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Farnes v. Metropolitan Group Property and Casualty Insurance Co.

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

July 31, 2019

ANNELISE FARNES, Plaintiff,
v.
METROPOLITAN GROUP PROPERTY AND CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DENYING PLAINTIFF'S RENEWED FEDERAL RULE 56(D) MOTION

          BARBARA JACOBS ROTHSTEIN, U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Annelise Farnes (“Plaintiff”) instituted this action against Defendant Metropolitan Group Property and Casualty Insurance Company (“MetLife”), alleging that MetLife wrongfully denied payment under her insurance policy. Plaintiff brings claims for breach of contract, bad faith, and violation of Washington's Consumer Protection and Insurance Fair Conduct Acts. Dkt. No. 1, Ex. 3. MetLife moves this Court for summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims. Dkt. No. 15. Plaintiff opposes the motion. Dkt. No. 24. Having reviewed the motion, the opposition thereto, the record of the case, and the relevant legal authorities, the Court will grant the motion. The reasoning for the Court's decision follows.[1]

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff purchased a homeowner's insurance policy from MetLife with a policy term of October 9, 2016 to October 9, 2017. Dkt. No. 16, Ex. 1 at 2. The policy insured against losses to Plaintiff's dwelling as well as personal property. In addition, the policy provided for alternative living expenses should such an arrangement become necessary due to an insured loss. Relevant here, the policy also contained a twelve-month suit limitation clause, which contractually limits the time within which Plaintiff can bring a lawsuit against MetLife seeking coverage. Specifically, the policy provides that “any suit or action seeking coverage must be brought within twelve months of the loss.” Id. at Ex. 2.

         Plaintiff's home was burglarized on October 10, 2016, one day after the insurance policy went into effect. Plaintiff reported the break-in to the police and subsequently completed a Theft Inventory List in conjunction with the police report she filed with the Puyallup Police Department. Dkt. No. 16, Ex. 4. Plaintiff also reported the break-in to MetLife and the company opened a claim. Id. at Ex. 10. It paid for Plaintiff to stay in a hotel that night and she continued to stay at the hotel until February 22, 2017 when Plaintiff was finally able to return to her house. Id. at ¶ 5. As of March 7, 2017, MetLife had paid Plaintiff a total of $142, 936.69 for losses she suffered due to the break-in ($24, 222.05 (dwelling coverage), $80, 236.41 (personal property), and $38, 478.23 (loss of use)). Id. MetLife paid the full amount claimed by Plaintiff as of March 7, 2017 and did not deduct for depreciation. Id. at Exs. 5-6, 8, and 10. MetLife “considered the claim closed by mid-March, 2017.” Id. at Exs. 5 and 10.

         However, on December 1, 2017, MetLife received an email from Choice Carpentry, which enclosed a $45, 531.56 estimate for a kitchen remodel at Plaintiff's house. Id. at Ex. 9. The estimate included replacement of all kitchen cabinets, nine interior oak doors, a screen door, quartz countertops, kitchen backsplash, carpentry hardware, and other miscellaneous items. Id. MetLife did not believe that the foregoing work was related to the break-in and thus requested an opportunity to reinspect Plaintiff's home. During this inspection, Plaintiff pointed out various items that she felt still needed to be repaired from the break-in and MetLife issued a supplemental check in the amount of $3, 133.97 on January 1, 2018. Id. at Ex. 10 at 2.

         On January 3, 2018, MetLife received another estimate from Choice Carpentry in the amount of $9, 826.96, which related to replacing the tile flooring in the kitchen and the vinyl flooring in the bathroom with engineered wood flooring. Id. On February 21, 2018, MetLife informed Plaintiff it would not make additional payments for the work outlined in the Choice Carpentry estimates because there was no evidence that the damage caused by the October 2016 break-in necessitated the work outlined in the estimates. Id. at 1-3. MetLife also pointed out that it had already paid for repairs to Plaintiff's kitchen following the break-in and it was not required to pay twice for the same repairs. Id. at 3. Lastly, MetLife informed Plaintiff that its policy does not require it to pay for “upgrades” such as those contemplated by the Choice Carpentry estimates. Id. For instance, MetLife pointed out, at the time of the break-in Plaintiff's kitchen cabinets were made of plywood with a wood-grain plastic veneer, but the Choice Carpentry estimate called for solid oak cabinets. Likewise, at the time of the break-in, Plaintiff's countertops were laminate-surfaced wood, but the estimate was for quartz countertops. Id.

