Hews v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company

Filing 117

ORDER denying plaintiff's 107 Motion for judgment as a matter of law; denying plaintiff's 111 Motion to correct judgment; granting defendant's 113 Motion for entry of judgment on sanction award; denying defendant's 115 Motion to alter or for relief from judgment by Judge Richard A Jones.(RS)

Download PDF
1 HONORABLE RICHARD A. JONES 2 3 4 5 6 7 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON AT SEATTLE 8 9 10 11 CLAIRE ALISON HEWS, a single individual, 12 Plaintiff, 13 NO. 2:15-cv-00834-RAJ ORDER vs. 14 STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, a foreign insurance company doing business in King County, State of Washington, 15 16 17 Defendant. 18 This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff’s Motion for New Trial (Dkt. # 19 1 20 107) , Plaintiff’s Motion to Amend Judgment per FRCP 60(a) (Dkt. # 111), Defendant’s 21 Motion for Entry of Judgment on Sanctions Award (Dkt. # 113), and Defendant’s 22 23 1 This motion is overlength. Local Rules W.D. Wash. LCR 7(e)(4). Plaintiff was restrained to filing a 12-page motion but instead filed a 24-page motion. Plaintiff did not seek permission from the Court to 25 file a motion that is double the allotted page limit. “The court may refuse to consider any text, including footnotes, which is not included within the page limits.” Id. at 7(e)(6). 24 ORDER - 1 1 Motion to Alter or for Relief from Judgment (Dkt. # 115). The Court finds oral 2 argument unnecessary. 3 I. BACKGROUND 4 In July 2016, this matter was heard before a jury in a two-phase trial. Dkt. ## 83, 5 86, 92, 93, 96, 98. The jury returned a separate jury verdict for each phase. In Phase I, 6 the jury found Plaintiff’s total damages from the accident to be $240,000. Dkt. # 95. In 7 Phase II, the jury found that Defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance 8 Company (“State Farm” or “Defendant”) did not fail to act in good faith, that Plaintiff 9 failed to comply with State Farm’s requests for material information, and that this 10 failure prejudiced State Farm. Dkt. # 99. Based on these verdicts, the Court found that 11 Plaintiff’s damages were therefore limited by her failure to cooperate with State Farm. 12 Dkt. # 110. Because Plaintiff submitted documents to allow State Farm to evaluate her 13 claim at $58,000, and because State Farm had already paid Plaintiff $30,000 of this 14 amount, the Court awarded Plaintiff $28,000. Id. Neither party is satisfied with this 15 judgment. 16 II. DISCUSSION 17 A. Plaintiff’s Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law and For a New Trial 18 Plaintiff seeks to retry Phase II of this trial pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil 19 Procedure 50 and 59. Dkt. # 107 at pp. 18, 22.2 At this stage, Plaintiff may only seek a 20 renewed judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b). Because she failed to raise 21 this motion prior to submitting the case to the jury, see Dkt. ## 96 and 98, Plaintiff is 22 barred from utilizing this option now. See Freund v. Nycomed Amersham, 347 F.3d 23 752, 761 (9th Cir. 2003). 24 2 Remarkably, Plaintiff’s arguments appear after page 12 of her brief. The Court need not consider any 25 of this information, but will exercise great leniency in doing so. Plaintiff is warned that the Court will not exercise such leniency in the future. ORDER - 2 1 Plaintiff also moves the Court for a new trial under Rule 59(a)(1). Fed. R. Civ. 2 P. 59(a)(1). “A court can grant a motion for a new trial for a variety of reasons, all of 3 which are intended to ensure that the trial court can ‘prevent a miscarriage of justice.’” 4 Conti v. Corp. Servs. Grp., Inc., 30 F. Supp. 3d 1051, 1060–61 (W.D. Wash. 2014) 5 (listing reasons for which a court might grant a new trial). Here, the jury was presented 6 with substantial evidence supporting their determination that State Farm acted 7 reasonably while Plaintiff, in part, did not. Davis v. Progressive Cas. Ins. Co., 220 F. 8 App’x 708, 711 (9th Cir. 2007) (“A jury’s verdict, including a damages award, must be 9 upheld if supported by ‘substantial evidence.’”). Notably, the jury found itself in 10 possession of more medical records than State Farm had access to during its initial 11 evaluation of the claim. The Court is confident that there has not been a miscarriage of 12 justice in the jury’s verdict. Accordingly, the Court DENIES this motion. 13 B. Plaintiff’s Motion for Order Correcting Judgment Per FRCP 60(a) 14 Plaintiff claims that the Court miscalculated her damages, whether by mistake, 15 oversight, or omission, and that Plaintiff is entitled to $38,332.59 rather than $28,000. 16 Dkt. # 111. This is not the case. 17 Throughout this lawsuit, Plaintiff failed to present substantial evidence that 18 would allow the Court to accurately calculate her damages from the accident. Instead, 19 both the Court and Plaintiff relied on State Farm’s evaluation of Plaintiff’s damages. 