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Etta v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

March 17, 2014



LUCY H. KOH, District Judge.

Plaintiff Patricia Van Etta filed this suit against her automobile insurer, Defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company ("State Farm"), and other unnamed agents and employees of State Farm, alleging various California state law claims in connection with State Farm's refusal to provide insurance coverage regarding a car accident. See ECF Nos. 1 (State Farm's Notice of Removal), 1-1 (Compl.). State Farm has moved for summary judgment and partial summary judgment on multiple grounds. See ECF No. 23. Van Etta filed an Opposition, see ECF No. 40, and State Farm filed a Reply and objections to certain evidence, see ECF Nos. 41, 42. The Court finds the Motion suitable for decision without oral argument pursuant to Civil Local Rule 7-1(b), and therefore VACATES the hearing set for March 20, 2014. Having considered the briefing, the record in this case, and applicable law, the Court GRANTS the Motion for the reasons stated below.


The Court recites only the facts relevant to its disposition of this Motion, taking all inferences in favor of the non-moving party, Van Etta. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986) ("The evidence of the nonmovant is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.").

A. The Insurance Policy

On June 12, 2010, Van Etta purchased a 2009 Chrysler PT Cruiser, along with a six-month State Farm automobile insurance policy in connection with that car. The parties do not dispute that Van Etta made a payment of $179.00 that State Farm credited to the policy at issue. See Decl. of Patricia Van Etta (ECF No. 40-1, "Van Etta Decl.") ¶ 2; State Farm's Notice of Mot. and Mem. of Points and Authorities (ECF No. 23, "Mot.") at 4. However, the parties disagree about the circumstances of this initial payment. Van Etta claims that on June 12, 2010, she spoke to a State Farm employee who told her that the entire cost of the six-month policy was $179.00, such that she paid the full price on that date. See Van Etta Decl. ¶ 2. State Farm presents no evidence to dispute the assertion that this conversation occurred, but states that Van Etta's policy cost substantially more than the sum she paid, that her initial payment was only a "partial payment" for the policy, and that she still owed $151.27. Mot. at 4. Based on the initial payment, State Farm issued a binder-a temporary policy-to Van Etta with an effective date of June 12, 2010. Mot. Ex. 15, Ex. Page 075 (ECF No. 31-1).

Afterwards, State Farm sent several notices to Van Etta regarding her policy. In a "Balance Due Notice" dated June 15, 2010 and addressed to Van Etta, State Farm indicated that the total premium for the six-month policy was $356.77 and that Van Etta owed $177.77 ("PLEASE PAY THIS AMOUNT") by July 16, 2010. Mot. Ex. 3, Ex. Page 045. However, a similar notice dated June 21, 2010 stated that the total premium was $330.27 and that Van Etta owed $151.27 by July 22, 2010. Mot. Ex. 4, Ex. Page 047. State Farm explains this reduction in the stated total premium as the result of a multi-policy discount that State Farm subsequently applied. See Mot. at 4. State Farm then prepared another notice dated June 23, 2010, which indicated the revised total premium of $330.27 and stated that Van Etta still owed $151.27 by July 24, 2010. Mot. Ex. 5, Ex. Page 049. While each of these notices lists only a "Prepared" date, State Farm submits an employee declaration stating that each notice was "prepared and mailed" on the listed date (Decl. of Rebekah Bridgette (ECF No. 24, "Bridgette Decl.") ¶¶ 6-8), and Van Etta does not dispute that she received those notices.

State Farm also sent Van Etta a copy of her policy, which included a Declarations Page dated June 24, 2010. Mot. Ex. 1, Ex. Page 003. The Declarations Page instructs: "DO NOT PAY PREMIUMS SHOWN ON THIS PAGE. SEPARATE STATEMENT ENCLOSED IF AMOUNT DUE." Id. However, no separate statement with an amount due appears in the copy of the policy in the record. Id., Ex. Pages 003-040. Additionally, the Declarations Page includes two different total premiums: $311.77 and $330.27. Id., Ex. Page 003. State Farm again attempts to explain this discrepancy as the result of a multi-policy discount. See Reply at 3 n.2. In either case, the stated premium exceeds the $179.00 that Van Etta initially paid on June 12, 2010.

In her Declaration, Van Etta states that "it appears that [she] made a payment of $151.27 on or about August 2, 2010, " based on an account record that State Farm produced. Van Etta Decl. ¶ 5. That account record indicates a balance due ("BAL DUE") of $151.27, with a date of August 2, 2010 at the bottom ("DT 08-02-10"). Id. Ex. A. The parties provide no other receipts, bank statements, or discovery responses regarding this account record.

In a subsequent "Balance Due Notice" dated August 9, 2010, State Farm stated that Van Etta still owed $151.27 by September 1, 2010, and that the premium Van Etta had paid would continue her policy only until September 20, 2010. Mot. Ex. 6, Ex. Page 051. On September 8, 2010, State Farm prepared a "Cancellation Notice, " which stated that Van Etta's policy "is hereby canceled effective 12:01 A.M. standard time SEP 21, 2010 due to non-payment of the premium." Mot. Ex. 7, Ex. Page 053. State Farm provides a declaration and receipts to confirm that the Cancellation Notice was mailed to Van Etta on September 8, 2010. See Decl. of Bill Isenhart (ECF No. 26, "Isenhart Decl.") ¶¶ 6-9; Mot. Exs. 11-13, Ex. Pages 064-069. Van Etta did not make any additional payments to State Farm before the stated cancellation date.

B. The Insurance Dispute and This Litigation

On October 12, 2010-three weeks after her policy cancellation date-Van Etta was involved in a car accident with Claudia Giacomini, who was also a State Farm customer. See Van Etta Decl. ¶ 6. Immediately following the accident, Van Etta told her son to report the accident to State Farm, and when her son was told that there was an outstanding balance on the policy, he "rushed home" to get money and then paid the balance. See Mot. Ex. 39, Ex. Pages 250-52.

Van Etta filed a claim with State Farm in its capacity as her insurance provider, as well as a personal injury claim against Giacomini. See Compl. ¶¶ 10-11. Van Etta eventually settled her claim against Giacomini and State Farm (as Giacomini's insurer), executing a release dated November 23, 2011:

[T]he undersigned hereby releases and forever discharges Claudia Giacomini... and all other persons, firms or corporations liable or, who might be claimed to be liable, ... from any and all claims, demands, damages, actions, causes of action, or suits of any kind or nature whatsoever.... This is a Full and Final Release applying to all of the undersigned's known, unknown and unanticipated injuries ...

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