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Weaver v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co.

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

January 14, 2015

JOHN WEAVER, as Guardian and on, Behalf of J.D.W., a Minor Plaintiff,
v.
STATE FARM FIRE AND CASUALTY COMPANY; C. DAVID WEBER; JOHN DOES 1-10 Defendants,

ORDER

CARLTON W. REEVES, District Judge.

Before the Court are State Farm Fire and Casualty Company's motion for summary judgment, John Weaver's motion for summary judgment, and motions to strike filed by both State Farm and Weaver. The motions are fully briefed. Having considered the arguments, evidence, and applicable law, the Court is now ready to rule.

I. Factual and Procedural History

The following facts are undisputed.

Rhonda Rhea died in May 2007 from multiple sclerosis. At the time of her death, she was the sole owner of her home in Carthage, Mississippi, which was insured by State Farm. Rhea's will named her boyfriend, Bruce Manion, as her sole primary beneficiary.

The day after her death, State Farm agent David Weber added Manion's name to the policy. The next month, Weber removed Rhea's name from the policy. Docket No. 15-3, at 2.

In June 2007, Rhea's will was probated in the state courts of Mississippi. Rhea's daughter, J.D.W., challenged the will.[1]

While the will contest was pending, in September 2008, the police attempted to arrest Manion on charges of sexually assaulting J.D.W. Manion barricaded himself inside Rhea's home and set two fires in it. He died of smoke inhalation. The home suffered extensive damage.

Manion's estate made a claim on the homeowners insurance policy. State Farm responded in two ways. First, in October 2008, State Farm sent Manion's estate and Rhea's estate reservation of rights letters. Docket Nos. 15-7, 15-8. The letters acknowledged that "the Estate of Rhonda Rhea has not been released from Probate; therefore, there is a question as to whether Bruce Manion is the rightful owner of the property." Id. Second, in December 2008, State Farm sent Manion's estate (and only Manion's estate) a letter denying the claim, reasoning that the damage was not covered because it did not result from an accident. Docket No. 19-6.

In November 2009, the state courts of Mississippi determined that J.D.W. was the sole heir of her mother's estate. She now owned her mother's home.

At some point, J.D.W. must have sought the proceeds of her mother's homeowner's insurance policy from State Farm, reasoning that as the heir and owner of the property which had a fully-paid policy of homeowners insurance in force when it was damaged by fire, she was entitled to the policy proceeds. State Farm's denial, if one exists, is not in the record, but this suit commenced on December 4, 2013. Because it was filed when J.D.W. was a minor, her interests are represented in this action by her father and former guardian, John Weaver.

The parties agreed to file early dispositive motions and proceed to discovery only if J.D.W.'s claims survive State Farm's present arguments. removing Manion as the Executor of Rhea's estate and revoking the Letters Testamentary which had been issued to him. Docket No. 15-12.

II. Arguments

State Farm first contends that J.D.W.'s suit was untimely. It argues that the three-year statute of limitations started on December 30, 2008, when it sent Manion's estate a reservation of rights letter. J.D.W.'s incapacity - being a minor - did not toll the statute of limitations, State Farm says, because she had a guardian ad litem or a guardian from then until she became an adult in February 2014. Alternatively, State Farm argues that J.D.W. had no insurable interest in the property at the time of the fire, that J.D.W. was neither a named insured nor in privity of contract with State Farm, and that no one can recover on the policy because the fire was not an accidental loss.

III. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate when "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). A party seeking to avoid summary judgment must identify admissible evidence in the record showing a fact dispute. Id. at 56(c)(1). "Once a summary judgment motion is made and properly supported, the nonmovant must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts in the record showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Neither conclusory allegations nor unsubstantiated assertions will satisfy the nonmovant's burden." Wallace v. Texas Tech Univ., 80 F.3d 1042, 1047 (5th Cir. 1996) (citations and quotation marks omitted).

The Court views the evidence and draws reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Maddox v. Townsend and Sons, Inc., 639 F.3d 214, 216 (5th Cir. 2011). But the Court will not, "in the absence of any proof, assume that the nonmoving party could or would prove the necessary facts." McCallum Highlands, Ltd. v. Wash. Capital Dus, ...


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