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Williams v. Travelers Home and Marine Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. Nevada

March 8, 2017

MAXWELL B. WILLIAMS and CLAIR N. WILLIAMS, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE TRAVELERS HOME AND MARINE INSURANCE COMPANY and THE TRAVELERS INDEMNITY COMPANY, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS (ECF No. 5)

          ANDREW P. GORDON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiffs Maxwell Williams and Claire Williams filed this lawsuit in Nevada state court on June 17, 2016. Defendants The Travelers Home and Marine Insurance Company (THMIC) and The Travelers Indemnity Company (TIC) removed it to this court on August 5, 2016. ECF No. 1. The defendants now move to dismiss most of the Williamses' claims. They argue that TIC should be dismissed because it is not a party to the insurance policy at issue. They also argue the claims for vicarious liability and punitive damages are remedies, not causes of action. According to the defendants, all of the Williamses' other claims, except for their breach of contract claim, are time-barred. Finally, they contend the Williamses cannot bring negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims against their insurance carrier.

         I convert the motion into one for summary judgment because the parties have attached evidence to the motion and response. I grant summary judgment in favor of TIC because it is not a party to the insurance contract out of which the Williamses' claims arise. I dismiss the asserted claims for vicarious liability and punitive damages because these are theories of recovery, not causes of action. I grant summary judgment in THMIC's favor on all of the Williamses' remaining claims, except for their breach of contract and negligence claims, as time-barred. Finally, I grant summary judgment in THMIC's favor on the negligence claim because an insured cannot sue his or her insurer for negligence where that claim would be duplicative of a breach of contract or bad faith claim. As a result, the Williamses' only remaining claim is a breach of contract claim against THMIC.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Williamses purchased homeowners' insurance from THMIC to cover their residence. ECF Nos. 1-1 at 5; 5-1. In June 2010, they suffered a water loss at their home and they submitted a claim under the policy. ECF No. 1-1 at 5. According to the complaint, THMIC inspected the property but refused to pay benefits for the reasonable repair of the residence or for replacement of damaged contents. Id. at 6. The complaint alleges that THMIC “ultimately closed the Plaintiffs' outstanding claims without arriving at a fair and equitable settlement . . . .” Id. On October 5, 2011, THMIC sent a letter to the Williamses stating that it was “closing this file” because the Williamses allegedly had not cooperated with THMIC. ECF No. 5-3.

         Based on THMIC's alleged acts and omissions in its handling of the Williamses' claim, the complaint asserts the following: (1) vicarious liability for the alleged actions or inactions of the defendants' employees; (2) breach of contract for failing to pay benefits due under the policy; (3) breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing for failing to make repairs or replace the contents and for “closing the Plaintiffs' outstanding claims without arriving at a fair and equitable settlement resolution;” (4) statutory violations for unfair claims practices; (5) common law bad faith; (6) negligence; (7) intentional infliction of emotional distress; and (8) punitive damages. Id. at 6-13.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Although styled a motion to dismiss, the parties attach evidence to the motion and the response, which I have considered. I therefore convert the motion into one for summary judgment. See In re Rothery, 143 F.3d 546, 549 (9th Cir. 1998); Fed R. Civ. P. 12(d).

         Summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings, discovery responses, and affidavits demonstrate “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), (c). A fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248

         (1986). An issue is genuine if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.

         The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to set forth specific facts demonstrating there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Fairbank v. Wunderman Cato Johnson, 212 F.3d 528, 531 (9th Cir. 2000). I view the evidence and make reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. James River Ins. Co. v. Hebert Schenk, P.C., 523 F.3d 915, 920 (9th Cir. 2008).

         A. Defendant TIC

         TIC contends it is not a party to the contract out of which the plaintiffs' claims arise. The Williamses respond that TIC is mentioned on page 11 of the policy, TIC sent them a pamphlet, and TIC sent correspondence in July 2012 regarding an uncashed check made out to the Williamses. They thus argue there are questions of fact regarding whether TIC is in privity of contract with the Williamses.

         The complaint does not allege facts supporting TIC's liability. It groups the two defendants together and identifies them collectively as “Travelers.” ECF No. 1-1 at 4-5. But it contains no factual allegations about why TIC is liable. The insurance policy identifies the insurer as THMIC. ECF No. 5-1 at 2. TIC is not listed as an insurer or a party ...


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