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Chatelain v. United States Department of Homeland Security

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

July 25, 2019

STEVE CHATELAIN
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, ET AL.

         SECTION "F"

          ORDER AND REASONS

          MARTIN L. C. FELDMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is the defendants' motion for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the motion is GRANTED.

         Background

          This lawsuit arises from an attempt to collect additional flood insurance proceeds after catastrophic rains caused flooding in southeast Louisiana in August 2016.

         From August 13-15, 2016, heavy rains in southeast Louisiana caused flooding, which damaged Steve Chatelain's property located at 29494 West Bates Road in Hammond, Louisiana. Chatelain had purchased a Standard Flood Insurance Policy issued directly through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, under the National Flood Insurance Program, which was then in effect to insure his Hammond residence.[1] The building had a liability limit of $250, 000 with a $1, 250 deductible; contents coverage was limited to $100, 000 with a separate $1, 250 deductible.

         When Chatelain notified FEMA of his flood loss, FEMA sent an independent adjuster for inspection. Working with the adjuster, Chatelain submitted a proof of loss to FEMA dated October 28, 2016 in the amount of $75, 898.48. FEMA denied that proof of loss, but accepted Chatelain's revised claim for $77, 032.19, which deducted certain above-water items from his contents estimate and sought additional replacement cost coverage. By November 2016, FEMA had paid Chatelain the total amount of $77, 032.19 ($60, 006.45 for building and $17, 005.74 for contents; both after deductibles). FEMA explained in a November 28, 2018 letter that it denied the original proof of loss, but that it accepted the claim for the revised amount; FEMA also wrote: “[i]f you do not agree with the final decision reached on your claim, please refer your [SFIP]...which states...'If you do sue, you must start the suit within 1 year after the date of written denial of all or part of the claim.'”

         Dissatisfied with FEMA's payment, Chatelain, through counsel, wrote to FEMA on March 30, 2017 claiming that the prior payment “was deficient in unit cost and scope of work/damage.” Accompanying the letter, Chatelain submitted a supplemental proof of loss for $319, 069, along with his own private appraiser's report. On April 7, 2017, FEMA rejected in writing Chatelain's $319, 069 supplemental proof of loss for insufficient documentation. Chatelain did not respond. Nor did he submit any additional material to FEMA.

         On August 1, 2018, Chatelain sued the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, claiming that FEMA's “building payment was deficient by more than $150, 000.00.” The defendants now move for summary judgment dismissing the plaintiff's lawsuit as untimely.

         I.

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 instructs that summary judgment is proper if the record discloses no genuine dispute as to any material fact such that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. No. genuine dispute of fact exists if the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). A genuine dispute of fact exists only "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         The Court emphasizes that the mere argued existence of a factual dispute does not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion. See id. Therefore, "[i]f the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative," summary judgment is appropriate. Id. at 249-50 (citations omitted). Summary judgment is also proper if the party opposing the motion fails to establish an essential element of his case. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). In this regard, the non-moving party must do more than simply deny the allegations raised by the moving party. See Donaghey v. Ocean Drilling & Exploration Co., 974 F.2d 646, 649 (5th Cir. 1992). Rather, he must come forward with competent evidence, such as affidavits or depositions, to buttress his claims. Id. Hearsay evidence and unsworn documents that cannot be presented in a form that would be admissible in evidence at trial do not qualify as competent opposing evidence. Martin v. John W. Stone Oil Distrib., Inc., 819 F.2d 547, 549 (5th Cir. 1987); Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2). "[T]he nonmoving party cannot defeat summary judgment with conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated assertions, or only a scintilla of evidence." Hathaway v. Bazany, 507 F.3d 312, 319 (5th Cir. 2007)(internal quotation marks and citation omitted). In deciding whether a fact issue exists, courts must view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 378 (2007). Although the Court must "resolve factual controversies in favor of the nonmoving party," it must do so "only where there is an actual controversy, that is, when both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts." Antoine v. First Student, Inc., 713 F.3d 824, 830 (5th Cir. 2013)(internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         II.

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