Jones v. Estate of Santiago, 2003-CC-1424.

Citation870 So.2d 1002
Decision Date14 April 2004
Docket NumberNo. 2003-CC-1424.,2003-CC-1424.
CourtSupreme Court of Louisiana
PartiesDavy JONES, Individually and on Behalf of his Minor Children v. The ESTATE OF Eliud Tony SANTIAGO, et al.

Ronald E. Corkern, Jr., Steven D. Crews, Corkern & Crews, for applicant.

Elvin C. Fontenot, Jr., Leesville, Bonita Preuett-Armour, Alexandria, for respondent.

WEIMER, Justice.

This matter is before the court following the denial of a motion for summary judgment in the trial court and denial of a writ of certiorari in the court of appeal. We granted certiorari in order to determine the propriety of those actions. Jones v. Estate of Santiago, 03-1424 (La.10/10/03), 855 So.2d 346. For reasons that follow, we reverse the lower court judgments and enter summary judgment in favor of State Farm Fire & Casualty Company (State Farm).


This case involves determining whether the shooting death of a wife and mother was intentional or accidental.

Davy Jones and his wife, Annissa, had been estranged for a period of several months. During that time she moved into the home of Eliud Santiago. Two days before the tragic shooting, Annissa and Davy reconciled and she agreed to move back to the Jones household. At some point, that decision was conveyed to Eliud Santiago. Annissa, accompanied by her then eight year old daughter, Kaitly1, went to the Santiago home to retrieve some clothing and personal belongings. While the two were at the Santiago residence a series of events unfolded. In the end, Kaitly was the only survivor.

Eliud Santiago took his own life with a single gunshot to the head. Prior to shooting himself, Santiago shot Annissa Jones as well as his two young daughters. All of the victims died of gunshot wounds to the head.

Davy Jones filed suit to recover damages sustained on behalf of himself and his minor children as a result of the death of Annissa Jones, his wife and the mother of his children. The petition alleges that on or about June 20, 1999, Eliud Santiago, for unknown reasons, shot and killed Annissa Jones before shooting himself. The petition further alleges the death of Annissa Jones was caused by the negligence of Eliud Tony Santiago in (a) firing a firearm and striking Annissa Jones causing her death, (b) an intentional battery which resulted in the death of the minor children's mother, and (c) discharging a firearm in a negligent or reckless manner. Named as defendants were the Estate of Eliud Tony Santiago and State Farm Insurance Company,2 the insurer providing homeowner's insurance coverage to Eliud Santiago.

State Farm filed a motion for summary judgment seeking to have plaintiffs' claim dismissed on the basis that the killing of Annissa Jones was not a covered occurrence under the insurance policy issued to Eliud Santiago and was specifically excluded by the intentional act exclusion. In support of its motion, State Farm submitted a number of exhibits including selected pages of the deposition testimony of the plaintiff, Davy Jones, as well as selected pages of the depositions of two officers employed by the Vernon Parish Sheriff's office who conducted an investigation at the scene of the shooting. State Farm also submitted a certified copy of the policy of insurance issued to Eliud Santiago arguing that the exclusion contained therein applies to the facts of this case.3 In a supplemental memorandum in support of its motion for summary judgment, State Farm submitted selected passages from the deposition of Dr. Terry Welke, the Calcasieu Parish Coroner who conducted the autopsy on three of the decedents.

In opposition to the motion for summary judgment, plaintiff submitted the entirety of the deposition of Dr. Terry Welke and the deposition of Kaitly Jones, the daughter who accompanied Annissa to Mr. Santiago's residence on the afternoon of the shooting.

The court heard argument on the motion for summary judgment on October 22, 2002. Defendant argued Annissa's death was the result of an intentional shooting by the insured and the policy exclusion applied to deny coverage for the intentional act. Plaintiff argued the shooting was accidental rather than intentional and thus coverage under the homeowner's policy was not prohibited by the exclusion for intentional acts. The court took the matter under advisement to review the exhibits which had been offered in support of and in contravention to the motion.

On January 31, 2003, the court signed a judgment denying the motion for summary judgment based on the deposition testimony of Kaitly Jones. The court indicated that "if this witness is found to be credible it would tend to support plaintiff's version of the pertinent events."

