United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division
ORDER AND OPINION
Richard Mark Gergel United States District Court Judge
matter is before the Court on Defendants' motion for
partial summary judgment on Plaintiffs' claims for breach
of contract and bad faith denial of insurance. For the
reasons set forth below, the Court grants the motion, grants
summary judgment on Plaintiffs' claim for equitable
estoppel, and grants summary judgment on Plaintiffs claims
for negligent misrepresentation and promissory estoppel to
the extent those causes of action seek damages for
Defendants' refusal to provide insurance coverage.
Because Plaintiffs' remaining claims are state-law claims
that cannot possibly approach the jurisdictional threshold of
$75, 000, the Court remands this matter to the Charleston
County Court of Common Pleas.
an automobile insurance coverage case. Plaintiffs Juanita
Hart and Devon Hart-Barron allege that, in August 2015, Ms.
Hart purchased an automobile insurance policy (number
F3013258) issued by Defendants from American Auto, an
independent insurance agent. (Dkt. No. 54 ¶ 8.)
Effective December 31, 2015, Ms. Hart added a2015 Nissan
Sentrato the Safeco policy and Plaintiff Devon Hart-Barron as
a named insured. (Id. ¶¶ 12-15.)
Plaintiffs allege American Auto and Safeco setup a monthly
automatic draft payment plan from Ms. Hart's checking
account for the insurance premiums. (Id. ¶ 11.)
The undisputed facts show Ms, Hart setup a monthly debit card
payment, with her premiums charged to a Visa card ending in
7047 and expiring in August 2019. (See Dkt. Nos. 57-1 ¶
3; 58-1 at 3-4; 58-14.)
February 1, 2016, Ms. Hart-Barron was involved in an
automobile accident that rendered the 2015 Sentra a total
loss. (Dkt. No. 54 ¶¶ 16-17.) Plaintiffs notified
Defendant Safeco and American Auto. (Id.) On
February 4, 2016, Defendants acknowledged coverage for the
accident and offered to pay for the vehicle. (Id.
¶ 19.) That offer was contingent on Plaintiffs executing
a power of attorney authorizing Safeco to salvage the
vehicle. (Id. ¶ 20.)
allege that on February 9, 2016, Ms. Hart called American
Auto to ask for instructions regarding transfer of the
vehicle to Defendants, she was informed that the January
premium payment was not processed and that her policy may be
cancelled. (Id. ¶ 22.) It is undisputed that
the premium due on January 3, 2016 was not paid. (See
Id. ¶ 25.) Plaintiffs allege Defendants never
executed the scheduled automatic draft and provided no notice
of nonpayment. (Id. ¶¶ 22, 25-26.)
Defendants aver that Ms. Hart's card was declined and
that timely notice of nonpayment and cancellation were
provided. (Dkt. No. 57-1 ¶ 4.)
the cancellation of coverage, Plaintiffs nonetheless executed
the power of attorney and Defendants took possession of the
vehicle on February 15, 2016. (Dkt. No. 54 ¶ 23.) After
Defendants took possession of the vehicle, Plaintiffs learned
the insurance policy had been cancelled because the January
2016 premium payment was not made. (Id. ¶¶
24, 26.) Plaintiffs further allege that they demanded return
of the vehicle but Defendants refused because the vehicle had
already been scrapped. (Id. ¶ 26.) Defendants
claim the vehicle was in fact returned and Plaintiffs have
since conceded the vehicle was returned on July 8, 2016.
(See Dkt. Nos. 56 ¶ 19; 58 at 4.)
5, 2016, Plaintiffs filed the present action in the
Charleston County Court of Common Pleas. The case was removed
to this court on August 9, 2016. The second amended complaint
asserts six causes of action: conversion, breach of contract,
bad faith denial of insurance, negligent misrepresentation,
promissory estoppel, and equitable estoppel. Defendants move
for summary judgment on Plaintiffs' claims of breach of
contract and bad faith.
judgment is appropriate if a party "shows that there is
no genuine dispute as to any material fact" and that the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In other words, summary judgment should
be granted "only when it is clear that there is no
dispute concerning either the facts of the controversy or the
inferences to be drawn from those facts." Pulliam
Inv. Co. v. Cameo Props., 810 F.2d 1282, 1286 (4th Cir.
1987). "In determining whether a genuine issue has been
raised, the court must construe all inferences and
ambiguities in favor of the nonmoving party."
HealthSouth Rehab. Hosp. v. Am. Nat'l Red Cross,
101 F.3d 1005, 1008 (4th Cir. 1996). The party seeking
summary judgment shoulders the initial burden of
demonstrating to the court that there is no genuine issue of
material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S.
the moving party has made this threshold demonstration, the
non-moving party, to survive the motion for summary judgment,
may not rest on the allegations averred in his pleadings.
Id. at 324. Rather, the non-moving party must
demonstrate that specific, material facts exist that give
rise to a genuine issue. Id. Under this standard,
"[c]onclusory or speculative allegations do not suffice,
nor does a 'mere scintilla of evidence'" in
support of the non-moving party's case. Thompson v.
Potomac Elec. Power Co., 312 F.3d 645, 649 (4th Cir.
2002) (quoting Phillips v. CSXTransp, Inc., 190 F.3d
285, 287 (4th Cir. 1999)).
moves for partial summary judgment because there is no
genuine dispute that Ms. Hart's automobile insurance
policy was cancelled for nonpayment of premium due January 3,
2016, after she received proper notice of cancellation. The
Court agrees. Plaintiffs produce no evidence suggesting that
Defendants failed to present Ms. Hart's January premium
to Wells Fargo for payment or failed to provide notice of
nonpayment and cancellation in proper form and timely under
the insurance contract and under S.C. Code § 38-77-120.
argue Ms. Hart's bank records are evidence suggesting
Defendants failed to present ...