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Cherry Hills Farm Court, LLC v. First American Title Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. Colorado

December 6, 2019

CHERRY HILLS FARM COURT, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
FIRST AMERICAN TITLE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          ORDER ON MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          R. BROOKE JACKSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on defendant First American Title Insurance Company (“First American”)'s motion for summary judgment [ECF No. 30] and plaintiff Cherry Hills Farm Court, LLC (“Cherry Hills”)'s motion for summary judgment [ECF No. 31]. For the reasons stated herein, First American's motion is GRANTED and Cherry Hill's motion is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of a title insurer's decision not to cover a counterclaim made against an insured by a third party. The insured, Cherry Hills, is a land developer that purchased real property located at 2 Cherry Hills Farm Court, Englewood, Colorado 80113 (the “property”). ECF No. 3 ¶ 8. On June 23, 2015 First American issued title insurance to Cherry Hills regarding this property. ECF No. 30 ¶ 1. The title insurance policy covered loss or damage by ten specified risks, including “[a]ny defect in or lien or encumbrance on the Title.” ECF No. 30-1 at FATIC 000620. First American agreed to pay “costs, attorneys' fees, and expenses incurred in defense of any matter insured against by [the] policy, but only to the extent provided in the Conditions.” ECF No. 30 ¶ 2. In the Conditions, First American limited coverage to “only those stated causes of action alleging matters insured against by this policy.” Id. ¶ 3.

         After purchasing the land, Cherry Hills discovered that it included an area of disputed property. Id. ¶ 6. Neighbors Chris and Michelle Zobolas had erected a fence, a garden, and an irrigation system on this disputed property. Id.; ECF No. 31-4 at 3. The Zobolases had installed the last of these improvements in 2006, long before Cherry Hills purchased the property. ECF No. 31 at 10.

         On September 8, 2016 Cherry Hills filed a complaint in the Arapahoe County District Court against the Zobolases seeking damages for trespass and a decree quieting title relative to the disputed area of property. ECF No. 30 ¶ 6; ECF No. 31-4 at 3. On October 5, 2016 the Zobolases asserted two counterclaims: (1) for adverse possession, quiet title, and declaratory relief, and alternatively (2) for monetary set-off for improvements. ECF No. 30 ¶ 8.

         Cherry Hills tendered the claim and made demand upon First American to pay indemnity and defense costs on April 21, 2017. Id. ¶ 12. On May 8, 2017 First American notified Cherry Hills that it accepted coverage for the adverse possession counterclaim under a reservation of rights. Id. ¶ 13. It retained Kirk Holleyman, Esq., to defend Cherry Hills in the first counterclaim. Id. However, First American denied coverage for the monetary set-off counterclaim because it was “not an alleged title defect.” ECF No. 31 ¶ 5.

         The trial between Cherry Hills and the Zobolases took place in July of 2017. ECF No. 30 ¶ 14. On August 18, 2017 the state court awarded Cherry Hills $305, 079 for its trespass claim and found against the Zobolases on both counterclaims. Id.

         On June 12, 2018, believing that First American was wrong to deny coverage on the Zobolas' set-off counterclaim, Cherry Hills filed a complaint against First American in the Arapahoe County District Court. ECF No. 3. The complaint asserts three claims: (1) declaratory judgment that First American had a duty to defend the set-off counterclaim, (2) breach of contract, and (3) insurance bad faith. Id. ¶¶ 16-30. It seeks damages for “annoyance, inconvenience, loss of use of funds, attorney fees, [and] costs and expenses relating to the [Zobolas litigation].” Id. ¶ 24.

         First American removed the case to federal court on July 5, 2018, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332 and 1441. ECF No. 1. It then filed a motion for summary judgment on March 19, 2019 seeking to dismiss all of Cherry Hills' claims. ECF No. 30 at 1. First American argues that (1) it did not breach its duty to defend Cherry Hills in the Zobolas litigation and (2) where there is no breach of contract, there is no basis for a bad faith claim. Id. at 6, 12. In response, Cherry Hills filed a cross motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 31.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Court may grant summary judgment if “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). The moving party has the burden to show that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). The nonmoving party must “designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324. 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 material fact is genuine if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The Court will examine the factual record and make reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment. Concrete Works of Colo., Inc. v. City & Cty. of Denver, 36 F.3d 1513, 1517 (10th Cir. 1994).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Breach of Contract

         Cherry Hills asserts that First American's failure to defend the Zobolas' set-off counterclaim constitutes a breach of contract. ECF No. 31 ¶ 8. It argues (1) that the title insurance policy by its terms covers the Zobolas' set-off counterclaim, and (2) that even if not, First American is obligated to cover the set-off counterclaim under the “complete defense” rule. I address each argument in turn.

         1. Policy ...


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