United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
ADRIANNE L. BIELLER
ATLANTIC SPECIALTY INSURANCE COMPANY
AMENDED ORDER AND REASONS
the Court is Defendant Atlantic Specialty Insurance
Company's motion for summary judgment, seeking dismissal
of all claims against it on the grounds that there are no
genuine issues of material fact concerning Plaintiff Adrianne
L. Bieller's ability to rebut the presumed validity of
the uninsured motorist waiver executed by Defendant's
insured, St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office. Rec. Doc.
22. Plaintiff timely filed an opposition memorandum. Rec.
Doc. 26. Defendant then requested (see Rec. Doc.
29), and this Court granted (see Rec. Doc. 30),
leave to file a reply memorandum (Rec. Doc. 31). For the
reasons enumerated below, IT IS ORDERED that
the motion is DENIED.
FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
case arises out of a September 15, 2014 motor vehicle
accident. Rec. Doc. 14-3 at 1. On that date, Adrianne L.
Bieller (“Plaintiff”) was traveling south on U.S.
Highway 21 in St. Tammany Parish and, while stopped in
traffic, was rear-ended by a vehicle driven by Ashley E.
Miller. Id. At the time of the accident, Plaintiff
was on duty and in a marked patrol car for the St. Tammany
Parish Sheriff's Office (“STPSO”).
Id. Plaintiff alleges that Ms. Miller was an
uninsured or underinsured motorist (“UM”), but
that Atlantic Specialty Insurance Company
(“Defendant”) had previously issued automobile
insurance to the STPSO that covered Plaintiff's vehicle
for the negligence of an owner and/or operator of an
uninsured or underinsured vehicle. Id. at 1-2.
Consequently, on December 7, 2015 Plaintiff filed suit
against Defendant in the 22nd Judicial District Court for the
Parish of St. Tammany. Id. at 1-2.
January 21, 2016, Defendant filed a notice of removal
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Rec. Doc. 1 at 1.
Thereafter, on January 28, 2016, Defendant filed a motion to
dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could
be granted, alleging that the STPSO waived UM coverage. Rec.
Doc. 5. Plaintiff argued that the waiver was invalid, because
it was not signed by the named insured or anyone with
authorization to act as the insured's legal
representative. Rec. Doc. 9. Defendant replied that the
documents attached to its motion to dismiss supported the
claim of a valid UM waiver. Rec. Doc. 12. On March 9, 2016,
this Court found that only the insurance policy, not the UM
waiver, was mentioned in the original petition. Rec. Doc. 16
at 3-4. Plus, the UM waiver was central to
Atlantic's defense, not to Plaintiff's claims, so it
was not appropriate to consider in the context of a motion to
dismiss. Id. at 4. Accordingly, we denied the motion
to dismiss, but explicitly informed the parties that they
could revisit the issue on a motion for summary judgment once
further discovery was conducted. Id. at 5.
THE PARTIES' CONTENTIONS
memorandum in support of its motion for summary judgment,
Defendant explains that Plaintiff deposed Debbie Jo Taylor, a
former employee of the STPSO who completed and signed the UM
waiver, on August 4, 2016. Rec. Doc. 22-1 at 3 (citing Rec.
Doc. 22-2 at 12-13). During the deposition, Ms. Taylor
testified that she signed the UM waiver form. Rec. Doc. 22-2
at 3. “Following the deposition, Ms. Taylor reviewed
the [STPSO] file for the Atlantic policy at issue, and
executed an affidavit affirmatively stating ‘that the
policy number and the name of the insurance company were
included on the form . . . when she filled out and signed the
form on June 30, 2014.'” Rec. Doc. 22-1 at 3
(quoting Rec. Doc. 22-3). Further, Defendant argues that
former Sheriff Jack Strain authorized Ms. Taylor to execute
the waiver on behalf of the STPSO. Id. at 4 (citing
Rec. Docs. 5-7 at ¶ 7, affidavit of R. Jack Strain, Jr.;
22-2 at 7-12). Thus, Defendant concludes that
“Plaintiff has conducted discovery involving Atlantic
regarding the rebuttable presumption of validity for the UM
waiver and is unable to present any facts or evidence that
would rebut said presumption of validity.” Id.
