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Urena v. Nationwide Insurance Co. of America

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

February 24, 2017

EMILIO J. URENA, as assignee of Gregory S. Bryant, Plaintiff,
v.
NATIONWIDE INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, Defendant.

          ORDER

          DAVID C. NORTON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The following matters are before the court on: (1) defendant Nationwide Insurance Company of America's (“Nationwide”) motion to alter or amend the judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59, or for relief from the judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60, ECF No. 137; (2) plaintiff Emilio J. Urena's (“Urena”) motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 138; (3) Nationwide's motion to compel, ECF No. 140; (4) Nationwide's motion to strike Urena's motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 142; and (5) Urena's motion to add Gregory S. Bryant (“Bryant”) as a party, ECF No. 148. For the reasons set forth below, the court denies Nationwide's motion to alter or amend, or obtain relief from the judgment, denies Urena's motion for summary judgment, denies Nationwide's motion to compel, denies Nationwide's motion to strike, and grants Urena's motion to add Bryant as a party.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On January 22, 2012, Bryant and Urena were involved in a vehicle collision in Moncks Corner, South Carolina. Urena sustained serve injuries as a result of the crash. At the time, Bryant was insured under an automobile liability policy issued by Nationwide. After negotiations between Nationwide and Urena failed to resolve the matter, Urena filed a lawsuit against Bryant in this court under the caption Emilio J. Urena v. Gregory S. Bryant, Case No. 2:12-cv-00469 (the “underlying tort action”). The jury returned a verdict in the underlying tort action on December 12, 2013, and a judgment was entered against Bryant in the amount of $1, 150, 000 on December 17, 2013.

         Bryant executed an instrument purporting to assign his claims against Nationwide to Urena on December 5, 2013 (the “Assignment”).[1] Urena then filed the instant action in his capacity as Bryant's assignee, claiming that Nationwide was liable for negligence and bad faith in failing to pay the policy limits under Bryant's automobile insurance policy. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 19-21. At a pretrial motion hearing, the parties and the court engaged in the following exchange regarding the Assignment:

URENA'S COUNSEL: I don't think there's any issue here about the assignment was given (sic). Is there any issue about that?
NATIONWIDE'S COUNSEL: Not directly, Your Honor.
THE COURT: What does that mean?
NATIONWIDE'S COUNSEL: That means that the assignment was obtained from Nationwide's insured before the tort trial ever took place. That would be one of the subjects of inquiry of Mr. Driggers, [2]if we were allowed to depose him.
URENA'S COUNSEL: The reason I say that, I think Mr. Bryant is --Mr. Bryant's in jail, we have to make arrangements to get him here, if they have a question about he signed this and gave it to us.
THE COURT: Well, since it's nonjury, we can always do that afterwards.

ECF No. 97, Pretrial Hr'g Tr. 9:8-22. The topic came up again at the bench trial on July 20, 2015, where the parties discussed the possibility of entering the Assignment into evidence. This discussion was again quite brief, and consisted of the following exchanges:

URENA'S COUNSEL: . . . [W]e have the assignment which we'd like to put in evidence. We talked to you about whether we have to bring the fellow from jail, or whether we could do it afterwards or whatever. I don't know what their position is. Are y'all agreeable to us putting in the assignment as a document in evidence?
NATIONWIDE'S COUNSEL: If you have somebody here to authenticate it.
THE COURT: We'll worry about that after lunch, okay?
[. . .]
THE COURT: Okay. All right. Did you have any loose ends y'all wanted to tie up before you rested?
URENA'S COUNSEL: We had the assignment. I would say one thing. The assignment was the subject of a request [] by the defendant of the plaintiff, and they said admit that Mr. Urena, through Mr. Driggers, obtained an assignment of Mr. Bryant's claims against Nationwide before the commencement of the tort trial. We said it was irrelevant. Subject to that objection, plaintiff did obtain an assignment from counsel for Bryant prior to trial. So we've admitted the - they've requested us to admit the assignment, and we've admitted it. The person who signed the assignment is in jail. His lawyer is one of the witnesses, and he's not here. We're trying to get him, but I don't know whether we can or not. We'd like to be able to keep the record open, and maybe if Your Honor's satisfied that we get an affidavit authenticating that that's his signature on these assignments, there was actually two assignments, the first one they complained didn't -- said Nationwide Insurance Company. And then we did it, redid it with Nationwide Insurance Company of America. So there are two of them that have been signed, both of them, I think, Mr. Johnson was the witness on it, or the lawyer, and was there when it was signed. He's the attorney who can authenticate it, but he's not here. So however Your Honor wants to handle it. We'd like to either keep it open or rest with the understanding that the request to admit is sufficient to show we have an assignment.
THE COURT: We'll keep it open with regard to tying up that loose end, which is something we talked about in the phone call on Friday. I guess what was irrelevant at the time of the request to admit has now become relevant?
URENA'S COUNSEL: Well, it was irrelevant to the case, but it's relevant to them saying that we don't have an assignment, when they requested us to admit the assignment.
THE COURT: We'll leave it open. Just let me know how you want to do it.

