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Rodney Mark Root v. Golden Eagle Insurance

December 4, 2012

RODNEY MARK ROOT,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
GOLDEN EAGLE INSURANCE CORPORATION, A NEW HAMPSHIRE CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jennifer L. Thurston United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Doc. 14)

Defendant Golden Eagle Insurance Corporation seeks partial summary judgment in this action for breach of insurance contract. On November 20, 2012, Plaintiff Rodney Mark Root filed a Notice of Non-Opposition, asserting Plaintiff had an "insufficient basis for a meritorious opposition." (Doc. 23). For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendant's motion for partial summary judgment. (Doc. 14)

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff initiated this action on December 27, 2011, by filing his complaint for breach of insurance contract against Golden Eagle in Kern County Superior Court Case No. S-1500-CV-275504DRL. (Doc. 2, Exh. A). Plaintiff alleged he worked as a gynecologist and acquired insurance for his medical practice from Golden Eagle, through an appointed agent. (Doc. 2 at 8-9). According to Plaintiff, insurance policy number BOP8380952 covered "various hazards, including damage to 2 equipment used in Plaintiff's business." Id. at 9. Plaintiff alleged his "office and the equipment and 3 machines located therein was severely damaged due to a sprinkler malfunction that flooded the office 4 with water" on December 28, 2009. Id. Plaintiff asserts three of the damaged machines "were highly 5 sophisticated machines," which were "rendered . . . useless for their intended purpose in that no person 6 would wish to have such intimate medical procedures performed upon him or her with the knowledge 7 that such machines had been severely damaged, even if such machines were repaired." Id. at 9-10. 8

Plaintiff alleges: "Defendant, acting in good faith was required under the terms of the Insurance Policy to treat the above-mentioned machines as being destroyed and to compensate Plaintiff for such damages as would accrue." (Doc. 2 at 10). However, Plaintiff asserts "Defendant refused to do so, and only paid Plaintiff a small fraction of [his] actual damages." Id. In addition, Plaintiff asserts Defendant refuses to compensate him beyond the amount of $50,000.00 "for the loss of use of office equipment damaged or destroyed," which Plaintiff alleges "exceeds the sum of $200,000.00." Id. Plaintiff alleges, "Defendant acted in bad faith throughout the claim process" by reassigning the claim to a different adjuster, "basing its analysis of the loss of use upon supposition rather than the actual facts of [his] practice, and by using accounting methods not generally recognized." Id. Further, Plaintiff contends an accountant made deliberate errors in order to reduce the amount of compensation. Id. According to Plaintiff, "Defendant was guilty of oppression in that Defendant acted in utter disregard of Plaintiffs [sic] common-law and statutory rights to have his claims settled in a reasonable manner." Id. at 10-11. Therefore, Plaintiff included a prayer for exemplary damages in addition to actual damages. Id. at 11.

On September 28, Golden Eagle filed the motion for partial summary judgment now pending before the Court. (Doc. 14). Golden Eagle requests the Court find:

1. Golden Eagle did not breach its contract of insurance by failing to pay to replace, rather than repair, the damaged equipment because the policy gave it the right to elect to pay repair costs rather than to pay to replace the damaged equipment.

2. Golden Eagle is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's claim of insurance bad faith because the undisputed facts establish it acted reasonably and with proper cause as a matter of law in adjusting the claim.

(Doc. 14 at 1-2). In the alternative, "because there is no evidence that could be deemed clear 2 and convincing evidence of malice or oppression," Golden Eagle asserts it is entitled to 3 summary judgment on Plaintiff's claim for putative damages. Id. at 2. 4

On October 29, 2012, the parties filed a Joint Statement of Undisputed Facts. (Doc. 19). In it,

5 the parties stipulated "that there is no clear and convincing evidence of malicious or oppressive 6 behavior sufficient to support Plaintiff's request for punitive damages." Id. at 2. Therefore, 7

"Plaintiff's prayer for punitive damages [was] withdrawn." Id. On November 14, 2012, Golden Eagle 8 reported: "Plaintiff's counsel advised on November 13, 2012, the due date for plaintiff's opposition, 9 that he had concluded he has insufficient basis for a meritorious opposition and therefore would not be filing any opposition to this motion." (Doc. 21 at 1). Thereafter, Plaintiff filed his Notice of Non-Opposition to the motion. (Doc. 23).

II. STANDARDS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

The "purpose of summary judgment is to pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial." Matsuhita Elec. Indus. Co. Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (citation omitted). Summary judgment is appropriate when there is "no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Summary judgment should be entered, "after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

In addition, Rule 56 allows a court to grant summary adjudication, or partial summary judgment, when there is no genuine issue of material fact as to a particular claim or portion of that claim. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); see also Lies v. Farrell Lines, Inc., 641 F.2d 765, 769 n.3 (9th Cir. 1981) ("Rule 56 authorizes a summary adjudication that will often fall short of a final determination, even of a single claim . . .") (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The standards that apply on a motion for summary judgment and a motion for summary adjudication are the same. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 (a), (c); Mora v. Chem-Tronics, 16 F. Supp. 2d 1192, 1200 (S.D. Cal. 1998).

A party seeking summary adjudication bears the "initial responsibility" of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. An issue of fact is genuine only 2 if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable fact finder to find for the non-moving party, while a fact 3 is material if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty 4

Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Wool v. Tandem Computers, Inc., 818 F.2d 1422, 1436 (9th 5 Cir. 1987). The moving party demonstrates summary adjudication is appropriate by "informing the 6 district court of the basis of its motion, and identifying those portions of 'the pleadings, depositions, 7 answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any,' which it believes 8 ...


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