'n, Inc. v. Scottsdale Ins. Co., 27 So.3d 1148, 1156 (Miss. 2010)).

         In the present case, the plaintiff's Shelter Mutual policy provides, ...


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