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Perch Agaronyan et al v. Wawanesa General Insurance Company

October 30, 2012

PERCH AGARONYAN ET AL., PLAINTIFFS AND APPELLANTS,
v.
WAWANESA GENERAL INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANT AND RESPONDENT.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. Richard L. Fruin, Jr., Judge. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BC451021)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rothschild, Acting P. J.

Agaronyan v. Wawanesa General Ins. Co.

CA2/1

California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

Reversed and remanded with directions.

Plaintiffs appeal from the judgment entered after the trial court sustained without leave to amend the demurrer filed by Wawanesa General Insurance Company in this action for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing and violation of Business and Professions Code section 17200. Plaintiffs contend that the trial court erroneously sustained the demurrer on the ground that, under Code of Civil Procedure section 378*fn1 , they are not properly joined as plaintiffs in one lawsuit against Wawanesa. Because we conclude that section 378 permits joinder of the plaintiffs in this case, we reverse the judgment and remand the matter to the trial court.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

1. The Complaint

On December 10, 2010, Perch Agaronyan and 13 other plaintiffs filed an action against Wawanesa for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing and violation of Business and Professions Code section 17200, alleging that Wawanesa in bad faith denied or underpaid their insurance claims resulting from fire, soot, ash, char and wind damages sustained in the Southern California wildfires in August and September 2009. Without specifying the practices employed with respect to each plaintiff's claim, plaintiffs generally alleged that Wawanesa "failed to properly handle and adjust plaintiffs' claims in good faith and, in fact, instituted claims practices designed to improperly deny and/or minimize valid claims, placing [its] own financial interests above the interests of the[] policyholders, in violation of [its] contractual obligations." According to plaintiffs, Wawanesa "maintained a bad faith pattern and practice by handling similarly situated claims differently if policyholders were represented by an independent adjuster or an attorney. Among other things, defendants hired biased consultants to aid in denying or minimizing claims where insureds were represented by an attorney or public adjuster." Plaintiffs sought compensatory and punitive damages, attorney fees and costs, restitution and injunctive relief.

2. The Demurrer and the Trial Court's Ruling and Judgment

On February 14, 2011, Wawanesa filed a demurrer to the complaint, contending that, under section 378, "[p]laintiffs' [c]omplaint contains a misjoinder of parties, as [p]laintiffs' rights to relief do not arise out of the same transaction or series of transactions, and that Wawanesa will be prejudiced thereby." According to Wawanesa, section 378 does not permit joinder of plaintiffs in this case because "[t]hese plaintiffs own 14 separate parcels of real property[,] which they claim suffered fire, soot, ash, char, and wind damage resulting from the August 2009 Southern California wildfires. Plaintiffs' properties were insured under 14 separate policies at the times of the alleged damages. Plaintiffs presented to Wawanesa 14 separate claims for benefits, at 14 different times. After thorough, independent investigations, conducted at different times, Wawanesa paid out widely differing amounts for each policyholder's claims, at 14 different times." Wawanesa, therefore, sought dismissal of the action. (See § 430.10, subd. (d) [permitting demurrer to complaint on ground of misjoinder of parties].)

Plaintiffs opposed the demurrer, arguing that joinder was proper under section 378 because (1) "all [p]laintiffs are asserting claims severally for [the bad faith] failure to pay insurance benefits"; (2) plaintiffs "are asserting claims arising from the Station Fire against [Wawanesa] pursuant to [Wawanesa's] property insurance policies"; and (3) plaintiffs "have placed at issue common questions of law and fact based on their allegations that [Wawanesa] maintained bad faith patterns and practices of claims handling with respect to all [p]laintiffs and other insureds . . . ."

Based on the parties' submissions, and after hearing argument, the trial court sustained Wawanesa's demurrer without leave to amend. The court concluded, "There is a misjoinder of the parties plaintiff. CCP 410.30(d). CCP 378 permits joinder if the plaintiffs' rights to relief arise 'out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences' but only 'if any question of law or fact common to all these persons will arise in the action.' Although a single event, i.e., the firestorm in Southern California in 2009, resulted in damage to each plaintiff's home, the circumstances surrounding the damage to each home is too individualized to permit this case to proceed with 14 plaintiffs. There is at least one common question of law or fact among all of the 14 plaintiffs, i.e. the allegation that defendant insurer 'instituted claims practices designed to improperly deny and/or minimize valid claims . . . .' [Citation.] But as the Farmers court (Farmers Ins. Exchange v. Adams (1985) 170 Cal.App.3d 712, 722-23, disapproved on other grounds in concurring opinion in Garvey v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. (1989) 48 Cal.3d 395, 415) similarly found, there is no 'same' transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences here. Both elements must be present in order for plaintiffs to join in one action. [ΒΆ] In State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. v. Superior Court (1996) 45 Cal.App.4th 1093 (disapproved on other grounds in Cel-Tech Communications, ...


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