         MetLife invited Plaintiff to submit a Sworn Statement in Proof of Loss (“Proof of Loss”) or utilize the appraisal process outlined in the policy if Plaintiff disputed MetLife's denial. Id. Thereafter, on March 18, 2018, Plaintiff emailed MetLife requesting that it extend the twelvemonth suit-limitation period that had expired on October 10, 2017. Plaintiff also requested that MetLife extend the deadline to file the Proof of Loss by another sixty days. Dkt. No. 16, Ex. 11. MetLife declined to do either. Id.

         On April 19, 2018, Plaintiff submitted a Proof of Loss form; the only losses listed on the form related to alleged personal property damages, not damage to her dwelling. Dkt. No. 16, Ex. 12. Plaintiff claims that the total cost to repair or replace the items on her Proof of Loss form is $165, 905.23. Id. MetLife alleges that it had already paid for most of the items listed on the Proof of Loss form as part of the $142, 936.69 payments it made by March 7, 2017. It also claims that there are duplicate items on the form. On May 25, 2018, MetLife informed Plaintiff that it rejected her Proof of Loss claims and would deny further payment for claims based on the October 10, 2016 break-in due to the one-year suit limitation clause in its policy. Id. Thereafter, Plaintiff instituted this action.[2]

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is appropriate when 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). Summary judgment avoids unnecessary trials in cases in which the parties do not dispute the facts relevant to the determination of the issues in the case, or in which there is insufficient evidence for a jury to determine those facts in favor of the nonmovant. See Crawford-El v. Britton, 523 U.S. 574, 600 (1998); Northwest Motorcycle Ass'n v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 18 F.3d 1468, 1471 (9th Cir. 1994). Simply put, a summary judgment motion asks whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury. Bradley v. Rohlfing, 2015 WL 6502450, *2 (E.D. Cal. October 27, 2015).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff instituted this lawsuit against MetLife on November 29, 2018 with a sparse, three-page complaint that contained three counts: (1) breach of contract, (2) bad faith, and (3) violation of Washington's Consumer Protection Act. Dkt. No. 1, Ex. 2. Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on December 20, 2018. Id. at Ex. 3. The amended complaint is equally sparse but adds a fourth count: violation of Washington's Insurance Fair Conduct Act. MetLife claims that it is entitled to summary judgment on all four of these counts; Plaintiff disagrees. The Court will address each in turn.

         A. The Breach of Contract Claim is Barred by the Policy's Twelve-Month Suit Limitation Clause

         As stated above, the insurance policy at issue in this lawsuit contains a twelve-month suit limitation clause, which provides that: “any suit or action seeking coverage must be brought within twelve months of the loss.” Dkt. No. 16, Ex. 2. The parties agree that the date of the loss as it applies to the twelve-month suit limitation clause is the date of the break-in: October 10, 2016. Thus, Plaintiff was contractually required to bring her lawsuit no later than October 10, 2017. Plaintiff initiated this lawsuit on November 29, 2018, over a year after the twelve-month suit limitation clause expired. Therefore, MetLife argues, Plaintiff's lawsuit is time-barred.

         Plaintiff counters that her breach of contract claim is not time-barred because the twelvemonth suit limitation clause only applies to coverage disputes. According to Plaintiff, here, there is no dispute that the insurance policy covers the losses caused by the break-in; the only dispute is whether Plaintiff is entitled to a supplemental payment for the itemized losses she included in the April 19, 2018 Proof of Loss form. Stated differently, Plaintiff contends that the twelvemonth suit limitation clause is not applicable to her ...


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