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Brown v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. Nevada

June 6, 2014

NICOLE BROWN, Plaintiff(s),
v.
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, et al., Defendant(s)

ORDER

JAMAS C. MAHAN, District Judge.

Presently before the court is defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company's ("State Farm") motion for summary judgment. (Doc. # 26). Plaintiff Nicole Brown ("plaintiff") has filed a response (doc. # 31) and defendant has filed a reply (doc. # 33).

I. Background

The instant case arises out of an automobile accident that occurred on May 1, 2010, from which plaintiff sustained injuries. Plaintiff was the front seat passenger in her boyfriend's vehicle when it was rear-ended by a third-party. At the time of the accident, plaintiff had underinsured motorist ("UIM") coverage under a State Farm issued auto policy ("policy"). The policy was subject to limits of $25, 000 "each person" and plaintiff had $75, 000 in offsets. (Doc. # 26, Exhibit B). Importantly, the policy requires plaintiff to cooperate with State Farm in securing and giving evidence and precludes her from suing State Farm until she has fully cooperated.

On April 27, 2011, State Farm sent plaintiff's counsel a request for medical authorization, medical provider list, and injury questionnaire regarding her potential UIM claim. (Doc. # 26, Exhibit C). These documents were not returned. On August 10, 2011, State Farm sent another request for those documents to plaintiff's present counsel at Harris Law Firm. (Doc. # 26, Exhibit D). Again, these documents were not returned.

On November 14, 2011, plaintiff sent State Farm a demand for her $25, 000 UIM policy limits, enclosing medical records and bills relevant to her claim. (Doc. # 26, Exhibit E).

On December 12, 2011, State Farm concluded that, based on the documents plaintiff provided, her injuries did not have a value that exceeded the applicable offsets of $75, 000. State Farm invited plaintiff to provide any additional information she wished State Farm to consider. (Doc. # 26, Exhibit F). On January 11, 2012, and March 5, 2012, State Farm renewed its request for additional information. (Doc. # 26, Exhibits G and H).

On April 19, 2012, plaintiff provided State Farm with additional documentation from Dr. Cash of the Desert Institute of Spine Care, stating that she was a candidate for future treatment, amounting to $128, 160. (Doc. # 26, Exhibit I). On April 25, 2012, State Farm responded that it was unable to consider future costs in its evaluation of her claim and reinforced its position that it did not find value for plaintiff's injuries exceeding the $75, 000 offsets. (Doc. # 31, p. 4).

On June 25, 2012, plaintiff responded by filing this complaint and State Farm timely removed to this court on August 27, 2012. (Doc. # 1). During discovery, plaintiff provided a medical authorization, for the first time, in response to State Farm's request for production of documents. (Doc. # 31, p. 5).

In her complaint, plaintiff alleges a breach of contract claim based on State Farm's refusal to pay her UIM claim. Plaintiff alleges that payment was due because her damages exceeded the $75, 000 applicable offsets, totaling over $100, 000. Plaintiff also seeks punitive damages. (Doc. # 26).

II. Legal Standard

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide for summary adjudication when the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A principal purpose of summary judgment is "to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986).

In determining summary judgment, a court applies a burden-shifting analysis. "When the party moving for summary judgment would bear the burden of proof at trial, it must come forward with evidence which would entitle it to a directed verdict if the evidence went uncontroverted at trial. In such a case, the moving party has the initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of fact on each issue material to its case." C.A.R. Transp. Brokerage Co. v. Darden Rests., Inc. , 213 F.3d 474, 480 (9th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted).

In contrast, when the nonmoving party bears the burden of proving the claim or defense, the moving party can meet its burden in two ways: (1) by presenting evidence to negate an essential element of the nonmoving party's case; or (2) by demonstrating that the nonmoving party failed to make a showing sufficient to establish an element essential to that party's case on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. See Celotex Corp. , 477 U.S. at 323-24. If the moving party fails to meet its initial burden, summary judgment must ...


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