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Thane v. Geico Casualty Co.

United States District Court, D. Colorado

July 28, 2017

JODIE THANE, Plaintiff,
v.
GEICO CASUALTY COMPANY, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          CHRISTINE M. ARGUELLO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case arises out of an insurance coverage dispute and concerns whether Defendant, Geico Casualty Company, breached its contractual duty when it refused to settle a claim invoked against Plaintiff, Jodie Thane, by a third party. Plaintiff's Complaint also asserts a claim for the unreasonable denial of a covered benefit under Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 10-3-1115 and 10-3-1116. This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. # 25.) Defendant argues for the dismissal of both of Plaintiff's Claims for Relief because, Defendant contends, they are barred by applicable statute of limitations periods. (Id.) For the following reasons, the Court denies Defendant's Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The relevant facts, when viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, are as follows. See Allen v. Muskogee, 119 F.3d 837, 839-40 (10th Cir. 1997) (reviewing court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party); Kidd v. Taos Ski Valley, Inc., 88 F.3d 848, 851 (10th Cir. 1996) (same). On May 25, 2012, Plaintiff Jodie Thane's son, Aaron Thane, Brandon Hanson, and Robert Thane were involved in an automobile accident with Kenneth Farrell, where Mr. Farrell was injured and Aaron Thane was killed. (Doc. # 4 at ¶ 5.) Plaintiff was insured by Defendant through a personal automobile insurance policy with liability limits of $50, 000 per person/$100, 000 per occurrence. (Id. at ¶ 6.) As a result of his injuries sustained in the accident, Mr. Farrell requested that Geico pay him the $50, 000 liability limit. (Id. at ¶ 7.) In exchange for payment of that limit, Mr. Farrell agreed to release Jodie Thane from all liability for the accident. (Id.) Geico refused to pay the $50, 000 liability limit, as requested. (Id. at ¶ 8.) Robert Thane, Brandon Hanson, and the Estate of Aaron Thane filed suit against Mr. Farrell, bringing claims of negligence and negligence per se. (Doc. # 26 at 18.) Mr. Farrell responded with claims against the Estate of Aaron Thane for negligence and against Jodie Thane for negligent entrustment. (Id.) It is undisputed that Geico provided a defense to Ms. Thane in the underlying lawsuit. (Doc. # 4 at ¶ 14.) During the course of litigating the lawsuit, Mr. Farrell provided Geico with additional opportunities to settle the claims against Jodie Thane in exchange for payment of the $50, 000 liability limit. (Doc. # 4 at ¶ 9.) Geico again refused to do so. (Id.)

         Aaron Thane's parents, Jodie and Todd Thane, subsequently filed a separate personal injury and wrongful death action in the Jefferson County District Court, which was consolidated into 12CV2852 on February 6, 2014. (Doc. # 26 at 15, 16.) The case, in which liability and damages were disputed by all parties, was tried before a jury beginning on July 28, 2014. (Id. at 18.) On August 6, 2014, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Mr. Farrell and against Jodie Thane and the Estate of Aaron Thane in the amount of $1.5 million. (Id. at 18, 19.) On August 29, 2014, the district court entered an order of judgment on the jury verdict after reducing the non-economic damages award from $500, 000 to $468, 010 in accordance with Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-102.5(3)(c). (Id. at 19.) On September 5, 2014, Jodie Thane and the Estate of Aaron Thane filed a motion for a new trial on all issues of liability and damages under Colo. R. Civ. P. 59(d)(5). (Id. at 30-40.) On November 7, 2014, the district court denied the motion for new trial but ordered remittitur of Mr. Farrell's economic damages from $500, 000 to $36, 216.49, which Mr. Farrell did not contest. (Id. at 18-26; Doc. # 4 at ¶¶ 12, 13.)

         On December 24, 2014, Defendant funded an appeal from the judgment on behalf of Jodie Thane and the Estate of Aaron Thane. (Doc. # 26 at 42-50; Doc. # 4 at ¶ 14.) No supersedeas bond was filed during the appeal. (Doc. # 27.) On March 10, 2016, the Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's ruling. (Doc. # 4 at ¶ 14.) On November 7, 2016, Plaintiff Jodie Thane initiated this lawsuit in the Denver County District Court against Defendant Geico Casualty Company for bad faith breach of an insurance contract and unreasonable denial of payment for benefits owed in violation of Colo. Rev. Stat. § 10-3-1115. (Doc. # 4.) On December 1, 2016, Defendant removed the case to federal court. (Doc. # 1.) On January 25, 2017, Defendant filed the instant motion for summary judgment asserting that both claims are barred by the statute of limitations and must be dismissed as a matter of law. (Doc. # 25.)

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is appropriate “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). A fact is material “if under the substantive law it is essential to the proper disposition of the claim.” Adler v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 144 F.3d 664, 670 (10th Cir. 1998) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A dispute is “genuine” if the evidence is such that it might lead a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson 477 U.S. at 248. “To defeat a motion for summary judgment, evidence, including testimony, must be based on more than mere speculation, conjecture, or surmise.” Bones v. Honeywell Int'l, Inc., 366 F.3d 869, 875 (10th Cir. 2004).

         The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating an absence of a genuine dispute of material fact and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). In attempting to meet this standard, a movant who does not bear the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial need not disprove the other party's claim; rather, the movant must simply point the Court to a lack of evidence for the other party on an essential element of that party's claim. Adler 144 F.3d at 671 (citing Celotex 477 U.S. at 325).

         Once the movant has met its initial burden, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson 477 U.S. at 256. The nonmoving party must then go beyond its pleadings to satisfy its burden by “set[ting] forth specific facts that would be admissible in evidence in the event of trial from which a rational trier of fact could find for the nonmovant.” Adler, 144 F.3d at 671. “To accomplish this, the facts must be identified by reference to affidavits, deposition transcripts, or specific exhibits incorporated therein.” Id.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. ACCRUAL OF LIMITATIONS

         Neither party disputes that the pertinent statute of limitations for Plaintiffs' claims is two years under Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-102(1)(a). See also Wardcraft Homes, Inc. v. Employers Mut. Cas. Co., 70 F.Supp.3d 1198, 1212 (D. Colo. 2014) (“Bad faith actions must be “commenced within two years after the cause of action accrues.”). The crux of the matter in this case is the date that Plaintiff's bad faith failure to settle claim ripened into a workable cause of action which triggered the clock on the statute of limitations - in other words, when the cause of action accrued.

         Under Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-80-108(1), a cause of action begins to accrue “on the date both the injury and its cause are known or should have been known by the exercise of reasonable diligence.” Plaintiff argues that the accrual date was March 10, 2016 - the date when the Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's ruling and made the judgment final and non-appealable. (Doc. # 37 at 3.) Defendant, however, maintains that limitations began to run on the date when the trial court's judgment could have been executed. (Doc. # 25 at 5.) Defendant argues ...


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