20 However, Plaintiff now seeks to rely on State Farm’s internal communications 21 suggesting that it had authority to settle Plaintiff’s claim for an additional $10,000. Dkt. 22 # 111. Therefore, the argument is not whether the Court made some mistake, whether 23 by oversight or otherwise, but whether the Court will consider using a different 24 evaluation when determining a final judgment. This is not the proper use of Rule 60(a). 25 Blanton v. Anzalone, 813 F.2d 1574, 1577 (9th Cir. 1987) (“In deciding whether a trial ORDER - 3 1 court may alter a judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(a), our circuit focuses on what 2 the court originally intended to do.”) (emphasis in original). “Errors correctable under 3 Rule 60(a) include those where what is written or recorded is not what the court 4 intended to write or record.” Id. Plaintiff is asking the Court to reconsider its judgment, 5 not correct a clerical error. This is not properly raised in a motion pursuant to Rule 6 60(a); accordingly, the Court DENIES this motion. 7 C. Defendant’s Motion Regarding Sanctions 8 On May 23, 2016, this Court imposed sanctions on Plaintiff in the amount of 9 $1,225. Dkt. # 43. Plaintiff and her attorney are jointly responsible for paying this 10 amount. Id. at p. 3. State Farm now moves the Court for entry of judgment against 11 Plaintiff and her attorney for the imposed sanctions. Dkt. # 113. Plaintiff did not file a 12 response to the motion. See Local Rules W.D. Wash. LCR 7(b)(2) (“[I]f a party fails to 13 file papers in opposition to a motion, such failure may be considered by the court as an 14 admission that the motion has merit.”). After reviewing the record and State Farm’s motion, and taking into account 15 16 Plaintiff’s failure to respond, the Court GRANTS the motion. 17 D. Defendant’s Motion To Alter Or For Relief From Judgment 18 State Farm moves this Court to amend the judgment pursuant to Rule 59(e) or, in 19 the alternative, to relieve it from the Court’s final judgment pursuant to Rule 60(b)(1). 20 Dkt. # 115.3 In its motion, State Farm reiterates the law in Washington as it pertains to an 21 22 insured who fails to cooperate under her insurance policy. Dkt. # 115 at pp. 2-3. 23 3 Noticeably, Plaintiff did not oppose this motion, and therefore the Court may consider this an 24 admission by Plaintiff that Defendant’s motion has merit. However, the Court need not grant every motion where the nonmovant fails to file an opposition. Local Rule 7(b)(2) is permissive, not 25 mandatory. Allianz Glob. Risks U.S. Ins. Co. v. Ershigs, Inc., 138 F. Supp. 3d 1183, 1189 n.6 (W.D. Wash. 2015). ORDER - 4 1 Though the Court does not disagree with the law as stated, the Court finds that State 2 Farm misapplied the law to the facts of this case. That is, an insurer is released from its 3 responsibilities if it was “actually prejudiced by the insured’s breach.” Tran v. State 4 Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 961 P.2d 358, 365 (Wash. 1998). Here, the jury concluded that 5 State Farm was prejudiced. Dkt. # 99 at 4. However, State Farm is not entirely relieved 6 from its obligations; its obligations are reduced “only to the extent that it was 7 prejudiced[] by the insured’s actions.” Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Tripp, 25 P.3d 997, 1004 8 (Wash. 2001). As such, State Farm has a responsibility to pay Plaintiff under the policy 9 for the amount that it was able to evaluate based on the records it received. 10 State Farm relies on Tran for the proposition that it is relieved from its duties 11 under the policy; but Tran did not create a “per se rule relieving the insurer of its 12 burden.” Staples v. Allstate Ins. Co., 295 P.3d 201, 210 (Wash. 2013). Moreover, the 13 Court does not find that Plaintiff’s case is factually analogous to Tran. This is not a 14 case where a plaintiff utterly stonewalled her insurer. See, generally, Tran, 961 P.2d 15 358. Instead, the record suggests that Plaintiff cooperated such that State Farm was able 16 to begin evaluating her claim, and therefore State Farm is responsible to pay the benefits 17 that it calculated based on Plaintiff’s cooperation. The law cannot be any other way. If 18 it were, any lack of cooperation “could afford a UIM insurer a windfall . . . .” Tripp, 25 19 P.3d at 1004. State Farm, “therefore, should be permitted to escape paying UIM 20 benefits only in amounts equal to the actual prejudice that it suffered on account of” 21 Plaintiff’s failure to cooperate. Id. at 1005. 22 Accordingly, the Court’s judgment remains intact. This motion is DENIED. 23 III. 24 Based on all the foregoing, the Court ORDERS as follows: 25 ORDER - 5 CONCLUSION 1 1. Plaintiff’s Motion For Judgment As a Matter of Law And/Or Phase 2 New Trial is DENIED, Dkt. # 107 2 3 2. Plaintiff’s Motion For Order Correcting Judgment Per FRCP 60(a) is DENIED, Dkt. # 111 4 5 3. Defendant’s Motion For Entry of Judgment On Sanction Award is GRANTED, Dkt. # 113 6 7 4. Defendant’s Motion To Alter Or For Relief From Judgment is DENIED, Dkt. # 115 8 9 10 Dated this 14th day of February, 2017. 11 A 12 13 The Honorable Richard A. Jones United States District Judge 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 ORDER - 6

Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.

Why Is My Information Online?