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Elmer v. Infinity Insurance Co.

June 30, 2010

CINDY ELMER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
INFINITY INSURANCE COMPANY AND DOES 1-100, INCLUSIVE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Morrison C. England, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Cindy Elmer ("Plaintiff") seeks damages stemming from the denial of her insurance claim and subsequent cancellation of her insurance policy by Defendant Infinity Insurance Company ("Defendant"). She brings two causes of action: breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Plaintiff originally filed in state court; Defendant then removed this case to federal court, citing diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. Defendant claims that Plaintiff's tort claim for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing is barred by the two-year statute of limitations.*fn1 For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's request for summary adjudication as to the implied covenant claim will be denied.*fn2

BACKGROUND

In January of 2007, Plaintiff insured her 2007 Dodge Nitro SXT with Defendant. Her policy covered both damage caused by a collision as well as damage not caused by a collision. On April 23 of that year, she submitted a claim to Defendant regarding damage to her car. Plaintiff and Defendant hotly dispute the cause of that damage.

According to Plaintiff, her car was struck by a hit-and-run driver while parked on the street during the night of April 21 or early morning of April 22. She claims to have left her car on the street overnight, locked and unharmed, and to have discovered collision damage to the front end of the car the next morning. Plaintiff's neighbor reports hearing a loud bang at 4 a.m. from the direction of Plaintiff's vehicle.

After Defendant investigated Plaintiff's claim, the company concluded that Plaintiff's story was a fabrication and that the car had been hurt while being driven off-road "through heavy brush" by the Plaintiff or her family. Both parties cite to expert evaluation as to the source of the damage. Plaintiff's mechanic found the damage to be consistent with a hit-and-run accident, as Plaintiff alleges, while Defendant's mechanic thought that the car had been damaged while being driven off-road.

As a result of this investigation, Defendant denied Plaintiff's claim via fax and telephone on May 29, 2007. Defendant then cancelled Plaintiff's policy coverage on June 13, 2007, citing "fraud discovered during investigation of 4/22/07 loss."

The above-enumerated dates are central to Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment now before the Court. Through that motion, Defendant seeks summary adjudication as to Plaintiff's claim for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing on grounds that said claim is time-barred. Defendant argues that because the statute of limitations on an implied covenant claim is two years, and the statute began running on May 29, 2007, the present lawsuit, filed on June 1, 2009,*fn3 was commenced three days after the statute of limitations expired.

Plaintiff, on the other hand, contends that the statute was not triggered until the policy was cancelled on June 13, 2007, inasmuch as the denial of the claim and the cancellation of the policy arise from the same set of facts: Plaintiff's alleged fraud.

STANDARD

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide for summary judgment when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show 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). One of the principal purposes of Rule 56 is to dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986).

Rule 56 also allows a court to grant summary adjudication on part of a claim or defense. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a) ("A party seeking to recover upon a claim...may...move...for a summary judgment in the party's favor upon all or any part thereof."); see also Allstate Ins. Co. v. Madan, 889 F. Supp. 374, 378-79 (C.D. Cal. 1995); France Stone Co., Inc. v. Charter Township of Monroe, 790 F. Supp. 707, 710 (E.D. Mich. 1992).

The standard that applies to a motion for summary adjudication is the same as that which applies to a motion for summary judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a), 56(c); Mora v. ...


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