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Samsky v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Eighth Division

June 26, 2019

AARON SAMSKY, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant and Respondent.

          APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County No. BS175182, Barbara A. Meiers, Judge.

          Phillips, Erlewine, Given & Carlin, Nicholas A. Carlin, David M. Given and Brian S. Conlon for Plaintiff and Appellant.

          Farmer Case & Fedor, John T. Farmer and Raquel E. Howard for Defendant and Respondent.

          STRATTON, J.

         This appeal challenges the superior court's denial of appellant's motion for costs of proof after respondent denied eight of his requests for admission (RFAs). Appellant Aaron Samsky prevailed at the arbitration of the parties' dispute, and then moved for an award of costs of proving matters State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (State Farm) denied in the RFAs. Pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 2033.420, subdivisions (a) and (b), [1] the trial court denied the motion, incorrectly placing on appellant the burden to prove that none of the exceptions to an award of costs as set out in subdivision (b) applied. State Farm should have carried the burden of proof and it failed to do so. We reverse and remand the matter to the trial court to determine appellant's reasonable costs of proof.

         BACKGROUND

         On July 27, 2015, appellant's vehicle was hit from behind by a potentially underinsured driver; the accident was part of a multi-vehicle collision. On September 10, 2015, appellant's vehicle was hit from behind again by a potentially underinsured driver. Appellant claimed he suffered a concussion, traumatic brain injury, and ulnar nerve injury to his wrist in the July accident and lower back injuries in the September accident. Appellant settled with the drivers for their policy limits of $15, 000. He then made claims against his own insurer, respondent State Farm, under his Underinsured Motorist policy for additional damages caused by each of the two accidents.

         The parties agreed to combine the two sets of claims into a single arbitration. Close to the arbitration, appellant propounded eight RFAs concerning the July accident, two concerning his lack of negligence in causing the accident and six concerning the brain and wrist injuries he claimed were sustained in that accident. State Farm denied all eight RFAs.

         Shortly before the arbitration began, State Farm agreed to pay appellant's claims for the September accident. Thus, the arbitration involved only the claims for the July accident. The arbitration extended over three days. The arbitrator found there was no evidence appellant “was in any way responsible for the accident of July 27, 2015, and the issue of liability is decided in his favor.” The arbitrator awarded appellant special damages for all of his medical bills and lost earnings for the period between the July and September accident, and also awarded general damages. The arbitrator noted some of appellant's treatment for injuries sustained in the July accident took place after the September accident, and those costs were included in the general damages due to the difficulty of accurately apportioning the medical bills.

         Pursuant to section 2033.420, appellant moved for costs of proving the truth of the matters in the eight RFAs which State Farm had denied. At State Farm's urging, the arbitrator declined to consider appellant's motion, and the matter was decided by the trial court which confirmed the arbitration award. Nevertheless, the trial court denied appellant's motion for costs of proof. This appeal followed.

         DISCUSSION

         Section 2033.420 provides:

         “(a) If a party fails to admit the genuineness of any document or the truth of any matter when requested to do so under this chapter, and if the party requesting that admission thereafter proves the genuineness of that document or the truth of that matter, the party requesting the admission may move the court for an order requiring the party to whom the request was directed to pay the reasonable expenses incurred in making that proof, including reasonable attorney's fees.

         “(b) The court shall make this order unless it finds any of the following: [¶] (1) An objection to the request was sustained or a response to it was waived under Section 2033.290. [¶] (2) The admission sought was of no substantial importance. [¶] (3) The party failing to make the admission had reasonable ground to believe that that party would prevail on the matter. [¶] (4) There was other good reason for the failure to admit.”

         “Courts have uniformly reviewed orders granting or denying cost of proof awards for abuse of discretion. [Citations.]” (Orange County Water Dist. v. The Arnold Engineering Co. (2018) 31 Cal.App.5th 96, 118.) However, “[t]he abuse of discretion standard is not a unified standard; the deference it calls for varies according to the aspect of a trial court's ruling under review. The trial court's findings of fact are reviewed for substantial evidence, its conclusions of law are reviewed de novo, and its application of the law to the facts is reversible only if arbitrary and capricious.” (Haraguchi v. Superior Court (2008) 43 Cal.4th 706, 711-712, fns. omitted.)

         A. The Trial Court Did Not Abuse Its Discretion In Impliedly Finding Appellant Had Proven The Truth Of The Matters In His RFAs.

         The trial court began its ruling by stating that the “primary issues to be decided... is whether or not Respondent, as a party failing to make admissions when asked to do so, had, at the time of that refusal to admit, a ‘reasonable ground to believe [it] would prevail on the matter' and/or that, ‘there was other good cause for the failure to admit.' ” These issues represent exceptions to the cost of proof statute found in section 2033.420, subdivision (b), which only applies once the moving party has satisfied the requirements of subdivision (a). Thus, by defining the issues to be decided as those exceptions listed in subdivision (b), the trial court made an implied finding that appellant had proven the truth of the matters in his RFAs. There is substantial evidence to support this finding in the arbitrator's award.

         1. There is substantial evidence appellant proved he ...


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