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Hopkins v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

March 6, 2017




         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant's motion for partial summary judgment (Dkt. No. 28). Having thoroughly considered the parties' briefing and the relevant record, the Court finds oral argument unnecessary and hereby DENIES the motion for the reasons explained herein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Michael Teeter (Teeter) caused a car crash on January 7, 2011, injuring Plaintiff Anthony Hopkins. (Dkt. No. 28 at 2.) At the time, Teeter held a third-party automobile insurance policy from Defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. (Id.) On July 11, 2013, Plaintiff filed suit against Teeter in superior court to recover damages for his crash-related injuries. (Id.) Teeter eventually signed a settlement agreement in which he assigned Plaintiff “all rights, privileges, claims and causes of action that he may have against his insurer or affiliated companies, and their agents.” (Id.) Although the agreement did not specifically enumerate the right to bring an Insurance Fair Conduct Act (IFCA) claim, it provided that the assignment “includes but is not limited to” a specific list of Teeter's privileges, claims, and causes of action. (Id.)

         After Teeter settled the case and assigned his rights to Plaintiff, Plaintiff sued Defendant for negligence, breach of contract, breach of duty of good faith, breach of fiduciary duty, the unreasonable denial of liability benefits under IFCA, and breach of the Consumer Protection Act. (Dkt. No. 10 at 10-13.) Defendant now moves for partial summary judgment on the IFCA claim, arguing that Plaintiff lacks standing because (1) Teeter did not expressly assign Plaintiff the right to bring an IFCA claim, (2) IFCA claims cannot arise out of third-party insurance coverage, and (3) Defendant fulfilled all of its obligations to Teeter. (Dkt. No. 28 at 1-8.)


         A. Legal Standard

         1. Summary Judgment

         The Court shall grant summary judgment if the moving party “shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the [moving party] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In making such a determination, the Court views the facts and justifiable inferences to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). Once a motion for summary judgment is properly made and supported, the opposing party “must come forward with ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). Material facts are those that may affect the outcome of a case, and a dispute about a material fact is genuine if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49. Conclusory, non-specific statements in affidavits are not sufficient, and “missing facts” will not be “presumed.” Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888-89 (1990). Ultimately, summary judgment is appropriate against a party who “fails to make a showing sufficient 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. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986).

         2. Contracts and Settlements

         District courts apply the law of the governing state when adjudicating controversies that arise out of state law. See Daniel v. Ford Motor Co., 806 F.3d 1217, 1223 (9th Cir. 2015). In Washington, settlement agreements are interpreted the same way as other contracts. McGuire v. Bates, 234 P.3d 205, 206-07 (Wash. 2010). “The entire contract must be construed together in order to give force and effect to each clause, ” and be enforced “as written if the language is clear and unambiguous.” Wash. Pub. Util. Dists. Utils. Sys. v. Dist. No. 1 of Clallam Cnty., 771 P.2d 701, 705 (Wash. 1989). If, on the other hand, “a policy provision on its face is fairly susceptible to two different but reasonable interpretations, the policy is ambiguous and the court must attempt to discern and enforce the contract as the parties intended.” Transcon. Ins. Co. v. Wash. Pub. Utils. Dists. Util. Sys., 760 P.2d 337, 340 (Wash. 1988).

         Washington courts attempt to determine the parties' intent by examining their objective manifestations as expressed in the agreement. Hearst Commc'ns, Inc. v. Seattle Times Co., 115 P.3d 262, 264-66 (Wash. 2005). Generally, the parties' subjective intent is irrelevant if the court can “impute an intention corresponding to the reasonable meaning of the actual words used.” Id. at 262. “Unilateral or subjective purposes and intentions about the meanings of what is written do not constitute evidence of the parties' intentions.” Lynott v. Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, Pa., 871 P.2d 146, 149 (Wash. 1994).

         3. Insurance Fair Conduct Act

         IFCA creates a private right of action against an insurer that either (1) unreasonably denies a claim for coverage or payment of benefits, or (2) violates one of several enumerated regulations set forth by the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner. Wash. Rev. Code § 48.30.015(1), (5);Merrill v. Crown Life Ins. Co., 22 F.Supp.3d 1137 (E.D. Wash. 2014). IFCA expressly confers this right of action only to a “first-party claimant.” Wash. Rev. Code § 48.30.015. Under the statute, a “first-party claimant” is defined as “an individual, corporation, association, partnership, or other legal entity asserting a right to payment as a covered person under an insurance policy or insurance contract arising out of the occurrence of the contingency or loss covered by such a policy or contract.” Wash. Rev. Code § 48.30.015(4). Interpreting the statute, this Court has ...

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