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Magruder v. Brashier

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

August 14, 2019

JERRIE G. MAGRUDER PLAINTIFF
v.
ELLIOT H. BRASHIER and ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY DEFENDANTS

          ORDER GRANTING PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          HENRY T. WINGATE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before this court is the motion of the Defendant, Allstate Insurance Company (hereafter “Allstate”), for partial summary judgment in its favor, under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure [doc. no. 12]. Allstate contends there is no factual or legal basis for Plaintiff's bad faith and extra-contractual damage claims, and that those claims should be dismissed as a matter of law. The Plaintiff, Jerrie G. Magruder (hereafter “Magruder”) opposes the motion, alleging that Allstate has unreasonably, in bad faith, refused to compensate her under her policy of uninsured/ underinsured motorist coverage. Briefing has been completed and the court is ready to make its ruling.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Magruder filed the instant lawsuit on August 3, 2018, in the Circuit Court of Hinds County, Mississippi (“state court”). Allstate removed this suit to this federal district court on August 27, 2018. Notice of Removal [doc. no. 1], asserting “diversity of citizenship” as grounds for federal subject matter jurisdiction. Title 28 U.S.C. §1332[1] establishes federal court jurisdiction over cases and controversies involving citizens of different states, where the amount in controversy exceeds the sum of $75, 000.00, exclusive of costs and interest.

         The requisites of diversity of citizenship are here met because Allstate is incorporated in the State of Delaware and maintains its principal place of business in Illinois, whereas Plaintiff is a citizen of Mississippi. Magruder did not specify in her Complaint the amount of damages she is pursuing; but because she is seeking punitive damages[2], the threshold $75, 000 amount is presumed to be met. Complaint [doc. no. 1-1 at ¶¶ 4.8, 5.1]. See e.g., Paris v. Bevard, 2015 WL 3885501*1-2 (S.D.Miss. 2015) (“federal courts in Mississippi have consistently held that a claim for an unspecified amount of punitive damages is deemed to exceed the federal jurisdictional minimum, ”). See also St. Paul Reinsurance Co., Ltd. v. Greenberg, 134 F.3d at 1250, 1253-55 (5th Cir. 1998) (plaintiff's punitive damages are included in calculation of amount in controversy); Marcel v. Pool Co., 5 F.3d 81, 84-85 (5th Cir. 1993); Myers v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of America, Inc., 5 F.Supp.2d at 423, 428-29 (N.D. Miss. 1998); Allstate Ins. Co. v. Hilbun, 692 F.Supp. 698, 701 (S.D.Miss. 1988). .

         An automobile accident forms the backdrop for this action. Magruder alleges that on August 7, 2015, Defendant Elliot H. Brashier (hereafter “Brashier”) negligently caused the vehicle he was driving to collide with the vehicle being driven by Magruder's husband, and in which Magruder was riding as a passenger.

         Magruder has settled with Brashier, the tortfeasor here, for $25, 000.00, the limits of Brashier's policy of insurance with Mendoto Auto Insurance Company. Magruder additionally received $10, 000.00 under her own policy of insurance with Allstate under the PIP (personal injury protection) benefits, for a total of $35, 000.00. At the time of the accident Brashier was also insured under an Allstate policy which included $300, 000.00 in uninsured/underinsured motorist (“UM”) benefits. Magruder claims that she incurred at least $23, 000.00 in medical bills, and that she endured pain and suffering and incurred other damages, such that the $35, 000.00 she has received does not adequately compensate her. Brashier, then, whose policy limit was only $25.000.00, is an “underinsured motorist tortfeasor, ” according to Magruder, and she [Magruder] is entitled to recover from Allstate under her Underinsured/Uninsured Motorist (“UM”) coverage.

         Allstate though, has unreasonably refused to provide her with the UM benefits owed to her and for which she has paid premiums, says Magruder. Allstate's actions, she contends, were committed in “bad faith, ” entitling her to recover extra-contractual damages over and above the amount owed under the UM policy. Allstate responds that Plaintiff is unable to show that Allstate acted with “maliciousness” or gross negligence, ” as required for establishing a bad faith claim, or even that Allstate has denied Plaintiffs claim at all. Allstate asks this court to grant its motion for partial summary judgment.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Both sides have submitted their version of the facts. Allstate provided an itemization of undisputed facts in its brief, and Magruder's recitation of the facts does not differ significantly from that itemization. Magruder does not, however, specifically deny or refute the facts as itemized by Allstate. Additionally, Allstate's itemization, unlike that of Magruder, is substantiated by inclusion of the exhibits and correspondence referenced. The facts as itemized by Allstate are as follows:

         ITEMIZATION OF UNDISPUTED FACTS

         I. The Accident

1. On August 7, 2015, Plaintiff was involved in a side swipe motor vehicle accident along the interstate in Jackson, Mississippi. (Exhibit 1) Plaintiff did not have any complaints of pain at the accident scene, and the vehicle was driven from the accident scene. (Id.)
2. The accident resulted in minimal property damage to Plaintiffs vehicle. (Id.)

         II. Brief Summary of Plaintiff s Post-Accident Medical Treatment

2. Several days after the accident, Plaintiff presented to her primary care physician with complaints of soft tissue injuries. (Exhibit 2) During the next few months, Plaintiff followed up with her primary care physician and also received intermittent physical therapy treatment. (Id.)
3. Over the course of the next two to two and a half years, with multiple gaps in treatment, Plaintiff occasionally treated with her primary care physician and received some physical therapy treatment. (Id.) Plaintiff claims to have sustained approximately $23, 000.00 in medical expenses as a result of the accident. (Id.) Plaintiffs other bodily injury damages are presently unknown. (Id.)

         III. Insurance Policies

4. Elliot Brashier, the alleged at-fault driver, was insured with Mendoto Auto Insurance Company with a liability policy of $25, 000.00 at the time of the accident. (Id.)
5. At the time of the accident, Plaintiff was insured under an Allstate policy, which among others, contained uninsured/underinsured motorist benefits of $300, 000.00 and PIP benefits of $10, 000. (Exhibit 3)

         IV. Pre-Suit Occurrences

6. Below is a chronology and outline of activity prior to Plaintiffs ...

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