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Rivera v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 11, 2017

JOYCE RIVERA, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          Marcia S. Krieger Judge

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company's (“State Farm”) Motion for Summary Judgment (# 40), Plaintiff Joyce Rivera's Response (# 41), and State Farm's Reply (# 42).

         I. Jurisdiction

         Ms. Rivera is a Colorado resident. State Farm is a corporation organized under the laws of Illinois. It is also domiciled in Illinois. The amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. The Court exercises jurisdiction pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1332.

         II. Factual Background

         State Farm has only moved for summary judgment on Ms. Rivera's statutory bad faith claim (i.e., her claim pursuant to C.R.S. §§ 10-3-1115 and 116).[1] The following is a summary of the facts relevant to that claim viewed in the light most favorable to the non-movant, Ms. Rivera. More factual details are provided as needed in the Court's discussion.

         Ms. Rivera was involved in a rear-end automobile accident in El Paso County, Colorado on June 15, 2012. At the time, she was covered by a general liability insurance policy issued by State Farm. That policy had a $100, 000 underinsured motorist's (“UIM”) endorsement. On January 20, 2015, Ms. Rivera tendered (through counsel) a demand for State Farm to pay its UIM limits, claiming that she had incurred medical expenses of $14, 394.63 and had future anticipated medical expenses of $132, 000. State Farm acknowledged receipt of the demand on January 21, 2015. There is no dispute that Ms. Rivera's injuries resulting from the June 2012 accident are covered under the UIM benefit in her automobile insurance policy.

         On or before September 10, 2015, State Farm commissioned an Independent Medical Examiner (an “IME”) to exam Ms. Rivera. He ultimately opined that Ms. Rivera had reached her pre-injury status by September 15, 2015, and that any then-existing problems were attributable in equal parts (i.e., fifty percent each) to the 2012 accident and an earlier automobile accident that Ms. Rivera experienced in in 1984 or 1985. Based, at least in part, on this opinion, State Farm extended a first settlement offer of $29, 000 on December 7, 2015. On January 18, 2016, Ms. Rivera's counsel counteroffered $90, 000. State Farm's representative rejected that counteroffer and tendered a new offer of $35, 000. On that same day, Ms. Rivera's counsel forwarded a progress note from a medical professional indicating that a few days after the 2012 accident she reported being free of any symptoms stemming from her accident in the 1980s for several years prior to 2012.

         At some point during the settlement communications between Ms. Rivera's counsel and the State Farm claims representative, the claims representative advised that there was no way that State Farm would be willing to pay more than $50, 000. Based on the diverging views of the amounts due under Ms. Rivera's UIM benefit, settlement discussions were abandoned, and Ms. Rivera filed the instant lawsuit on January 29, 2016. In addition to her statutory bad faith count, Ms. Rivera also brings a breach of contract claim, and she requests declaratory judgment that she is entitled to the full UIM limits, as well as costs and attorneys' fees.

         During the litigation, Ms. Rivera ultimately indicated that her actual and anticipated medical expenses and noneconomic damages were $213, 700. She also produced her own IME report indicating that all of her injuries from 2012 and beyond solely were attributable to the 2012 accident, and not the 1984/1985 accident. Ms. Rivera further engaged an expert on insurance matters, who opined that State Farm had acted unreasonably (according to industry standards) by tendering offers of $29, 000 and $35, 000 without also providing an explanation for the basis of those offers, especially in light of the extent of Ms. Rivera's alleged injuries. Ms. Rivera cites this purported unreasonableness as the basis for her statutory bad faith claim.

         III. Standard of Review

         Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure facilitates the entry of a judgment only if no trial is necessary. See White v. York Intern. Corp., 45 F.3d 357, 360 (10th Cir. 1995). Thus, the primary question presented to the Court in considering a Motion for Summary Judgment or a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is: is a trial required?

         A trial is required if there are material factual disputes to resolve. As a result, entry of summary judgment is authorized only “when 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); Savant Homes, Inc. v. Collins, 809 F.3d 1133, 1137 (10th Cir. 2016). A fact is material if, under the substantive law, it is an essential element of the claim. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine if the conflicting evidence would enable a rational trier of fact to resolve the dispute for either party. Becker v. Bateman, 709 F.3d 1019, 1022 (10th Cir. 2013).

         The consideration of a summary judgment motion requires the Court to focus on the asserted claims and defenses, their legal elements, and which party has the burden of proof. Substantive law specifies the elements that must be proven for a given claim or defense, sets the standard of proof, and identifies the party with the burden of proof. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Kaiser-Francis Oil Co. v. Producer's Gas Co., 870 F.2d 563, 565 (10th Cir. 1989). As to the evidence offered during summary judgment, the Court views it ...


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