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Powell v. State Farm Fire And Casualty Co.

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

March 27, 2018

Ethel Powell, Plaintiff,
v.
State Farm Fire and Casualty Company, Defendant.

          ORDER

          R. Bryan Harwell United States District Judge

         This is an action for breach of contract and bad faith refusal to pay underinsured motorist benefits. The matter is before the Court on Defendant's motion for summary judgment on both the breach of contract and bad faith claims and Plaintiff's cross-motion for partial summary judgment on the breach of contract claim. See ECF Nos. 23 & 26. The Court denies both motions for the reasons herein.[1]

         Background

         On May 9, 2016, Plaintiff Ethel Powell (“Plaintiff”) and her husband Joseph (“Mr. Powell”) (collectively, “the Powells”) were injured in an automobile accident in Longs, South Carolina, when their 1996 Ford Ranger pickup was struck by a vehicle operated by Benjamin Thibert, the at-fault driver. See Complaint [ECF No. 1-1] at ¶¶ 4-5; Answer [ECF No. 4] at ¶¶ 4-5. At the time of the accident, the Powells had four vehicles insured by Defendant State Farm Fire and Casualty Company (“Defendant”): (1) the Ford Ranger, (2) a 2008 Nissan Altima, (3) a 1998 Cadillac Seville, and (4) a 2016 Hyundai Sonata. See Compl. at ¶ 7; Ans. at ¶ 7. The Powells owned the Ford, Nissan, and Cadillac, and as explained below, they had just recently leased the Hyundai. Defendant asserts that the Powells had three policies in effect at the time of accident, that the policy insuring the Cadillac was transferred to insurance on the Hyundai (and the Cadillac simply had temporary coverage for fourteen days), and that at no time were there more than three policies of insurance. See ECF No. 23-1 at p. 2; ECF No. 34 at pp. 7-8.

         Thibert's liability insurer paid its policy limits, and the Powells filed a claim with Defendant seeking underinsured motorist (“UIM”) benefits. See Compl. at ¶ 6-7; Ans. at ¶ 6-7. Defendant paid the Powells $300, 000 in UIM coverage, asserting that the Powells had three policies in effect at the time of the accident and that the maximum amount of UIM coverage available under each policy was $100, 000. See Boatright Letter [ECF No. 23-5]. The Powells, however, claimed they were owed $400, 000 in UIM coverage because they had four vehicles insured with Defendant, and therefore they demanded an additional $100, 000 in UIM benefits. See Morris Letter [ECF No. 35-1]. Unable to resolve the dispute, the Powells filed a complaint in state court asserting claims for breach of contract and insurance bad faith. See ECF No. 1-1. On August 11, 2016, Defendant removed the action to this Court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, and the parties subsequently filed cross-motions for summary judgment and responses.[2] See ECF No. 1, 23, 26, 34, & 35.

         Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate when no genuine issue of material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Reyazuddin v. Montgomery Cty., Md., 789 F.3d 407, 413 (4th Cir. 2015); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a) (“The court shall grant summary judgment if 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.”). “A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by: (A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record . . .; or (B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). The facts and inferences to be drawn from the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, Reyazuddin, 789 F.3d at 413, but the Court “cannot weigh the evidence or make credibility determinations.” Jacobs v. N.C. Admin. Office of the Courts, 780 F.3d 562, 569 (4th Cir. 2015).

         Moreover, “the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). “A dispute of material fact is ‘genuine' if sufficient evidence favoring the non-moving party exists for the trier of fact to return a verdict for that party.” Seastrunk v. United States, 25 F.Supp.3d 812, 814 (D.S.C. 2014). A fact is “material” if proof of its existence or nonexistence would affect disposition of the case under the applicable law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         At the summary judgment stage, “the moving party must demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Once the moving party has met his burden, the nonmoving party must come forward with some evidence beyond the mere allegations contained in the pleadings to show that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Baber v. Hosp. Corp. of Am., 977 F.2d 872, 874-75 (4th Cir. 1992) (internal citation omitted). Summary judgment is not warranted unless, “from the totality of the evidence, including pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and affidavits, the [C]ourt believes no genuine issue of material fact exists for trial and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Whiteman v. Chesapeake Appalachia, L.L.C., 729 F.3d 381, 385 (4th Cir. 2013); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986).

When faced with cross-motions for summary judgment, the court must review each motion separately on its own merits to determine whether either of the parties deserves judgment as a matter of law. When considering each individual motion, the court must take care to resolve all factual disputes and any competing, rational inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing that motion.

Rossignol v. Voorhaar, 316 F.3d 516, 523 (4th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Discussion

         Defendant has moved for summary judgment on both the breach of contract and bad faith claims, and Plaintiff has cross-moved for partial summary judgment on the breach of contract claim. See ECF Nos. 23 & 26. However, neither party is entitled to summary judgment.

         I. Breach of ...


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