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

  •                       United States Court of Appeals,
                                      Fifth Circuit.
                                       No. 91–9529
                                  Summary Calendar.
                  Julia Brumfield SIMS, Plaintiff–Appellant,
                                      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.
          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,
           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.
               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
          The district court was mistaken when it referred to the
    Defendant as Monumental General Life Insurance Company. See 1 R.
    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.
    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.
           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
          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
           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
    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).
         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