ECF No. 120, Bench Trial Tr. 139:11-20, 141:7-142:18. The court then required the parties to submit proposed orders by July 27, 2015, ECF No. 106, and issued its findings of fact and conclusions of law on July 30, 2015, finding Nationwide liable in the amount of $1, 100, 000.00. ECF No. 107. Though the court left the record open during this interim period, Urena did not submit any evidence confirming the authenticity of the assignment. Nevertheless, in its findings of fact, the court “assumed” that the assignment was valid. ECF No. 107 at 4.

         On August 26, 2015, Urena filed a motion to amend the court's findings of fact to make an unequivocal finding that Bryant assigned his claims against Nationwide to Urena, or in the alternative, to take additional testimony or allow the admission of additional evidence on the issue. ECF No. 112. The court denied Urena's request to amend the findings of fact, but granted his request to “open the record to receive additional testimony and other evidence relating to the assignment's validity.” ECF No. 129 at 9.

         The parties subsequently deposed Bryant and his former attorney, Brian Johnson (“Johnson”), and exchanged interrogatories and requests for production. A number of Nationwide's discovery requests sought information regarding Urena's efforts to obtain evidence of the Assignment's validity prior to trial and during the time the record was left open for such evidence immediately after trial. ECF No. 140-3 at 1-6. Urena “declined” to respond to such requests, arguing they were irrelevant to the assignment's validity and sought privileged information. Id.

         On May 20, 2016, Nationwide filed the instant motion to alter or amend the court's January 22, 2016 order opening the record, and to obtain relief from the court's July 30, 2015 judgment. ECF No. 137. On June 1, 2016, Urena filed its response to Nationwide's motion, as well as its own motion for summary judgment on the issue of the Assignment's validity.[3] ECF No. 138, 139. On June 7, 2016, Nationwide filed a motion to compel responses to its discovery requests regarding Urena's efforts to obtain evidence of the Assignment's validity at the time of trial. ECF No. 140. On June 13, 2016, Nationwide filed a motion to strike Urena's motion for summary judgment, ECF No. 142, as well as a reply in support of its motion to alter or amend, or obtain relief from the judgment. ECF No. 143. On June 20, 2016, Nationwide filed a response in opposition to Urena's motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 145. On June 24, 2016, Urena filed a motion to add Bryant as a plaintiff in this action, ECF No. 148, as well as a response to the motion to compel. ECF No. 147. On June 29, 2016, Urena filed a reply in support of its motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 150. On July 5, 2016, Nationwide filed separate replies in support of its motion to strike and its motion to compel. ECF Nos. 151, 152. On July 11, 2016, Nationwide filed a response to Urena's motion to add Bryant as a party, ECF No. 153, and on July 21, 2016, Urena filed a reply. ECF No. 154. The court held a hearing on August 2, 2016. The matter is now ripe for the court's review.

         II. STANDARD

         A. Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment

         While Rule 59(e) does not specify a standard under which a district court may alter or amend a judgment, the Fourth Circuit has recognized that a court may grant a Rule 59(e) motion “only in very narrow circumstances: (1) to accommodate an intervening change in controlling law, (2) to account for new evidence not available at trial, or (3) to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice.” Hill v. Braxton, 277 F.3d 701, 708 (4th Cir. 2002). Rule 59(e) provides an “extraordinary remedy that should be used sparingly.” Pac. Ins. Co., 148 F.3d at 403 (internal citation omitted); Wright v. Conley, No. 10-cv-2444, 2013 WL 314749, at *1 (D.S.C. Jan. 28, 2013). Rule 59(e) motions may not be used to make arguments that could have been made before the judgment was entered. See Pac. Ins. Co. v. Am. Nat'l Fire Ins. Co., 148 F.3d 396, 403 (4th Cir. 1998). Moreover, “[a] party's mere disagreement with the court's ruling does not warrant a Rule 59(e) motion, and such a motion should not be used to rehash arguments previously presented or to submit evidence which should have been previously submitted.” Sams v. Heritage Transp., Inc., No. 2:12-cv-0462, 2013 WL 4441949, at *1 (D.S.C. August 15, 2013). Whether to alter or amend a judgment under Rule 59(e) is within the sound discretion of the district court. See, e.g., Bogart v. Chapell, 396 F.3d 548, 555 (4th Cir. 2005).

         B. Motion for Relief from Judgment

         Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states:

On motion and just terms, the court may relieve a party or its legal representative from a final judgment, order, or ...

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