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Ridgdell v. Allstate Insurance Co.

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

September 27, 2019

LINSEY RIDGDELL PLAINTIFF
v.
ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY; J, K, and/or L, any insurance company or other entity which provides uninsured or underinsured motorist benefits to Plaintiff, all of whose names and legal addresses are presently unknown to the Plaintiff but will be substituted when ascertained, separately and severally DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY’S [9] MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS, OR IN THE ALTERNATIVE, FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          HALIL SULEYMAN OZERDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         BEFORE THE COURT is Defendant Allstate Insurance Company’s Motion [9] for Judgment on the Pleadings, or in the Alternative, for Partial Summary Judgment. This Motion is fully briefed. After due consideration of the Motion [9], the record, and relevant legal authority, the Court finds that the Motion [9] should be granted to the extent it seeks judgment on the pleadings, and Plaintiff’s claims against Allstate should be dismissed with prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         On February 21, 2016, Plaintiff Linsey Ridgdell (“Plaintiff” or “Ridgdell”) was a passenger in a vehicle driven by her cousin, Summer Davis (“Davis”), in George County, Mississippi, when a second vehicle collided with Davis’s vehicle. See Compl. [12] at ¶¶ 3, 19. Davis died in the collision, and Plaintiff suffered significant physical injuries, including a broken sternum, two broken ribs, and a shoulder injury. Id. at ¶¶ 19-20. Plaintiff incurred medical expenses totaling approximately $15, 000.00. Id. at ¶ 21. According to the Complaint, the collision was caused by the second vehicle’s driver (the “at-fault driver”), who was under the influence of alcohol at the time. See Id . at ¶¶ 3-4.

         The at-fault driver was insured by Shelter Mutual Insurance Company under a policy with $25, 000.00 in liability limits. Id. at ¶ 4. At the time of the incident, Plaintiff was covered by a $25, 000.00 underinsured motorist policy with her own insurer, State Farm, as well as by a policy issued to other individuals by Defendant Allstate Insurance Company (“Defendant” or “Allstate”), which included $50, 000.00 total underinsured motorist benefits. Id. at ¶ 7. According to the Complaint, as the primary underinsured motorist coverage, State Farm’s coverage was set-off by the at-fault driver’s coverage, leaving only the Allstate underinsured motorist coverage available to Plaintiff. Id. at ¶ 8.

         The at-fault driver’s insurance company tendered its $25, 000.00 limits, and on July 14, 2016, Plaintiff’s counsel advised Allstate of the tender and “requested that Allstate promptly buy out the settlement or consent to the settlement, pursuant to established procedure in Mississippi.” Id. at ¶ 8. According to Plaintiff, on July 25, 2016, Plaintiff’s counsel again wrote Allstate’s adjuster advising him of the underlying settlement with the at-fault driver’s insurance company and “requesting a prompt decision on consenting to the underlying settlement.” Id at ¶ 10. On October 6, 2016, Plaintiff’s counsel wrote another letter to the adjuster advising that counsel had “written multiple letters and left multiple phone messages, but Allstate had not responded to the communications.” Id at ¶ 11. Plaintiff’s counsel stated that Allstate “had an obligation to investigate claims with reasonable promptness and make a prompt and realistic evaluation of the claim.” Id. Counsel also reminded Allstate “of its duty to pay claims that are covered, or to advise the insured of a valid reason why the claim was denied.” Id. Plaintiff’s counsel wrote Allstate’s adjuster a final time on October 9, 2016, requesting it “consent or buy out the underlying settlement, pursuant to Mississippi law.” Id. at ¶ 12.

         According to the Complaint, on January 11, 2017, Allstate made its first offer of settlement on Plaintiff’s underinsured motorist claim, offering $8, 500.00. Six days later, on January 17, 2017, Plaintiff filed a separate lawsuit against Allstate in the Circuit Court of George County, Mississippi (the “State Court Case”), seeking recovery of underinsured motorist benefits. B. The State Court Case In the complaint in the State Court Case (the “State Court Complaint”), Plaintiff asserted claims against Allstate for negligence and “willful, wanton, and/or reckless conduct of the underinsured motorist.” State Court Compl. [9-1] at p. 2-7. Plaintiff later sought leave from the state court to amend her complaint, see State Court Mot. [9-2] at 1-2, which was granted pursuant to an agreed order entered on April 30, 2018, see State Court Agreed Order [9-3] at 1. The first amended complaint was filed in the State Court Case on May 1, 2018. See State Court First Am. Compl. [9-4] at 1-7. According to Plaintiff, “the only thing the First Amended Complaint did was change the label of the conduct alleged in Count II from ‘willful, wanton and/or reckless conduct’ to ‘gross negligence evidencing willful, wanton or reckless disregard for the safety of others.’” Pl.’s Mem. [16] at 4.

         The State Court Case was tried to a jury from April 30, 2018, until May 1, 2018, and the jury returned a verdict in Plaintiff’s favor in the amount of $200, 000.00. See State Court Final J. [9-6] at 1. Considering the Allstate policy limits, on May 14, 2018, the state court entered a Final Judgment against Allstate in the amount of $50, 000.00. Id. at 1-2. C. The Present Action Following the conclusion of the jury trial, Plaintiff filed a separate Complaint on October 23, 2018, against Allstate in the Circuit Court of George County, Mississippi. Compl. [1-2] at 1. Allstate removed the case to this Court on November 26, 2018, invoking diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. See Notice of Removal [1] at 1-4.

         In the present case, Plaintiff claims that “Allstate breached its duty to conduct a prompt and adequate investigation and make a reasonable, good faith decision based on that investigation.” Compl. [1-2] at ¶ 30. According to the Complaint, Allstate did not have an arguable or legitimate basis of fact or law to not pay the policy limits of $50, 000 from the time when it knew it knew [sic]

or should have known the facts of the underlying case established Linsey’s injuries and damages exceeded the policy limits All [sic] the way through the time of the jury verdict in the underlying litigation. Allstate’s refusal to pay policy limits constitutes bad faith breach of contract and is and was not a genuine pocket book dispute “over the value of the Plaintiff’s injuries.”

Id. at ¶ 31. Plaintiff alleges that

Allstate acted with malice and/or gross negligence in disregard of [her] contractual rights in failing to perform a prompt and adequate investigation and make a reasonable, good faith decision based on that investigation and in failing to offer the policy limits prior to the verdict in the underlying litigation.

Id. at ¶ 32. Plaintiff seeks an award of compensatory and punitive damages. Id. at 7.

         Allstate removed the case to this Court on November 26, 2018, invoking the Court’s diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. See Notice of Removal [1] at 1-4. Allstate filed its Answer [2] the same day and pled the affirmative defense of res judicata. See Ans. [2] at 6; see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(c)(1). D. Allstate’s Motion On February 22, 2019, Allstate filed a Motion [9] for Judgment on the Pleadings, or in the Alternative, for Partial Summary Judgment.[1] Allstate argues that Plaintiff’s claims are barred by the doctrine of res judicata. See Def.’s Mem. [10] at 8-12. Allstate alternatively argues that, even if any of Plaintiff’s ...


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