State Farm applied for writ of certiorari to the court of appeal. The court of appeal denied the writ with the following notation: "We find no error in the trial court's ruling." State Farm then applied to this court for writ of certiorari.


A motion for summary judgment will be granted "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 material fact, and that mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." LSA-C.C.P. art. 966(B); Gootee Construction, Inc. v. Amwest Surety Insurance Company, 03-0144, p. 3 (La.10/10/03), 856 So.2d 1203, 1205; Independent Fire Insurance Company v. Sunbeam Corporation, 99-2181, 99-2257, p. 7 (La.2/29/00), 755 So.2d 226, 230-231. Summary judgment procedure is designed to secure the "just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action." LSA-C.C.P. art. 966(A)(2);4Gootee Construction, Inc., 03-0144 at 3, 856 So.2d at 1205; Racine v. Moon's Towing, 01-2837, p. 4 (La.5/14/02), 817 So.2d 21, 24.

In 1997, the legislature enacted LSA-C.C.P. art. 966(C)(2) which clarified the burden of proof in summary judgment proceedings.5 The initial burden of proof remains with the mover to show that no genuine issue of material fact exists. If the mover has made a prima facie showing that the motion should be granted, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to present evidence demonstrating that a material factual issue remains. The failure of the non-moving party to produce evidence of a material factual dispute mandates the granting of the motion. Hutchinson v. Knights of Columbus, Council No. 5747,6 03-1533, (La.2/20/04), 866 So.2d 228; Hardy v. Bowie, 98-2821, pp. 4-5 (La.9/8/99), 744 So.2d 606, 609-610.

Our review of a grant or denial of a motion for summary judgment is de novo. Schroeder v. Board of Supervisors of Louisiana State University, 591 So.2d 342, 345 (La.1991)

. Thus, this court uses the same criteria as the trial court in determining whether summary judgment is appropriate—whether there is a genuine issue of material fact and whether mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In Smith v. Our Lady of the Lake Hospital, Inc., 93-25121 (La.7/5/94), 639 So.2d 730, 750, this court recognized that a "genuine issue" is a "triable issue." The court continued: "An issue is genuine if reasonable persons could disagree. If on the state of the evidence, reasonable persons could reach only one conclusion, there is no need for a trial on that issue." The court further explained that a "fact is `material' when its existence or nonexistence may be essential to plaintiff's cause of action under the applicable theory of recovery." Id.

Although summary judgment is seldom appropriate for determinations based on subjective facts of motive, intent, good faith, knowledge, or malice, this court acknowledged in Smith that "summary judgment may be granted on subjective intent issues when no issue of material fact exists concerning the pertinent intent." Smith, 639 So.2d at 751, citing Simoneaux v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, Inc., 483 So.2d 908, 912 (La.1986)

(The court held that summary judgment is an appropriate method for disposing of a case wherein intent is a critical question if conclusory statements of a plaintiff are insufficient to support a finding of intent by reasonable minds.).

When a motion for summary judgment is made and supported, the adverse party may not rest on the allegations or denials of his pleadings but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. LSA-C.C.P. art. 967.

In this case, State Farm submitted a number of exhibits in support of its motion for summary judgment. Selected pages of the deposition testimony of Davy Jones, plaintiff in this matter, were submitted and established that he and Annissa were legally married at the time of the incident. He had been working in Texas and would return to Louisiana to visit the children when he was off of work. The two families (Jones and Santiago) lived about five houses apart and had become friends. At some point during the time the families lived near each other, Annissa had moved in with Eliud Santiago. However, on the Friday prior to the shooting, Annissa and Davy reconciled. She had gone to the Santiago house to retrieve clothes for herself and the children to go to Texas with Davy on the Sunday afternoon of the shooting.

Selected pages of the deposition testimony of Detective Hilton were also submitted. He was one of the deputies dispatched to the scene to investigate. He identified photos of Eliud Santiago and testified that Santiago's two young daughters were found shot in the bathroom which was connected to the bedroom where Mr. Santiago's body was found. The gun, recovered near Santiago's body, was a 9 millimeter Ruger. The detective testified that two pages of paper containing contact numbers were found in the dining/kitchen area. These pages included instructions to close Santiago's checking account and send the balance to his son and daughter. Additionally, two boxes were found with a note to "Mr. Wadman" to mail the packages to Santiago's two other children. Detective Hilton was of the impression that this was a...

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