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Soares v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

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

June 27, 2019

SARAH D. SOARES; HERMAN S. SOARES; and MARY PAUL SOARES PLAINTIFFS
v.
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY and DOE DEFENDANTS 1-6

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DENYING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION TO STRIKE

          LOUIS GUIROLA, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         BEFORE THE COURT are two motions: the [26] Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (“State Farm”) and the [47] Motion to Strike State Farm's Motion for Summary Judgment, Motions to Strike, and Attached Exhibits filed by Plaintiffs Sarah D. Soares, Herman S. Soares, and Mary Paul Soares. The Motion for Summary Judgment argues that State Farm is entitled to summary judgment on all of Plaintiffs' claims because the undisputed material facts do not support their claims for bad faith delay in making policy payments. Insofar as Plaintiffs' claim concerning State Farm's refusal to assist them in their pursuit of legal action against Noel Dimarco, Michael Dimarco, and Sharon Dimarco, State Farm contends that it was never under a duty to do so.

         Plaintiffs' Motion to Strike asserts that none of the exhibits to State Farm's summary judgment motion can be properly considered because they are unauthenticated and otherwise inadmissible, leaving only unsubstantiated allegations in the memorandum brief. Both motions are fully briefed. Having considered the submissions of the parties, the record, and relevant law, the Court concludes that State Farm is entitled to summary judgment. Plaintiffs' Motion to Strike will be denied, and Plaintiffs' claims will be dismissed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs Sarah D. Soares, Herman S. Soares, and Mary Paul Soares filed this lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Harrison County, Mississippi against Defendant State Farm, the plaintiffs' insurer, and Noel Dimarco, Michael Dimarco, and Sharon Dimarco, the alleged tortfeasors. Plaintiffs allege that Sarah Soares was injured in a motor vehicle accident caused by underinsured individuals - the Dimarcos - and that State Farm willfully failed to provide prompt payment due under Plaintiffs' uninsured/underinsured motorist (“UM”) policy. Plaintiffs also seem to claim that the UM policy obligates State Farm to assist Plaintiffs in pursuing tort claims against the Dimarcos. Because the Court found the contractual claims against State Farm had been improperly joined with tort claims against the Dimarcos, the Court severed and remanded the tort claims.[1] (See Order Granting in Part and Den. in Part Mot. Remand, ECF No. 16.)

         On April 25, 2019, State Farm filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment.[2] The Motion argues (1) the material facts are not in dispute, (2) State Farm paid Sarah Soares the policy limits of Plaintiffs' stacked UM coverage plus medical payments coverage (“MPC”), (3) State Farm did not unreasonably delay payment of the policy limits to Sarah, and (4) there is no contractual or legal duty for State Farm to help Plaintiffs pursue their tort claims against the Dimarcos. In response, [3] Plaintiffs do not dispute that State Farm ultimately paid the policy limits, but they contend that State Farm's failure to immediately accept that Sarah - a college student at the time - was covered by the policy and that the policy limits stack under Mississippi law constituted a bad faith delay in making policy payments. Plaintiffs maintain that State Farm delayed its agreement to settle all claims with the Dimarco's insurer and its waiver of subrogation rights, which consequently delayed UM payments for nineteen months. Furthermore, Plaintiffs assert that State Farm shirked its obligation to share with Plaintiffs the addresses at which the Dimarcos could be served with process and the location of valuable assets belonging to the Dimarcos.

         On June 6, 2019, Plaintiffs filed their Motion to Strike State Farm's Motion for Summary Judgment, Motions to Strike, and Attached Exhibits. Plaintiffs' Motion argues that State Farm's motions, memoranda, and exhibits are based “on inadmissible, incompetent, improper false contentions and unauthenticated documents and exhibits . . . and incompetent, improper, false contentions of [State Farm]'s counsel without any personal knowledge.” (Pls.' Mem. Supp. Mot. Strike 1, ECF No. 48 (emphasis and quotation marks omitted).) State Farm responds that, at the summary judgment stage of litigation, exhibits need only be capable of being presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence, and State Farm's filings meet this standard.

         II. DISCUSSION

         a. Summary Judgment Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment is appropriate “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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “When the moving party has carried its burden under Rule 56(c), its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). “[T]he nonmovant must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc).

         “A genuine dispute of material fact means that ‘evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.'” Royal v. CCC & R Tres Arboles, L.L.C., 736 F.3d 396, 400 (5th Cir. 2013) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). If the evidence presented by the nonmovant “‘is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative,' summary judgment is appropriate.” Cutting Underwater Techs. USA, Inc. v. ENI U.S. Operating Co., 671 F.3d 512, 516 (5th Cir. 2012) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249). In deciding whether summary judgment is appropriate, the Court views the evidence and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. RSR Corp. v. Int'l Ins. Co., 612 F.3d 851, 857 (5th Cir. 2010).

         b. Plaintiffs' Motion to Strike

         The Court first addresses Plaintiffs' Motion to Strike. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 provides that factual assertions made in support of or in opposition to summary judgment must be supported by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A). “A party may object that the material cited to support or dispute a fact cannot be presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2). Thus, the material cited to at summary judgment must “be capable of being ‘presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence.'” LSR Consulting, LLC v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 835 F.3d 530, 534 (5th Cir. 2016) (emphasis in original) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2)).

         Under the standard of Rule 56, Plaintiff's arguments for striking the documents that State Farm relies upon in its Motion for Summary Judgment miss the mark. State Farm attached the following exhibits to its summary judgment motion: (1) notes made in the file maintained for Sarah Soares' UM claim, (2) a letter from Plaintiffs' counsel to State Farm dated May 21, 2015, (3) a letter from State Farm to Plaintiffs' counsel dated May 27, 2015, (4) a demand ...


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