United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
TRACEY ARCEMENT, ET AL.
GEOVERA SPECIALTY INSURANCE SERVICES, INC., Section R (4).
ORDER AND REASONS
SARAH S. VANCE, District Judge.
Before the Court is defendant Geovera Specialty Insurance Services, Inc.'s renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law or, in the alternative, motion to amend the judgment. For the following reasons, the Court denies the motion for judgment as a matter of law and grants the motion to amend the judgment.
This case is a dispute about whether GeoVera paid plaintiffs Tracey and Lori Arcement the amounts owed under their homeowner's insurance policy for damages their property suffered during Hurricane Isaac.
The Arcements held a homeowner's insurance policy issued by GeoVera, which provided $299, 000 in dwelling coverage, $29, 900 in other structures coverage, and $149, 500 in personal property coverage. A 3% windstorm/hail deductible of $8970 applied to this coverage. The policy provided various exclusions, including an exclusion for water damage, which is defined in relevant part as "[f]lood, surface water, waves, tidal water, overflow of a body of water, or spray from any of these, whether or not driven by wind...." The policy also contains an anti-concurrent causation ("ACC") clause applicable to all exclusions. It provides: "We do not insure for loss caused directly or indirectly by any of the following. Such loss is excluded regardless of any other cause or event contributing concurrently or in any sequence to the loss."
The Arcements held federal flood insurance through a different carrier from which they received $350, 000, the limit of their coverage, for flood damages: $250, 000 for damage to their home and other structures and $100, 000 for damage to the home's contents. The flood adjustor, Christopher Stratton, inspected the Arcements' home on September 6, 10, and 14, 2012. He provided a replacement cost value estimate for the Arcements' property as follows: $358, 883.96 for the structures ($331, 360.46 for the home and $27, 523.50 for the garage) and $165, 847.93 for the contents of the home. To receive these funds, the flood insurer required the Arcements to sign a proof of loss document in which the Arcements agreed that flooding caused the covered damages.
The Arcements also made a claim with GeoVera on August 29, 2012 for wind and rain damage. On September 29, 2012, GeoVera claim representative, Kiarra Rainey, sent the Arcements a letter outlining GeoVera's evaluation of damages, which specified roof damages of $11, 911.57, less depreciation of $2101.76, less the applicable deductible of $8970.00, totaling a payment to the Arcements of $839.81. The letter stated that GeoVera "determined that there is no coverage for the damages claimed below the flood line." The Arcements requested a reinspection of certain areas of the home above the flood line. GeoVera had the property reinspected and, in a letter dated October 15, 2012, denied coverage for any additional damages because the "items were either below the flood line/water line of 11ft 2 in, or not visually damaged."
The Arcements hired an "independent adjustor, " Don Kotter, who opined that their property suffered wind- and rain-related damages separate from flood damages totaling $198, 018.13 in replacement cost value or $178, 451.38 in actual cash value. Specifically, Kotter identified numerous damages to the home, contents, and other structures sustained as a result of wind and rain, independently of any flooding.
The Arcements sued GeoVera, claiming that it wrongfully denied coverage for the wind and rain damage that their property sustained. The Court held a jury trial on July 14-16, 2014. At the close of the Arcements' evidence and again at the close of all evidence, the Court denied the majority of GeoVera's motions for judgment as a matter of law. After a few hours of deliberation, the seven-person jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiffs, awarding them $70, 000 for wind and rain damage to their dwelling, $10, 000 for wind and rain damage to the contents of their dwelling, and $200 for wind and rain damage to other structures on their property. In addition, the jury awarded $5000 in penalties under La. Rev. Stat. § 22:1973(B)(6) based on its finding that GeoVera relied exclusively on the flood water mark in determining coverage.
Geovera has renewed its motions for judgment as matter of law on two issues: (1) it argues that there was no evidentiary basis for the jury to find that the ACC clause did not apply to exclude all claims, and (2) it argues that there was no evidentiary basis for the jury to find that GeoVera used only the flood water mark, without considering other evidence, in determining coverage. In the event that its motion for judgment as a matter of law is denied, GeoVera moves in the alternative for the Court to amend the judgment to reduce the award of the jury under the dwelling portion of the GeoVera policy from $70, 000 to $69, 448.89 to reflect a proper calculation of replacement cost value.
II. Legal Standard
A. Judgment as a Matter of Law
The Court will grant judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50 only when the facts and inferences point so strongly and overwhelmingly in favor of one party that reasonable jurors could not arrive at a different verdict. Arsement v. Spinnaker Exploration Co., L.L.C., 400 F.3d 238, 248-49 (5th Cir. 2005). The Court will consider all of the evidence, and draw factual inferences in favor of the verdict. DP Solutions, Inc. v. Rollins, Inc., 353 F.3d 421, 427 (5th Cir. 2003). The Court, however, leaves credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of all legitimate inferences from the facts to the jury. Id. A mere scintilla of evidence, however, "is insufficient to present a question for the jury'" as "there must be a conflict in substantial evidence to create a jury question.'" Id. (quoting Foreman v. Babcock & Wilcox Co., 117 F.3d 800, 804 (5th Cir. 1997)). The Fifth Circuit defines substantial evidence as "evidence of such quality and weight that reasonable and fairminded men in the exercise of impartial judgment might reach different conclusions." Transoil (Jersey) Ltd. v. Belcher Oil Co., 950 F.2d 1115, 1118 (5th Cir. 1992). Therefore, a jury verdict must be upheld unless "the facts and inferences point so strongly in favor of one party that the Court believes that reasonable men could not arrive at a contrary verdict." Boeing Co. v. Shipman, 411 F.2d 365, 374 (5th Cir. 1969). The Court assumes that the jury followed its instructions when weighing the evidence. See United States v. Webster, 162 F.3d 308, 324 (5th Cir. 1998).
B. Motion to Amend a Judgment
The Court has considerable discretion to grant or to deny a motion to alter or amend the judgment under Rule 59(e). See Edward H. Bohlin Co., Inc. v. Banning Co., Inc., 6 F.3d 350, 355 (5th Cir. 1993). The Court, however, must "strike the proper balance between the need for finality and the need to render a just decision on the basis of all the facts." Id. at 355. Courts in this district hold that a moving party must satisfy at least one of the following criteria to prevail on a Rule 59(e) motion: (1) the motion is necessary to correct a manifest error of fact or law; (2) the movant presents newly discovered or previously unavailable evidence; (3) the motion is necessary in order to prevent manifest injustice; or (4) the motion is justified by an intervening change in the controlling law. See Scordill v. Louisiana Ladder Group, L.L.C., NO. CIV. A. 02-2565, 2004 WL 1118302, at *3 (E.D. La. May 18, 2004).
A. Judgment as a Matter of Law
1. Application of the Anti-Concurrent Clause
The Arcements' policy with GeoVera excludes coverage for water damage, defined as "[f]lood, surface water, waves, tidal water, overflow of a body of water, or spray form any of these, whether or not driven by wind...." In contrast, the policy provides coverage for damage caused by wind and rain. The policy also contains an ACC clause, which provides:
We do not insure for loss caused directly or indirectly by any of the following [exclusions]. Such loss is excluded regardless of any other cause or event contributing concurrently or in any sequence to the loss. These exclusions apply whether or not the loss ...