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McGlothin v. State Farm Mutual Insurance Co.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

May 31, 2019

JESSICA C. MCGLOTHIN, Plaintiff - Appellee
v.
STATE FARM MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant-Appellant

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi USDC No.: 1:17-CV-83

          Before BARKSDALE, SOUTHWICK, and HAYNES, Circuit Judges.

          RHESA HAWKINS BARKSDALE, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         At issue in this diversity action is whether, as the district court concluded, two sections of Mississippi's Uninsured Motorist (UM) Act, Mississippi Code §§ 83-11-101 et seq., are repugnant: §§ 83-11-101(1) (requiring automobile insurers provide UM coverage to extent insured is "legally entitled to recover") and 83-11-103(c)(vi) (defining "uninsured motor vehicle", as used in UM Act, to include vehicle "owned or operated by a person protected by immunity under the Mississippi Tort Claims Act"). State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company maintains: the sections are not repugnant; and, as a result, it is not liable for UM coverage. Therefore, it challenges the district court's, on cross-motions for summary judgment, denying its motion in that regard and granting Jessica C. McGlothin's. That part of the judgment in favor of McGlothin is VACATED, and judgment is RENDERED for State Farm.

         I.

         In February 2016, a fireman with the Biloxi, Mississippi, fire department, rear-ended McGlothin's vehicle. The fireman was acting in the course and scope of his employment with the fire department at the time of the accident, and was not-as McGlothin concedes-acting "in reckless disregard of [her] safety and well-being". See, e.g., Miss. Code Ann. § 11-46-9(1)(c) (Mississippi Tort Claims Act (MTCA); police-and-fire-protection immunity clause).

         At the time of the accident, McGlothin's vehicle was insured under a State Farm policy, which provided UM coverage. As required by the UM Act, the UM provision in the policy provides, in pertinent part: State Farm "will pay compensatory damages for bodily injury and property damage an insured is legally entitled to collect from the owner or driver of an uninsured motor vehicle". (Emphasis omitted.)

         Along that line, the UM Act's definition of an "uninsured motor vehicle" includes, inter alia, "a vehicle owned or operated by a person protected by immunity under the [MTCA]". § 83-11-103(c)(vi). Under the MTCA, employees of governmental entities are personally immune from claims arising from acts performed within the course and scope of their employment. § 11-46-7(2) (government-employee immunity clause). Because the fireman is protected by immunity under the MTCA, the fire-department vehicle he was driving is considered an uninsured motor vehicle as defined by the UM Act. (As explained more fully infra, the city and fire department were also immune from suit pursuant to the MTCA's police-and-fire-protection immunity clause.)

         McGlothin filed this action in February 2017 in Mississippi state court against the fireman, the fire department, and the City of Biloxi, claiming negligence. And, in the alternative, she included State Farm as a defendant, seeking UM coverage in the event the other parties were entitled to sovereign immunity, pursuant to the MTCA, Mississippi Code §§ 11-46-1 et seq. State Farm removed this action to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction.

         McGlothin's claims against the fireman, the city, and the fire department were dismissed because McGlothin failed to serve them with process. (This dismissal created complete diversity; and, therefore, the district court had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. See Grupo Dataflux v. Atlas Global Group, L.P., 541 U.S. 567, 571-73 (2004); Caterpillar Inc. v. Lewis, 519 U.S. 61, 68-78 (1996).) Instead, McGlothin pursued her claims against the fireman, the fire department, and the city in state court. The state court granted defendants' summary-judgment motion, concluding: "[The fireman] was not acting with reckless disregard as required for a governmental entity or governmental employee to be held liable under the [MTCA]". McGlothin v. Mason, No. A2402-17-20 (Harrison Cty. Cir. Ct. 30 Nov. 2017).

         In this action, McGlothin and State Farm filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The district court granted McGlothin's, and partially denied State Farm's, concluding McGlothin is entitled to UM coverage, pursuant to its ruling Mississippi Code §§ 83-11-101(1) and 83-11-103(c)(vi) are repugnant, with the latter being the more specific, controlling section. McGlothin v. State Farm Mut. Ins., 297 F.Supp.3d 635, 638 (S.D.Miss. 2018).

         Section 83-11-101 (policy requirement) lists mandatory provisions to be contained in automobile-liability-insurance policies, including requiring automobile insurers provide UM coverage to the extent the insured is "legally entitled to recover". As discussed supra, § 83-11-103(c) (uninsured-motor-vehicle definition) contains definitions of the term "uninsured motor vehicle" as used in the UM Act, which includes, in subpart (c)(vi), a vehicle "owned or operated by a person protected by immunity under the [MTCA]".

         In granting summary judgment against State Farm on the issue of UM coverage, the district court concluded: under State Farm's proposed reading of the two sections, "[a]n insured would never be 'legally entitled to recover' damages from a person or entity entitled to immunity under the [MTCA]"; therefore, the sections are repugnant; "and the only way to carry out the Mississippi Legislature's intent in enacting Miss. Code Ann. § 83-11-103(c)(vi) [(uninsured-motor-vehicle definition)] is to view it as an exception to Miss. Code Ann. § 83-11-101(1) [(policy requirement)]". McGlothin, 297 F.Supp.3d at 638.

         As a result, the court concluded § 83-11-103(c)(vi) (uninsured-motor-vehicle definition) was the more specific, and, therefore, controlling section, and McGlothin was entitled to UM benefits. Id. (On the other hand, the court granted State Farm's summary-judgment motion against McGlothin's claims for extra-contractual and punitive damages ...


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