United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
ORDER & REASONS
ELDON E. FALLON, District Judge.
Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Lift Stay and Reopen Case for Limited Purpose of Addressing Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 19) and Defendant GeoVera's Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 20). Having reviewed the parties' briefs and the applicable law, the Court now issues this Order & Reasons.
This insurance dispute arises from alleged damage to a home due to Hurricane Isaac. According to their petition, filed in the 24th Judicial District Court for the Parish of Jefferson on January 15, 2013, Plaintiffs Jodi and Jamie Beasley own property located at 5138 Rogers Street in Lafitte, Louisiana. The Plaintiffs allege that Defendant GeoVera Specialty Insurance Company ("GeoVera") insured their home at all relevant times. The Plaintiffs further allege that Hurricane Isaac made landfall on August 28, 2012, and caused damage to their home by means of wind, but not by means of flooding. Plaintiffs allege that GeoVera failed to pay all damages due according to their insurance contract, and seek damages.
GeoVera filed a Notice of Removal on March 1, 2013, alleging diversity jurisdiction. (Rec. Doc. 1). GeoVera then filed an Answer in which it denies liability and asserts various affirmative defenses including failure to state a claim and coverage defenses. (Rec. Doc. 4). On May 2, 2013, GeoVera filed a Motion to Compel Appraisal and to Administratively Close Case Pending appraisal. In it, GeoVera argued that the insurance policy at issue included a provision allowing either party to demand an independent appraisal in the event of a dispute as to the amount of loss. GeoVera asserted that it twice sent letters to Plaintiffs invoking its right to demand an independent appraisal, naming GeoVera's appraiser, and asking Plaintiffs to name their own appraiser, per the terms of the policy. GeoVera further averred that Plaintiffs failed to respond to either letter, and instead filed the instant suit in violation of the terms of the policy. The Court agreed with GeoVera and granted the motion on June 20, 2013, thus staying and closing the case for administrative purposes pending completion of the appraisal process. (Rec. Doc. 18).
Following the Court's institution of the stay, the parties chose their respective appraisers, who ultimately agreed on the amount of dwelling damages. Specifically, the appraisers found the actual cash value of the damage to Plaintiffs' dwelling to be $21, 502.85. (Rec. Doc. 20-15). On September 19, 2013, GeoVera's counsel sent Plaintiff's counsel a check for $11, 502.85, signifying the $21, 502.85 amount in damages less the $10, 000 deductible. (Rec. Doc. 20-16).
The appraisers did not evaluate Plaintiffs' claims for lost contents and additional living expenses. The Plaintiffs' GeoVera insurance policy states as one of the "Duties After Loss" that the insured shall submit to an Examination Under Oath ("EUO") while not in the presence of another "insured." GeoVera chose to exercise its right to an EUO, and GeoVera's counsel wrote Plaintiffs' counsel on October 4, 2013 and scheduled an EUO of the Plaintiffs to take place on November 19, 2013. (Rec. Doc. 20-17). The letter states that the EUOs of each Plaintiff would be conducted separately, as per the policy. (Rec. Doc. 20-17 at 2). GeoVera also requested documentation to support Plaintiffs' claims for lost contents and additional living expenses.
The parties rescheduled the EUO at Plaintiffs' counsel's request due to a scheduling conflict. GeoVera's counsel sent a letter on November 15, 2013 to Plaintiffs' counsel and rescheduled the EUOs for December 10, 2013. Again, GeoVera's counsel noted that each Plaintiff's EUO would be conducted separately. (Rec. Doc. 20-18 at 1). On December 9, 2013, GeoVera's counsel wrote Plaintiffs' counsel and cancelled the scheduled EUO, citing Plaintiffs' failure to provide the requested documents and information. (Rec. Doc. 20-19).
For some unknown reason, counsel did not revisit scheduling the EUOs until a year later. GeoVera's counsel sent a letter on December 10, 2014 and rescheduled the EUOs for December 17, 2014. (Rec. Doc. 20-20). GeoVera's counsel again asked for documents pertaining to Plaintiffs' claim and asked that the documents be provided no later than December 15, 2014. (Rec. Doc. 20-20). Due to a conflict with Plaintiffs' counsel's schedule, the parties rescheduled the EUO for December 23, 2014.
The Plaintiffs and Plaintiffs' counsel appeared at GeoVera's counsel's office on December 23, 2014 but refused to submit to separate EUOs. Plaintiffs' counsel stated that they were ready and willing to answer any questions asked but would not submit to separate EUOs. (Rec. Doc. 20-21).
II. PRESENT MOTIONS
GeoVera now asks this Court to lift the stay in order to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims for dwelling damages and to consider and grant GeoVera's Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiffs agree that the Court should lift the stay but contend that the Court should grant GeoVera's Motion for Summary Judgment only as it relates to confirmation of Plaintiffs' award for dwelling damages and deny the motion as it relates to Plaintiffs' remaining claims of lost contents and additional living expenses. Since the parties agree that the Court should lift the stay and grant Summary Judgment as to dwelling damages, the Court will focus its analysis on Summary Judgment regarding contents damages and living expenses.
GeoVera argues that the Court should grant Summary Judgment as to Plaintiffs' claims for contents damages and living expenses because of Plaintiffs' "persistent noncompliance with the policy's cooperation clause." (Rec. Doc. 20-1 at 1). GeoVera argues that Plaintiffs have failed to provide GeoVera with requested documentation, which is necessary for GeoVera to evaluate Plantiffs' claims. GeoVera also contends that the Plaintiffs' refusal to submit to separate EUOs "has caused material prejudice to GeoVera by inhibiting its ability to properly investigate and a adjust Plaintiffs' claims, impeding its ability to gather information while it is still fresh, delaying resolution of the claims, and causing GeoVera to unnecessarily incur additional expenses, attorney fees, and litigation costs." (Rec. Doc. 20-1 at 15).
Plaintiffs oppose the motion and argue that GeoVera fails to show how Plaintiffs' failure to submit to EUOs or their failure to produce the requested documentation has prejudiced GeoVera. (Rec. Doc. 24 at 5). Plaintiffs further contend that there remain disputed material facts as to whether Plaintiffs actually failed to provide the requested documentation and as to whether they refused to submit to the EUO. (Rec. Doc. 24 at 8). Plaintiffs include a number of emails that indicate Plaintiffs provided documentation to GeoVera that substantiated their claims for lost contents and additional living expenses. (Rec. Doc. 24 at 8-9). Further, Plaintiffs note that they submitted a settlement offer to GeoVera in December 2013 and followed up with GeoVera's counsel in August 2014 but never received a response to their offer or a counteroffer. (Rec. Doc. 24 at 9). Regarding Plaintiffs' refusal to submit to ...