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Cano v. State Farm Lloyds

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

August 2, 2017



          Sam A. Lindsay United States District Judge

         Before the court is Defendants State Farm Lloyds and Ricardo Alvarado's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 103), filed July 1, 2016. After careful review of the motion, briefs, record, appendices, and applicable law, the court grants Defendants State Farm Lloyds and Ricardo Alvarado's Motion for Summary Judgment and dismisses with prejudice this action.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         This action arises from a dispute regarding an insurance claim filed by Plaintiffs Santiago and Marilu Cano (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) to recover for hail or wind damages that occurred to their home, shed, and fence during a storm on June 13, 2012. On May 23, 2014, Plaintiffs sued Defendants State Farm Lloyds (“State Farm”) and Ricardo Alvarado (“Alvarado”) (collectively, “Defendants”) in the 162nd Judicial District Court of Dallas County, Texas, for breach of contract; and claims for violations of Chapters 541 and 542 of the Texas Insurance Code, fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, and breach of the common law duty of good faith and fair dealing (collectively, the “extra-contractual claims”). On July 29, 2014, Defendants removed this action to the district court for the Northern District of Texas on grounds that complete diversity of citizenship exists between the parties and that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs.

         The court now sets forth the undisputed facts in accordance with the standard in Section II of this opinion. On June 13, 2012, a storm hit Plaintiffs' home and caused their home, shed, and fence, to suffer wind or hail damage. At that time, Plaintiffs' home was insured for approximately $98, 000 under a State Farm Homeowners Policy (the “Policy”). Plaintiffs reported a claim to State Farm for damages resulting from the June 13, 2012 storm on June 28, 2012. Subsequently, State Farm adjuster Alvarado inspected Plaintiffs' home on July 1, 2012, and found storm damages of $2, 562.59, on a replacement cost value basis. After subtracting the Policy's $1, 000 deductible and $256.67 for depreciation, State Farm issued an actual cash value payment of $1, 305.62 to Santiago Cano (the named insured) that day. Alvarado explained his findings and the estimate to Plaintiffs. State Farm did not hear from Plaintiffs or their representative regarding the claim until May 23, 2014, when the present suit was filed.

         State Farm invoked the Policy's Loss Settlement appraisal provision on May 13, 2015, and appointed Bryan Scanlan as an appraiser. Plaintiffs objected to an appraisal and refused to participate in the appraisal process. State Farm filed a Motion to Compel Appraisal (Doc. 46), which this court granted on February 22, 2016 (Doc. 91). Plaintiffs designated Shannon Cook as an appraiser on February 23, 2016, and the appraisers subsequently agreed to select Mike Fried to serve as umpire. On April 29, 2016, State Farm received an appraisal award signed by appraiser Scanlan and umpire Fried, setting the amount of loss to Plaintiffs' home at $9, 827.95, on a replacement cost basis, and $9, 040.37 on an actual cash value basis. On May 4, 2016, State Farm tendered to Plaintiff Santiago Cano, through his counsel, payment of the award (minus prior payments, depreciation, and the aforementioned deductible) in the amount of $6, 725.11. Defendants filed the present motion for summary judgment on July 1, 2016.

         Defendants contend that they are entitled to summary judgment because, as a matter of law, their timely payment of the appraisal award estops Plaintiffs from bringing other extra-contractual claims. Plaintiffs counter that Defendants are not entitled to summary judgment because Plaintiffs' breach of contract claim is not based solely on the underpayment of damages. Instead, Plaintiffs contend that their breach of contract claim arises from State Farm's failure to include all covered damages in its estimate and payment, and for its specific denial of coverage for damages that were covered by the Policy.

         II. Motion for Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment shall be granted when the record shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-25 (1986); Ragas v. Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co., 136 F.3d 455, 458 (5th Cir. 1998). A dispute regarding a material fact is “genuine” if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court is required to view all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and resolve all disputed facts in favor of the nonmoving party. Boudreaux v. Swift Transp. Co., Inc., 402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir. 2005). Further, a court “may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence” in ruling on a motion for summary judgment. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 254-55.

         Once the moving party has made an initial showing that there is no evidence to support the nonmoving party's case, the party opposing the motion must come forward with competent summary judgment evidence of the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). On the other hand, “if the movant bears the burden of proof on an issue, either because he is the plaintiff or as a defendant he is asserting an affirmative defense, he must establish beyond peradventure all of the essential elements of the claim or defense to warrant judgment in his favor.” Fontenot v. Upjohn Co., 780 F.2d 1190, 1194 (5th Cir. 1986) (emphasis in original). “[When] the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no ‘genuine [dispute] for trial.'” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. (citation omitted). Mere conclusory allegations are not competent summary judgment evidence, and thus are insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Eason v. Thaler, 73 F.3d 1322, 1325 (5th Cir. 1996). Unsubstantiated assertions, improbable inferences, and unsupported speculation are not competent summary judgment evidence. See Forsyth v. Barr, 19 F.3d 1527, 1533 (5th Cir. 1994).

         The party opposing summary judgment is required to identify specific evidence in the record and to articulate the precise manner in which that evidence supports his or her claim. Ragas, 136 F.3d at 458. Rule 56 does not impose a duty on the court to “sift through the record in search of evidence” to support the nonmovant's opposition to the motion for summary judgment. Id.; see also Skotak v. Tenneco Resins, Inc., 953 F.2d 909, 915-16 & n.7 (5th Cir. 1992). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing laws will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Disputed fact issues that are “irrelevant and unnecessary” will not be considered by a court in ruling on a summary judgment motion. Id. If the nonmoving party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to its case and on which it will bear the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment must be granted. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23.

         III. Analysis

         A. Summary of the Parties' Contentions

         Defendants contend that when an insurer pays an appraisal award in compliance with the parties' contractual agreement, as a matter of law, the insured is estopped from bringing a breach of contract claim against the insurer. According to Defendants, “it is well settled that ‘[a]n insurer does not breach the insurance contract where, as here, it pays all damages determined by the appraisal.'” Br. in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J. 9, 5 (hereinafter, “Defs.' Br.”) (quoting Scalise v. Allstate Texas Lloyds, No. 7:13-CV-178, 2013 WL 6835248, at *4 (S.D. Tex. Dec. 20, 2013)). Defendants, therefore, contend that Plaintiffs are estopped from bringing ...

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