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Whitfield v. Allstate Vehicle and Property Insurance Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

August 10, 2017



         Presently before the Court are the following motions filed by Defendant Allstate Vehicle and Property Insurance Company: a Daubert motion to strike expert designation and testimony of Plaintiff Jamie Whitfield's experts Kevin Senter and Johnny Harber [61]; a motion for summary judgment or, in the alternative, for partial summary judgment [63]; and a motion to bifurcate proceedings [65]. Upon due consideration, the Court finds that the motion for summary judgment [63] must be granted in part and held in abeyance in part, and the motion to bifurcate proceedings [65] must be held in abeyance. The Daubert motion to strike Plaintiffs experts shall be scheduled for an appropriate pretrial hearing.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiff Jamie Whitfield ("Plaintiff) purchased homeowner's insurance policy number 995 646 873 from Defendant Allstate Vehicle and Property Insurance Company ("Allstate") to insure his home in Iuka, Mississippi; the replacement cost value, as stated in the subject policy, is $355, 563.00. Pl.'s Compl. [1] ¶¶ 4-5; Allstate's Answer & Aff. Defenses [8] ¶¶ 4-5; Subj. Policy [8-1] at 5. On or about December 19, 2014, Plaintiff suffered a fire loss at his home. Pl.'s Compl. [1] ¶ 4; Allstate's Answer & Aff. Defenses [8] ¶ 4. Plaintiff filed an insurance claim, contending that the fire rendered his home a total loss and that he was entitled to the replacement cost value stated in the subject policy, $355, 563.00. Allstate paid $132, 612.49 on the claim. On March 23, 2016, Plaintiff filed this wrongful and bad faith denial of insurance coverage case against Allstate based on diversity jurisdiction. On May 17, 2016, Allstate filed its answer and affirmative defenses [8], The parties engaged in extensive discovery. Subsequently, on April 18, 2017, Allstate filed the present motion to strike expert designation and testimony of Plaintiff s experts Kevin Senter and Johnny Harber [61]; motion for summary judgment or, in the alternative, for partial summary judgment [63]; and motion to bifurcate proceedings [65]. Plaintiff filed responses, and Allstate filed replies in support of the three motions.

         In the case sub judice, the parties dispute the extent of the fire loss to Plaintiffs home, as well as whether Allstate insured the property appropriately or in excess of fair market value in violation of Mississippi law.

         Plaintiff alleges that his home was "totally destroyed with no usable remnant that would have been reasonable or feasible to repair and reconstruct." Pl.'s Compl. [1] ¶ 6. Plaintiff further alleges that "Allstate has only made partial payments in the sum of $132, 612.49 to [Plaintiff] or less than 40% of the [subject] coverage." Id. Plaintiff avers that Allstate, "acting with actual malice or gross negligence, has wrongfully and in bad faith denied full coverage and full payment for the fire loss claim without a reasonable basis . . . ." Id. Plaintiff seeks contractual damages "in the amount of at leas[t] $225, 950.00, representing the difference between replacement cost coverage in the [subject] policy and prior partial payments, " as well as "punitive damages as a result of [Allstate's] bad faith denial of the claim for full benefit of the [subject] policy." Id. ¶ 7.

         Allstate argues that following its investigation into the fire and damage, Allstate determined that the fire was incendiary and that Plaintiffs home was repairable. Allstate maintains that it has paid all amounts due and payable under the subject policy. Allstate further maintains that its estimated repair cost was $120, 266.72; that Allstate tendered a check in that amount to Plaintiff; and that Plaintiff accepted and cashed the check. Allstate's Mem. Br. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. [64] ¶¶ 5-6. Allstate argues that Plaintiff subsequently submitted additional invoices for "building material on site at the time of the fire, but not yet installed" to include an additional $12, 345.77, and that Allstate issued a check to Plaintiff in the amount requested. Id. ¶ 8. Allstate denied Plaintiffs insurance claim for the total replacement value of the home, but advised Plaintiff that if he decided to rebuild his home he could be entitled to make an additional claim for the "recoverable depreciation amount of $29, 547.05." Id. Allstate maintains it has paid Plaintiff a total of $132, 612.49 under Coverage A (dwelling coverage); $40, 145.26 under Coverage B (personal property coverage); and $5, 000.00 in advance payments. Id. ¶ 9. Allstate further maintains that it tendered $4, 353.72 to Plaintiff based on an estimate of mold remediation from ServPro of Tupelo. Id. ¶ 10.

         II. Summary Judgment Standard

         This Court grants summary judgment "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catreit, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); Weaver v. CCA Indus., Inc., 529 F.3d 335, 339 (5th Cir. 2008). The rule "mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a sufficient showing to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548.

         The party moving for summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of informing the Court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. See Id. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548. Under Rule 56(a), the burden then shifts to the nonmovant to "go beyond the pleadings and by . . . affidavits, or by the 'depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ' designate 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.' " Id. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548; Littlefield v. Forney Indep. Sch. Dist, 268 F.3d 275, 282 (5th Cir. 2001); Willis v. Roche Biomedical Labs., Inc., 61 F.3d 313, 315 (5th Cir. 1995). Where, as here, the parties dispute the facts, the Court must view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007) (internal citations omitted). "However, a nonmovant may not overcome the summary judgment standard with conclusional allegations, unsupported assertions, or presentation of only a scintilla of evidence." McClure v. Boles, 490 F.App'x 666, 667 (5th Cir. 2012) (per curiam) (citing Hathaway v. Bazany, 507 F.3d 312, 319 (5th Cir. 2007)).

         III. Analysis and Discussion

         Allstate argues in its motion for summary judgment or, in the alternative, partial summary judgment [63] that summary judgment is appropriate on all claims asserted in the case sub judice because the subject loss is repairable, and alternatively, that summary judgment is appropriate on Plaintiffs claims for bad faith, punitive damages, and extra-contractual damages.

         As stated above, Allstate has also filed a motion exclude Plaintiffs expert witnesses [61] who would testify in support of Plaintiffs position in this case. However, the Court finds that Allstate's summary judgment motion can be resolved without a ruling on the Daubert motion.

         A. Contractual Damages Claim

         Plaintiff seeks contractual damages for the total loss of his home; he seeks the difference unpaid between the total value of his home and the amount paid by Allstate on his insurance claim. Allstate argues that Plaintiff has been paid the appropriate amount under the subject policy, because his home was not a total loss, but was repairable. Whether Plaintiffs claim for contractual damages survives summary judgment is dependent on whether a genuine ...

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