Richard Trego, et al v. Allstate Insurance Company
OPINION filed : The judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED, decision not for publication. Danny J. Boggs and John M. Rogers, Circuit Judges; George C. Steeh, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Michigan, sitting by designation.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR FULL-TEXT PUBLICATION
File Name: 14a0019n.06
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
RICHARD TREGO; CARLA TREGO,
ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY,
Jan 15, 2014
DEBORAH S. HUNT, Clerk
ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED
STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
Before: BOGGS and ROGERS, Circuit Judges, and STEEH, District Judge.*
BOGGS, Circuit Judge. The house of plaintiffs-appellants Richard and Carla Trego
burned down during the early morning hours of August 23, 2008. The Tregos had a homeowners
insurance policy with defendant-appellee Allstate Insurance Company. After the house burned
down, the Tregos submitted a claim for the loss to Allstate. Following its investigation, Allstate
denied the Tregos’ claim, asserting that the Tregos were involved in causing the fire and that
they misrepresented their financial status and their whereabouts prior to the fire. The Tregos
sued, alleging that Allstate breached its contract with the Tregos and denied their claim in bad
faith. The district court granted Allstate’s motion for partial summary judgment on the Tregos’
The Honorable George C. Steeh, United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, sitting by
bad-faith claim, and the jury found for Allstate at trial on the Tregos’ breach-of-contract claim.
The Tregos appeal the district court’s grant of summary judgment on the bad-faith claim. We
affirm the judgment of the district court.
We review a district court’s grant of summary judgment de novo. Frazier v. Honda of
Am. Mfg., Inc., 431 F.3d 563, 565 (6th Cir. 2005). Summary judgment is appropriate where “the
movant shows that 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). The question is “whether the evidence
presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided
that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 25152 (1986). When ruling on a summary-judgment motion, a court must draw all reasonable
inferences from the evidence in favor of the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).
Under Ohio law, an insurer fails to exercise good faith in the denial of a claim only where
the denial is not “reasonably justified.” Zoppo v. Homestead Ins. Co., 644 N.E.2d 397, 399
(Ohio 1994). A court should grant summary judgment to the insurer where it finds, “after
viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the insured, that the claim was fairly debatable
and the refusal was premised on either the status of the law at the time of the denial or the facts
that gave rise to the claim.” Tokles & Son, Inc. v. Midwestern Indemn. Co., 605 N.E.2d 936, 943
(Ohio 1992). Thus, in opposing the motion for summary judgment, an insured must “show that
the insurer had no reasonable justification for refusing the claim.” Id.
Here, following a trial on the merits, a jury found that Allstate did not breach its
contractual obligations. That is, the jury found that Allstate was not obligated to reimburse the
Tregos for their loss. It is difficult to conceive of circumstances under which Allstate could deny
in bad faith a claim that it did not in fact owe. Said differently, it is hard to imagine that Allstate
could have had “no reasonable justification” for denying the claim when the jury agreed with
Allstate that the claim was not owed. Although it is theoretically possible that, under these
circumstances, Allstate could have nonetheless denied the claim in bad faith—for example, by
refusing to conduct any investigation—such exceptional circumstances are not present here.
Allstate denied the Tregos’ claim in part because it suspected that the Tregos had burned
down their own home. Under their contract, the Tregos could not recover if the loss was caused
by the “intentional . . . acts” of any insured person.
Allstate’s licensed and certified fire
investigator testified that he found evidence of two separate fires in different locations in the
home that began around the same time, and that he obtained ignitable liquid samples from the
front-door threshold—both indicators that the fire was deliberately set.
Allstate’s expert was not disputed.
The testimony of
The Tregos also do not dispute that they had been
experiencing significant financial trouble in the period leading up to the fire. Moreover, the
evidence—including Mrs. Trego’s own testimony—revealed that just before the fire, Mrs. Trego
had packed away various items of personal property, including sentimental items like her
wedding dress and family photos, and placed them in the garage, where they remained unharmed
by the fire. Allstate was aware of this fact at the time that it was evaluating the Tregos’ claim.
The Tregos suggested that Mrs. Trego’s former husband might have set the fire out of
jealousy, but upon investigating this allegation—interviewing both the ex-husband and a thirdparty witness—Allstate learned that Mrs. Trego’s ex-husband had a believable alibi for his
whereabouts on the night of the fire. As for the Tregos, they claimed that they were camping on
a distant part of their property at the time the fire was set.
The Tregos argue that Allstate acted in bad faith by failing to interview their “critical
witness,” David “Scotty” Shonk, who supposedly saw Mrs. Trego’s ex-husband on the access
road to the Tregos’ home just before the fire was set. Pl.’s Br. at 1-2. But the Tregos do not
dispute that they failed to provide Allstate with Shonk’s contact information—or even his real
name—despite four written requests from Allstate for this information prior to the denial of their
claim. See Def.’s Br. at 25. Accordingly, any contention that Allstate acted in bad faith in not
interviewing Shonk lacks merit.
We do not know whether the Tregos in fact caused the fire, but that is irrelevant to the
question whether Allstate acted in bad faith in denying their claim. On these facts, a reasonable
jury could not find that Allstate had “no reasonable justification” to believe that the Tregos’
intentional acts caused the fire. The Tregos fail to point to any evidence of Allstate’s bad faith in
investigating and ultimately denying their claim of loss. In view of the foregoing, we AFFIRM
the judgment of the district court.
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