response, Plaintiff argues that there exists a genuine issue
of material fact as to whether Ms. Taylor had the legal
authority to execute the UM waiver on behalf of former
Sheriff Jack Strain. Rec. Doc. 26 at 2.
reply, Defendant asserts that Plaintiff did not dispute that
the UM waiver complied in form and substance with the
requirements of Louisiana law. Rec. Doc. 31 at 1. Defendant
then argues that Terrell v. Fontenot, 11-1472
(La.App. 4 Cir. 6/27/12); 96 So.3d 658 is controlling
authority. Id. at 2.
LAW AND ANALYSIS
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, summary judgment is
appropriate only if “the pleadings, depositions,
answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together
with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine
issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (quoting
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). See also TIG Ins. Co. v. Sedgwick
James of Washington, 276 F.3d 754, 759 (5th Cir. 2002).
A genuine issue exists if the evidence would allow a
reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248
(1986). The movant must point to “portions of
‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the
affidavits, if any, ' which it believes demonstrate the
absence of a genuine issue of material fact.”
Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If and when the movant
carries this burden, the non-movant must then go beyond the
pleadings and present other evidence to establish a genuine
issue. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. V. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).
“where the non-movant bears the burden of proof at
trial, the movant may merely point to an absence of evidence,
thus shifting to the non-movant the burden of demonstrating
by competent summary judgment proof that there is an issue of
material fact warranting trial.” Lindsey v. Sears
Roebuck & Co., 16 F.3d 616, 618 (5th Cir. 1994).
Conclusory rebuttals of the pleadings are insufficient to
avoid summary judgment. Travelers Ins. Co. v. Liljeberg
Enter., Inc., 7 F.3d 1203, 1207 (5th Cir. 1993).
Furthermore, at the summary judgment stage, this Court is
prohibited from weighing the evidence. Deville v.
Marcantel, 567 F.3d 156, 164 (5th Cir. 2009) (noting
that district courts must “refrain from making
credibility determinations or weighing the evidence”
when deciding a motion for summary judgment) (quoting
Turner v. Baylor Richardson Med. Ctr., 476 F.3d 337,
343 (5th Cir. 2007)).
earlier Order denying Defendant's motion to dismiss, we
stated that the UM waiver created a “rebuttable”
presumption that the insured knowingly rejected coverage.
Rec. Doc. 16 at 4 (citing La. Rev. Stat. Ann. §
22:1295(1)(a)(ii)). At the time, Plaintiff had not presented
evidence to rebut that presumption, but we felt constrained
out of fairness to offer her the opportunity to develop and
subsequently present such evidence. Id. at 5.
Nonetheless, we found that the majority opinion in
Terrell v. Fontenot, 11-1472 (La.App. 4 Cir.
6/27/12); 96 So.3d 658 was controlling authority.
Terrell, the Louisiana Fourth Circuit explained that
“Louisiana has a strong public policy favoring UM
coverage.” 11-1472, p. 4; 96 So.3d at 661 (citing
Duncan v. U.S.A.A. Ins. Co., 06-363, p. 4 (La.
11/29/06); 950 So.2d 544, 547). Consequently, “UM
coverage is an implied amendment to an automobile liability
policy, even when not specifically addressed therein, and it
will be read into a policy unless validly rejected.”
Id. (citing Kurz v. Milano, 08-1090, p. 4
(La.App. 4 Cir. 2/18/09); 6 So.3d 916, 919 (quoting
Duncan, 06-363, p. 4; 950 So.2d at 548)). In a
similar vein, the rejection of such coverage must be
“clear and unambiguous, ” the insurer bears the
burden of proving that the insured rejected such coverage in
writing, and the rejection must be made upon a form
prescribed by the Louisiana commissioner of insurance.
Id. (citing Daigle v. Authement, 96-1662,
p. 2 (La. 4/8/97); 691 So.2d 1213, 1214; Kurz, p. 5;
6 So.3d at 919; Duncan, 06-363, p. 5; 950 So.2d at
547; La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § ...