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Lopez v. Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

March 27, 2019

NATHAN LOPEZ AND OLIVIA LOPEZ
v.
LOUISIANA CITIZENS PROPERTY INSURANCE CORPORATION

          APPEAL FROM THE FOURTEENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF CALCASIEU, NO. 2016-1269 HONORABLE G. MICHAEL CANADAY, DISTRICT JUDGE

          Eric T. Haik Haik, Minvielle & Grubbs, LLP Counsel for Defendant/Appellant: Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corporation

          Michael G. Hodgkins Julia Love Taylor Veron, Bice, Palermo & Wilson, L.L.C. Counsel for Plaintiffs/Appellees: Nathan Lopez Olivia Lopez

          Court composed of Elizabeth A. Pickett, Phyllis M. Keaty, and Jonathan W. Perry, Judges.

          PHYLLIS M. KEATY JUDGE

         Defendant/Appellant, Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, appeals the trial court's judgment in favor of Plaintiffs/Appellees, Nathan and Olivia Lopez, on the issue of insurance coverage. For the following reasons, the trial court's judgment is affirmed.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         This litigation arises from a February 8, 2016 theft involving a 2008 John Deere 4 X 4 Tractor, John Deere 521 Loader, and attachments (hereinafter collectively referred to as "tractor") which were located in a storage building at 4125 Fruge Street in Iowa, Louisiana. The tractor belonged to Nathan and Olivia Lopez (hereinafter collectively referred to as the "Lopezes"). At the time of the theft, the Lopezes had in effect a Dwelling/Builders Risk Policy ("policy") issued by Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corporation ("LCPIC"). At issue in this matter is whether the policy provided coverage for the theft of the tractor.

         The record before us reveals that prior to the instant lawsuit, the Lopezes submitted two claims to LCPIC for the actual cash value of the tractor. Both claims were denied on February 11, 2016 and March 21, 2016, respectively. The reason asserted by LCPIC for those denials was that "theft" was not one of the named "Perils Insured Against" in the policy. On March 29, 2016, the Lopezes filed the instant Petition for Damages against LCPIC for the actual cash value of the tractor along with interest and all costs of the proceedings. They further sought penalties for LCPIC's alleged violation of La.R.S. 22:1973 and La.R.S. 22:1892 along with attorney's fees and costs. After LCPIC filed an answer, both parties filed cross motions for summary judgment on the issue of coverage. A hearing on both motions occurred on December 6, 2016, after which the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Lopezes and denied the cross motion for summary judgment filed by LCPIC. The basis of the trial court's ruling was that the policy language was ambiguous. Thereafter, LCPIC filed a writ with this court which was subsequently denied in the unpublished opinion entitled Lopez v. Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp., 17-336 (La.App. 3 Cir. 6/2/17). The matter proceeded to trial on the merits on May 31, 2018, after which the trial court orally ruled in favor of the Lopezes. A written judgment in accordance with the trial court's ruling was issued on June 4, 2018. It is from this judgment that LCPIC appeals. On appeal, LCPIC asserts the following assignments of error:

A. The District Court erred in its interpretation of the insurance policy and the applicable law by holding that "Theft" would be covered under the instant policy.
B. The District Court erred in its ruling that the policy of insurance was ambiguous and that the phrase "if not otherwise covered" extended coverage for theft.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "The determination of whether a contract is clear or ambiguous is a question of law." Edwards v. Daugherty, 03-2103, 03-2104, pp. 12-13 (La. 10/1/04), 883 So.2d 932, 941. As such, the applicable standard of review is whether the trial court was legally correct. Cloud v. Nat'l Auto. Ins. Co., 03-1438 (La.App. 3 Cir. 5/26/04), 875 So.2d 866, writ denied, 04-2025 (La. 11/8/04), 885 So.2d 1131.

         DISCUSSION

         On appeal, LCPIC's assignments of error address the interpretation of certain language in the policy at issue. In Louisiana, this court has enunciated the following principles to be ...


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