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Brown v. American Bankers Insurance Co. of Florida

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

May 17, 2019

MICHAEL JEROME BROWN, Individually and as Administrator of the Estate of Laura Lee Brown PLAINTIFF
v.
AMERICAN BANKERS INSURANCE COMPANY OF FLORIDA DEFENDANT

          ORDER GRANTING JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS

          CARLTON W. REEVES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court are Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings (Docket No. 11) and motion to strike Plaintiff's surreply (Docket No. 16). For the reasons stated herein, both motions are granted.

         I. Factual Background

         On May 12, 2017, a storm caused a tree to fall onto a mobile home in Yazoo City, Mississippi. At the time of the storm, a lender-placed insurance policy issued by Defendant covered the mobile home. The policy listed the insured lender as Ditech Financial, LLC and the borrower as Laura Brown. Defendant retained Crawford & Company to inspect and assess the damage to the mobile home. Crawford determined the cost to repair the damage to be $22, 634.66, which exceeded the policy limit of $13, 430. Consequently, Defendant issued a check in the amount of $13, 430 to the insured lender, Ditech, and to Michael Brown, as the administrator of the estate of Laura Brown.

         Now, Plaintiff contends that Defendant misrepresented the policy limits or, in the alternative, committed fraud because Defendant charged an additional fee that did not provide a benefit to the borrower. Based on these allegations, Plaintiff filed this suit alleging misrepresentation, negligence, breach of contract, bad faith refusal to pay insurance benefits, fraud, and infliction of emotional distress.

         II. Legal Standard

         Motions for judgment on the pleadings are governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c).

The standard for deciding a Rule 12(c) motion is the same as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. The court accepts all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. The plaintiff must plead enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).

Guidry v. Am. Pub. Life Ins. Co., 512 F.3d 177, 180 (5th Cir. 2007) (quotation marks and citations omitted).

         III. Discussion

         The policy reflects a coverage period from July 25, 2016 to July 25, 2017. Plaintiff does not dispute that the storm occurred in May 2017 and that Defendant issued a sum of $13, 430 for the damage. Nevertheless, Plaintiff inexplicably contends that this policy is inapplicable and, rather, a policy issued two months after the storm with a policy limit of $33, 956 is the relevant policy. By representing to Crawford a policy limit of only $13, 430, and refusing to pay additional amounts, Plaintiff argues this constituted misrepresentation, negligence, breach of contract, and bad faith refusal to pay.

         Plaintiff provides no authority or explanation for why the Court should consider a policy issued two months after the storm damage occurred as the applicable policy in this case.[1]Defendant complied with the appropriate insurance policy when it paid the policy limit.[2]

         In the alternative, Plaintiff argues that if the policy limit is $13, 430, then Defendant committed fraud by “charging a fee which provides no benefit” to the borrower. Plaintiff contends that the policy's “Borrower's Property Coverage” endorsement, which charged a $95 fee, entitles him to additional payments beyond the policy limit reflected in the Declarations. Defendant explains, and the text of the policy shows, that this “Borrower's Property Coverage” endorsement amended the term “property” to extend coverage to mobile (or “manufactured”) homes, as opposed to just personal property, in return for a $95 premium. Furthermore, the “Limit of Liability” provision in the endorsement expressly provides that Defendant's liability for loss or damage to the property will be, at most, the limit of liability reflected in the Declarations. See Docket No. 11-2.

         Plaintiff responds that the “Borrower's Property Coverage” endorsement is ambiguous and misleading because (1) there is a separate “Basic Premium” fee of $501, and (2) the endorsement is labeled as “Borrower's Property ...


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