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Johnson v. Safepoint Insurance Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

May 2, 2019

STEVEN JOHNSON
v.
SAFEPOINT INSURANCE COMPANY, ET AL.

         SECTION: “H”

          ORDER AND REASONS

          JANE TRICHE MILAZZO, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant Safepoint Insurance Company's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 32). For the following reasons, the Motion is DENIED.

         BACKGROUND

         This insurance dispute arises out of Defendant Safepoint Insurance Company's (“Safepoint”) denial of Plaintiff Steven Johnson's claim seeking reimbursement for financial losses he suffered as a result of a house fire in Slidell, Louisiana. The fire occurred at Johnson's rental property on October 14, 2017. At the time of the fire, Johnson had an active homeowner's insurance policy with Safepoint that included coverage for fire losses. Plaintiff timely filed a claim with Safepoint for the losses caused by the fire. Safepoint then commenced an investigation of Johnson's claim.

         Safepoint uncovered evidence during its investigation suggesting that the fire at Johnson's property had been set intentionally. Because Johnson's insurance policy excluded coverage for damage caused by fires set by Johnson, Safepoint focused its investigation on determining whether either Steven Johnson or his wife Sandra Johnson had any part in causing the fire at the Slidell rental property. Several months into the investigation, the Johnsons informed Safepoint that they would not “provide any further items in this matter” and that if Safepoint did not promptly adjust their claim, “suit [would] follow shortly thereafter.”[1] Safepoint responded by denying Steven Johnson's claim on the ground that no coverage was owed because Johnson breached the “cooperation clause” in his insurance policy.

         Following Safepoint's denial of Johnson's claim, Johnson filed this bad faith insurance suit in Louisiana's 22nd Judicial District Court in St. Tammany Parish. The suit initially named Safepoint, Richter Insurance Group, L.L.C. (“Richter”), and Kimberly Cook as Defendants. After the suit was removed to this Court, Johnson voluntarily dismissed Richter and Cook, leaving Safepoint as the only Defendant.

         On February 5, 2019, Safepoint filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment. Safepoint seeks a ruling from this Court that it owes nothing to Johnson because he breached the cooperation clause of his insurance policy. Johnson opposes the Motion on the ground that genuine issues of material fact exist regarding whether the cooperation clause was breached. He also argues that other factual disputes in this case should preclude summary judgment.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”[2] “As to materiality . . . [o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.”[3] Nevertheless, a dispute about a material fact is “genuine” such that summary judgment is inappropriate “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.”[4]

         In determining whether the movant is entitled to summary judgment, the Court views facts in the light most favorable to the non-movant and draws all reasonable inferences in his favor.[5] “If the moving party meets the initial burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to produce evidence or designate specific facts showing the existence of a genuine issue for trial.”[6] Summary judgment is appropriate if the non-movant “fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case.”[7]

         “In response to a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmovant must identify specific evidence in the record and articulate the manner in which that evidence supports that party's claim, and such evidence must be sufficient to sustain a finding in favor of the nonmovant on all issues as to which the nonmovant would bear the burden of proof at trial.”[8] The Court does “not . . . in the absence of any proof, assume that the nonmoving party could or would prove the necessary facts.”[9] Additionally, “[t]he mere argued existence of a factual dispute will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion.”[10]

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         “Under Louisiana law, an insured's compliance with the provisions of an insurance policy is a condition precedent to recovery.”[11] Here, Plaintiff Johnson's insurance policy with Defendant Safepoint contained a cooperation clause that obligated Johnson to “as often as [Safepoint] reasonably require[s] . . . provide [Safepoint] ...


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