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Nelson v. Americas Insurance Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

November 8, 2019

CHARLES NELSON, ET AL.
v.
AMERICAS INSURANCE COMPANY

          RULING AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOC. 30)

          JOHN W. deGRAVELLES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 30) (the “Offset Motion”) filed by Defendant Americas Insurance Company (“AIC” or “Defendant”). Plaintiffs Charles Nelson and Barbara Nelson (“Plaintiffs”) oppose the motion (Doc. 44), and AIC has filed a reply (Doc. 52). Oral argument is not necessary. The Court has carefully considered the law, the facts in the record, and the arguments and submissions of the parties and is prepared to rule. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Relevant Background

         The relevant factual background and much of the relevant law was discussed in the Court's Ruling and Order on Defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Claims Under Louisiana Revised Statute 22:1318 (the “VPL Ruling”). (Doc. 56.) In short, Plaintiffs had a homeowners policy with AIC (the “Policy”) insuring their property in Independence, Louisiana (the “Property”). The Property flooded. Then, after Plaintiffs began cleanup but before they made any major repairs, the Property burned down. AIC paid Plaintiffs certain insurance proceeds but offset the amounts with what Plaintiffs recovered from their flood insurer, Occidental Fire & Casualty Company of North Carolina (“Occidental”).

         In the instant motion, Defendant seeks partial summary judgment to establish:

[A]s a matter of law, [P]laintiffs may not obtain double recovery for the same loss under both their flood policy and their homeowners policy, and . . . [P]laintiffs' recovery under their homeowners policy is limited to the difference between the policy limits and the $61, 357.81 under Coverage A and $12, 290.58 under Coverage C in insurance payments that [P]laintiffs already indisputably received under their flood insurance policy, and prior wind claim.

(Doc. 30-1 at 1.) Plaintiffs oppose, arguing, inter alia, that questions of fact preclude summary judgment.

         II. Summary Judgment 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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). If the mover bears his burden of showing that there is no genuine issue of fact, “its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts. . . . [T]he nonmoving party must come forward with ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.' ” See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87, 106 S.Ct. 1348 (1986) (internal citations omitted). The non-mover's burden is not satisfied by “conclusory allegations, by unsubstantiated assertions, or by only a ‘scintilla' of evidence.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (citations and internal quotations omitted). “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.' ” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., 475 U.S. at 587. Further:

In resolving the motion, the court may not undertake to evaluate the credibility of the witnesses, weigh the evidence, or resolve factual disputes; so long as the evidence in the record is such that a reasonable jury drawing all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party could arrive at a verdict in that party's favor, the court must deny the motion.

International Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally's, Inc., 939 F.2d 1257, 1263 (5th Cir. 1991).

         Particularly important here, “if the movant bears the burden of proof on an issue, either because he is the plaintiff or as a defendant he is asserting an affirmative defense, he must establish beyond peradventure [(that is, beyond doubt)] all of the essential elements of the claim or defense to warrant judgment in his favor.” Fontenot v. Upjohn Co., 780 F.2d 1190, 1194 (5th Cir. 1986); peradventure, Merriam-Webster's Dictionary (2019), available at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/peradventure. Phrased another way, “[w]here the summary judgment movant bears the burden of proof at trial, the summary judgment evidence must affirmatively establish the movant's entitlement to prevail as a matter of law.” Universal Sav. Ass'n v. McConnell, 14 F.3d 52 (5th Cir. 1993) (unreported).

         III. Discussion

         A. Parties' Arguments

         1. Defendant's Memorandum in Support (Doc. 30-1)

         Defendant first argues:

Because the Policy is the contract between the insurer and the insureds, and it clearly states the maximum amount of the loss, the total sum of liability cannot exceed the amounts set forth in the Policy. As such, AIC is entitled to a judicial determination that the total amount of liability is $138, 500.00 under Coverage A and $69, 250.00 under Coverage C and that the [P]laintiffs' pre-occurrence Property value cannot exceed same.

(Doc. 30-1 at 4-5.)

         Second, Defendant asserts that Plaintiffs “suffered two segregable losses - one covered pursuant to the Policy and one not. As such[, ] AIC is not required to issue payment for damages already compensated [by Occidental] and not covered under their Policy.” (Doc. 30-1 at 5.) Thus, according to Defendant, Plaintiffs can recover “no more than the difference between the Policy limit of the damaged [P]roperty and the $61, 357.81 and $12, 290.58 that [P]laintiffs have already received under their flood insurance policy.” (Doc. 30-1 at 5-6.) Defendant relies primarily on Bradley v. Allstate Insurance Co., 620 F.3d 509 (5th Cir. 2010) and Halmekangas v. State Farm Ins. Co., No. 06-3942, 2008 WL 5381603 (E.D. La. Dec. 19, 2008), but AIC cites to a number of other Eastern District rulings as well. Alternatively, Defendant urges that it is “still entitled to an offset in the amount of [P]laintiffs' flood recovery” and that, “[a]t the very least, should this Court not establish the full measure of [P]laintiffs' potential recovery in the motion sub judice, . . . this Court [should] establish the value of the offset of [P]laintiffs' flood recovery.” (Doc. 30-1 at 6.)

         Third, Defendant maintains that the law prohibits a “double recovery.” (Doc. 30-1 at 7.) Defendant argues that “[P]laintiffs' recovery should be limited to the difference between the limits of liability of [their] Policy and the amount Occidental paid to [them] pursuant to their flood policy.” (Doc. 30-1 at 7.) “Specifically, AIC is only requesting the offset between the policy limit and the amount paid to [P]laintiffs via their flood policy.” (Doc. 30-1 at 7 (emphasis in original).)

         Defendant states:

Here, [P]laintiffs applied for and received $61, 357.81 and $12, 290.58 under their flood insurance policy for the damage caused to their Property in August 2016. Thus, any recovery under the dwelling or personal property coverage of [P]laintiffs' homeowners policy is limited, as a matter of law, to the pre-flood limit of liability, less $61, 357.81 and $12, 290.58[, ] and AIC should be granted summary judgment to this effect.

(Doc. 30-1 at 8.)

         Fourth, Defendant argues that Plaintiffs should be estopped from re-characterizing flood damage as fire damage. Defendant cites to other cases using the doctrine of judicial estoppel, including employment discrimination ones. Defendant states:

[I]n submitting a flood insurance claim and accepting payment under their flood policy, [P]laintiffs knowingly represented that a portion of the damage to their [P]roperty was a “direct physical loss by or from flood, ” and was not directly or indirectly caused by fire. As a result, this Court should hold as a matter of law, as it did in Bradley, that [P]laintiffs are now barred from ...

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