Sims v. Monumental General Ins. Co. ( 1992 )


Menu:
  •                       United States Court of Appeals,
    
                                      Fifth Circuit.
    
                                       No. 91–9529
    
                                  Summary Calendar.
    
                  Julia Brumfield SIMS, Plaintiff–Appellant,
    
                                            v.
    
         MONUMENTAL GENERAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant–Appellee.
    
                                      May 11, 1992.
    
    Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern
    District of Louisiana.
    
    Before JONES, DUHÉ, and WIENER, Circuit Judges.
    
          DUHÉ, Circuit Judge:
    
          This case requires us to decide whether a man's hanging
    
    himself by the neck in order to restrict the flow of oxygen to his
    
    brain is an intentionally self-inflicted injury within the meaning
    
    of   an   exclusion    to   his    insurance   policy.      We   hold   that    he
    
    intentionally injured himself, even though he did not mean to kill
    
    himself, and that his death is not covered by the policy.                      The
    
    judgment of the district court is affirmed.
    
    
    
                                            I.
    
          The relevant facts are not disputed. William P. Brumfield was
    
    discovered strangled to death in his home.               He hanged himself by
    
    the neck so the flow of oxygen to his brain would be restricted;
    
    he enjoyed this practice and its concomitant activities,1 and he
    
    apparently had engaged in it several times before.                  This time,
    
    
          1
           This practice is known as "autoerotic asphyxiation."
    however, he died.           The parties agree that his death was not the
    
    result of suicide, foul play, or natural causes.
    
    
    
           Mr. Brumfield was covered by an insurance policy originally
    
    issued by Monumental Life Insurance Company and later assumed by
    
    Monumental General Insurance Company. The policy covers accidental
    
    death      that   does    not    result    from    intentionally      self-inflicted
    
    injury.         Julia Brumfield Sims, Mr. Brumfield's sister and the
    
    beneficiary under the policy, claims that $150,000 is due under the
    
    policy, but Monumental denied her claim on the grounds that Mr.
    
    Brumfield's       death     was    not     accidental    and    resulted    from    an
    
    intentionally self-inflicted injury.
    
    
    
           Mrs. Sims sued Monumental.                 On cross-motions for summary
    
    judgment, the district court rendered judgment for Monumental.
    
    Sims       v.   Monumental       Gen.     Life    Ins.   Co.,   
    778 F. Supp. 325
    
    (E.D.La.1991).2          Mrs. Sims now appeals.
    
    
    
                                                II.
    
               Summary judgment is appropriate if the record discloses "that
    
    there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the
    
    moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law."
    
    Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).             In reviewing the summary judgment, we apply
    
    the same standard of review as did the district court.                     Waltman v.
    
    International Paper Co., 
    875 F.2d 468
    , 474 (5th Cir.1989);                       Moore
    
           2
          The district court was mistaken when it referred to the
    Defendant as Monumental General Life Insurance Company. See 1 R.
    112–13.
    v.   Mississippi    Valley    State    Univ.,   
    871 F.2d 545
    ,    548    (5th
    
    Cir.1989).     The pleadings, depositions, admissions, and answers to
    
    interrogatories, together with affidavits, must demonstrate that no
    
    genuine issue of material fact remains.          Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
    
    
    477 U.S. 317
    , 
    106 S. Ct. 2548
    , 
    91 L. Ed. 2d 265
     (1986).                To that end
    
    we must "review the facts drawing all inferences most favorable to
    
    the party opposing the motion."        Reid v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins.
    
    Co., 
    784 F.2d 577
    , 578 (5th Cir.1986).           If the record taken as a
    
    whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the
    
    nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.                Matsushita
    
    Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 
    475 U.S. 574
    , 587, 
    106 S. Ct. 1348
    , 1356, 
    89 L. Ed. 2d 538
     (1986).               Because we only need
    
    apply the unambiguous policy language to undisputed facts, this
    
    case is well suited to summary judgment.
    
    
    
                                          III.
    
           Mr. Brumfield's policy excludes "any loss resulting directly
    
    or indirectly, wholly or partly from:                 1. Suicide or attempt
    
    thereat or intentionally self-inflicted injury occurring while sane
    
    or insane."     
    1 Rawle 121
    .    The issue is whether Mr. Brumfield's death
    
    "result[ed] directly or indirectly, wholly or partly from ... [an]
    
    intentionally self-inflicted injury."             The parties agree that
    
    Louisiana law applies in this diversity case.
    
    
    
          In Louisiana, someone is said to have acted intentionally
    
    "where   the    actor   entertained     a    desire    to   bring    about   the
    
    consequences that followed or where the actor believed that the
    result was substantially certain to follow."   Bazley v. Tortorich,
    
    
    397 So. 2d 475
    , 481 (La.1981).   Mr. Brumfield desired to partially
    
    strangle himself.    The partial strangulation that he apparently
    
    achieved on previous occasions was intentional and self-inflicted.
    
    The only question is whether partial strangulation is an injury.
    
    
    
         According to the undisputed opinion of Monumental's expert,
    
    the type of strangulation desired by Mr. Brumfield damages tissues
    
    in the neck and deprives the brain of valuable oxygen.    
    2 Rawle 242
    .
    
