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Barron v. American Family Mutual Insurance Co.

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

April 27, 2017

STEVE E. BARRON, et al., Plaintiffs,


          BENJAMIN H. SETTLE United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendant American Family Mutual Insurance Company's (“American Family”) motion for summary judgment (Dkt. 44) and Plaintiffs Steve E. Barron, Christine L. Hillestad, Marc W. Hillestad, Raymond Owens, Tammy Owens, and Frank E. Schoen's (“Plaintiffs”) motion for partial summary judgment (Dkt. 55). The Court has considered the pleadings filed in support of and in opposition to the motions and the remainder of the file and hereby rules as follows:


         On June 28, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a class action complaint against American Family asserting numerous causes of action. Dkt. 1. All of the causes of action are based on the theory that American Family failed to pay the actual cash value for damaged items because American Family improperly depreciated the value of these items based solely on the age of the items. Id. ¶¶ 29, 30.

         On February 15, 2017, American Family filed a motion for summary judgment. Dkt. 44. On March 6, 2017, Plaintiffs responded. Dkt. 53. On March 9, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. Dkt. 55. On March 10, 2017, American Family replied to Plaintiffs' response. Dkt. 56. On March 27, 2017, American Family responded to Plaintiffs' motion. Dkt. 59. On March 31, 2017, Plaintiffs replied. Dkt. 60.


         Plaintiffs entered into individual contracts of insurance with American Family. It is undisputed that each contract obligated American Family to pay the insured the “Actual Cash Value” (“ACV”) of damaged property in certain circumstances. Dkt. 44 at 34; Dkt. 53 at 3. The policies define ACV as “the amount it costs to repair or replace property with property of like kind and quality less depreciation for physical deterioration and obsolescence.” Id.


         As a threshold matter, the parties appear to be ships passing in the night. American Family seeks a ruling that straight-line age-based depreciation is appropriate for every instance of attributable depreciation while Plaintiffs seek a ruling that straight-line age-based depreciation can never be a factually accurate determination of depreciation. Based on the current record, the true answer lies somewhere in the middle of these positions. For example, age may be the only relevant factor in depreciating an item, whereas in other situations age has no relevance whatsoever in determining an item's obsolescence. Accordingly, the issue is not amenable to resolution as a matter of law and, in the absence of further evidence, may only be determined on an item-by-item basis.

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is proper only if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law when the nonmoving party fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of a claim in the case on which the nonmoving party has the burden of proof. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). There is no genuine issue of fact for trial where the record, taken as a whole, could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) (nonmoving party must present specific, significant probative evidence, not simply “some metaphysical doubt”). See also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). Conversely, a genuine dispute over a material fact exists if there is sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute, requiring a judge or jury to resolve the differing versions of the truth. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 253 (1986); T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pac. Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987).

         The determination of the existence of a material fact is often a close question. The Court must consider the substantive evidentiary burden that the nonmoving party must meet at trial - e.g., a preponderance of the evidence in most civil cases. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 254; T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc., 809 F.2d at 630. The Court must resolve any factual issues of controversy in favor of the nonmoving party only when the facts specifically attested by that party contradict facts specifically attested by the moving party. The nonmoving party may not merely state that it will discredit the moving party's evidence at trial, in the hopes that evidence can be developed at trial to support the claim. T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc., 809 F.2d at 630 (relying on Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255). Conclusory, nonspecific 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).

         B. ACV

         The Court construes an insurance policy as a whole, giving the policy a “fair, reasonable, and sensible construction as would be given to the contract by the average person purchasing insurance.” Amer. Nat. Fire Ins. Co. v. B & L Trucking and Constr. Co., Inc., 134 Wn.2d 413, 427 (Wn. 1998) (internal quotations omitted). If the language is clear and unambiguous, the Court must enforce it as written. Id. at 429. If the clause is ambiguous, the Court may look to extrinsic evidence of the parties' intent to resolve the ambiguity. Id. The Court resolves any remaining ambiguities against the drafter-insurer and in favor of the insured. Id. A clause is ambiguous when, on its face, it is fairly susceptible to two reasonable interpretations. Id. When the Court relies on inferences drawn from ...

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