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Estate of Rogers v. Globe Life and Accident Insurance Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

January 30, 2015



L. SCOTT COOGLER, District Judge.

Before the Court is Defendant Globe Life and Accident Insurance Company's ("Globe Life") motion for summary judgment (Doc. 18) and the Plaintiff's cross-motion for partial summary judgment. (Doc. 28). Also pending are several motions submitted by the Plaintiff seeking to strike evidence submitted in support of Globe Life's motion for summary judgment (Docs. 12, 22, 23, 24, 26, 27), and one motion to strike filed by Globe Life. (Doc. 36.) For the reasons stated below, both Globe Life's motion for summary judgment and Plaintiff's cross-motion for partial summary judgment are due to be denied.

I. Background

On May 21, 2009, Globe Life issued an accidental death life insurance policy for the life of Gregory Rogers ("Mr. Rogers"). Benefits were payable to Mr. Rogers' mother, Mary Rogers ("Mary"), "[u]pon receipt of due proof of the Accidental Death of the insured while coverage of such Insured is in force."[1] (Doc. 20-1 at 4.) "Accidental Death" is defined as "[d]eath due to Accidental Bodily Injury caused by an Accident occuring while the insurance is in force." (Doc. 20-1 at 5.) "Accidental Bodily Injury" is defined as "[u]nexpected traumatic damage to the insured's body, of external origin." ( Id. ) An "Accident" is defined as a "fortuitous event, unforeseen and unintended." ( Id. )

Mr. Rogers was a fifty-one year old male from Pleasant Grove, Alabama who worked as a truck driver. Mr. Rogers suffered from diabetes and hypertension and took medication to control those conditions. On June 25, 2011, Mr. Rogers departed his home, either to go to a club or to meet a friend of his. His family never saw Mr. Rogers alive again.

Mr. Rogers' family, who were close with each other, began to worry when Mr. Rogers did not return their calls the night of June 25. The next day, Mr. Rogers' sister Arberdella Rogers ("Arberdella") began calling Nikki Rogers ("Nikki"), Mr. Rogers' wife, early in the morning. Nikki did not answer, but eventually called and spoke to Mary. That same day, Arberdella and Mary went to Mr. Rogers' home and spoke to Nikki. Nikki reportedly told them that she was unaware if Mr. Rogers had returned home that night, speculated that he had potentially "wandered off" due to his diabetes, and also began to talk about "all these women" that Mr. Rogers was involved with. (Doc. 20-3 at 18.) Mary then asked Nikki if she had reported Mr. Rogers missing, and Nikki said that she had. Arberdella and Mary told Nikki to contact them if she heard from Mr. Rogers, and then left the house to drive around town looking for him.

Nikki had not actually filed a missing persons report for Mr. Rogers, although she had called the police concerning his disappearance. Mary filed a missing person's report with the Pleasant Grove Police Department on June 27, 2011. On June 29, 2011, Mr. Rogers was found deceased on the northbound entrance ramp to I-65 in Chilton County. The second row seats of the truck had been folded back, and his body was wedged between the back of the front seats and the floor in the back of the truck. (Doc. 29-2 at 13.) Mr. Rogers' body was face down, with his knees flexed against the rear passenger door. Several objects were found in the truck, including Mr. Rogers' wallet, his phone, and several handguns that he owned. Two garage door openers were also found in the truck, even though it was Mr. Rogers' customary practice to keep one garage door opener in his truck and the other in Nikki's car. (Doc. 20-3 at 29.)

Mr. Rogers' body was badly decayed by the time it was found. On June 30, 2011, Dr. Stephen Boudreau ("Dr. Boudreau") performed an autopsy on the body. Dr. Boudreau was unable to determine the specific cause of Mr. Rogers' death due to the advanced state of decomposition at the time of the autopsy. The autopsy revealed no evidence of any injury to Mr. Rogers' body. (Doc. 20-8 at 3.) The autopsy also listed both the cause and manner of his death as "undetermined." (Doc. 20-7 at 2.) Globe Life denied Mary benefits under the insurance policy because it determined that Mr. Rogers' death was not an "accidental death" under the terms of the policy. On August 5, 2014, after speaking with Dr. Boudreau and examining the autopsy report, the Chilton County Coroner Awlahjaday Agee ("Agee") amended Mr. Rogers' death certificate to state that the manner of Mr. Rogers' death was natural causes.

Plaintiff filed suit against Globe Life on September 23, 2013, alleging breach of contract against Globe Life in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Alabama. Globe Life removed the case to this Court on November 1, 2013.

II. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate "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). A fact is "material" if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). There is a "genuine dispute" as to a material fact "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. The trial judge should not weigh the evidence but must simply determine whether there are any genuine issues that should be resolved at trial. Id. at 249.

In considering a motion for summary judgment, trial courts must give deference to the non-moving party by "considering all of the evidence and the inferences it may yield in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." McGee v. Sentinel Offender Services, LLC, 719 F.3d 1236, 1242 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1325 (11th Cir. 2005)). In making a motion for summary judgment, "the moving party has the burden of either negating an essential element of the nonmoving party's case or showing that there is no evidence to prove a fact necessary to the nonmoving party's case." Id. Although the trial courts must use caution when granting motions for summary judgment, "[s]ummary judgment is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural shortcut, but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986).

The fact that there are cross-motions for summary judgment does not change the standard. Even though both sides allege that no genuine issue of material fact exists, the Court must still evaluate each motion under the Rule 56 standard, determining whether either party has established that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Griffis v. Delta Family-Care Disability, 723 F.2d 822, 824 (11th Cir. 1984). The Court has considered each motion in the light most favorable to the opposing party in order to ...

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