    If Mr. Brumfield came before this Court and proved that a robber
    
    had partially strangled him, we would have no trouble holding that
    
    Mr. Brumfield had been injured and that the robber should be held
    
    criminally liable.    Two state supreme courts have so held.    See
    
    State v. Schad, 
    470 P.2d 246
    , 250 (Utah 1970) (affirming second
    
    degree murder conviction because the victim's life was greatly
    
    endangered even though only partial strangulation was intended);
    
    State v. Schad, 
    163 Ariz. 411
    , 418, 
    788 P.2d 1162
    , 1169 (1989)
    
    (affirming death sentence partly based on same), aff'd sub nom.
    
    Schad v. Arizona, ––– U.S. ––––, 
    111 S. Ct. 2491
    , 
    115 L. Ed. 2d 555
    
    (1991).   In the words of a court facing an issue identical to ours,
    
    "it continues to be an injury even when it is self-inflicted."
    
    Sigler v. Mutual Benefit Life Ins. Co., 
    506 F. Supp. 542
    , 545
    
    (S.D.Iowa), aff'd, 
    663 F.2d 49
     (8th Cir.1981).
    
    
    
         That Mr. Brumfield only intended partial strangulation and did
    
    not intentionally kill himself does not avail Mrs. Sims.        The
    
    policy in this case not only excludes suicide, but also any loss
    (including death) "resulting directly or indirectly, wholly or
    
    partly from ... [an] intentionally self-inflicted injury." Partial
    
    strangulation is an injury in and of itself. His death "result[ed]
    
    directly or indirectly, wholly or partly from" that intentionally
    
    self-inflicted injury.
    
    
    
           An analogy is helpful.       If Mr. Brumfield had been a member of
    
    a fraternal organization that required him to brand his forearm,
    
    and he did so, any loss arising from the branding would be
    
    excluded.      For instance, although he only intended to burn the
    
    insignia      of    the   organization       onto    his     skin,     he   might
    
    unintentionally burn into his muscle and do serious damage to his
    
    arm.       He intended some injury, but another, unintended injury
    
    resulted.     The loss would not be covered the policy at issue here.
    
    
    
           Our    decision    is   in   accord    with   the     Eighth    Circuit's
    
    application of Iowa law to an identical case.              Sigler, 
    663 F.2d 49
    
    (affirming summary judgment for defendant). The Fourth Circuit has
    
    reached the same result in two cases decided under Virginia law,
    
    although that court held that the deaths were not accidental (an
    
    issue we do not reach3).       International Underwriters, Inc. v. Home
    
    Ins. Co., 
    662 F.2d 1084
     (4th Cir.1981); Runge v. Metropolitan Life
    
    Ins. Co., 
    537 F.2d 1157
     (4th Cir.1976).                    The opinion of the
    
    intermediate       appellate   court   in    Wisconsin,     which     reached   an
    
    
           3
          Because we have decided that coverage was excluded under
    the "intentionally self-inflicted injury" provision, we need not
    decide whether his death was "accidental" within the meaning of
    the policy.
    opposite result in a similar case, does not inform our analysis
    
    because it, like the Fourth Circuit, only addressed the issue
    
    whether the death was "accidental."                  See Kennedy v. Washington
    
    Nat'l Ins. Co., 
    136 Wis. 2d 425
    , 
    401 N.W.2d 842
    , 846 (Ct.App.1987).
    
    The    policy   in     that   case    apparently       had    no   exclusion    for
    
    intentionally self-inflicted injury.                See id.   See generally Alan
    
    Stephens,   Annotation,       Accident    or    Life    Insurance:      Death    by
    
    Autoerotic Asphyxiation as Accidental, 
    62 A.L.R. 4th 823
     (1988).
    
    
    
           The only case cited by Mrs. Sims that holds that partial
    
    strangulation     is    not   an     injury    is    Connecticut    General    Life
    
    Insurance Co. v. Tommie, 
    619 S.W.2d 199
     (Tex.Civ.App.—Texarkana
    
    1981, writ ref'd n.r.e.).          That case, however, was in an entirely
    
    different procedural posture than the instant case. In Tommie, the
    
    Texas intermediate appellate court was reviewing a jury finding
    
    that partial strangulation did not constitute an injury under Texas
    
    law.   The Texarkana court, constrained by its standard of review,
    
    held that "some probative evidence" introduced in the trial court
    
    tended to support the jury's finding, which the appellate court was
    
    therefore required to affirm.           Id. at 203.      The record in the case
    
    at bar, however, does not raise any genuine issue of material fact,
    
    even when viewed in the light most favorable to Mrs. Sims.                      See
    
    Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 
    477 U.S. 317
    , 
    106 S. Ct. 2548
    , 
    91 L. Ed. 2d 265
     (1986);     Reid v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 
    784 F.2d 577
    ,
    
    578 (5th Cir.1986).
    
    
    
                                            IV.
         No genuine issues of material fact remain, and Monumental is
    
    entitled to judgment as a matter of law.    Mr. Brumfield's death
    
    resulted from an intentionally self-inflicted injury, and his death
    
    is not covered by the Monumental policy.      The judgment of the
    
    district court is therefore
    
    
    
         AFFIRMED.