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Rodriguez v. Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co.

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

March 2, 2017

RINA RODRIGUEZ and FRANCISCO RODRIGUEZ, Plaintiffs,
v.
LIBERTY MUTUAL FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          FEDERICO A. MORENO, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In 2005, Plaintiffs filed a property insurance claim and the Defendant Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company paid them $9, 145.05 to cover the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. Plaintiffs accepted the payment that was accompanied by a letter indicating that it was a complete review of the claim. Plaintiffs accepted that amount in 2005, then waited a decade until 2015 to request an appraisal, which the insurance company denied. The Amended Complaint states a claim for breach of contract and declaratory judgment. Both claims assert Defendant failed to acknowledge the loss and failed to remit payment. The undisputed record evidence shows that Liberty Mutual completed its review of the claim and paid Plaintiffs in 2005. Even if the Court were to construe the Amended Complaint as stating a claim for breach stemming from the 2015 denial of the appraisal, the Court would apply Florida's Statute of Limitations, § 95.11 to bar the claim. To rule otherwise on the facts of this case would thwart the purposes of Florida's statute. Finally, the Plaintiffs failed to comply with the policy's timely notice provisions creating a presumption of prejudice under Florida law - a presumption that Plaintiff did not rebut. Accordingly, the Court grants summary judgment in favor of Defendant.[1]

         THIS CAUSE came before the Court upon Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (D.E. 22), filed on October 18, 2016.

         THE COURT has considered the motion, the response, the pertinent portions of the record, and being otherwise fully advised in the premises, it is ADJUDGED that the motion is GRANTED. It is also ADJUDGED that all other pending motions are DENIED as moot.

         Background

         Plaintiffs, the insureds, are suing their homeowner's insurance company for damages suffered to their property during Hurricane Katrina on August 25, 2005. The Defendant, Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company, acknowledged coverage and made a payment to the Plaintiff on October 23, 2005 in the amount of $9, 145.05. Plaintiffs testified they were dissatisfied with the amount of the payment they received in 2005. Despite being dissatisfied, Plaintiffs did not pursue any dispute with Liberty Mutual at the time. Almost ten years later, on July 8, 2015, Plaintiffs filed a supplemental claim in connection with the Hurricane Katrina loss and demanded appraisal. On September 23, 2015, Liberty Mutual declined the appraisal demand stating the statute of limitations expired. Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint is for breach of contract and a declaratory judgment that coverage exists for the loss. More specifically, Plaintiffs' claim for breach of contract states that Liberty Mutual breached the contract when it failed to "acknowledge coverage for the loss, and/or acknowledge that payment would be forthcoming; and/or make any payment of insurance proceeds to the Insured." The declaratory judgment count requests the Court hold "coverage does exist for the loss."

         Liberty Mutual moved for summary judgment arguing the Plaintiffs' breach of contract is barred because the undisputed facts show that Liberty Mutual paid and did not deny Plaintiffs 2005 claim. In addition, the Defendant argues Florida's statute of limitations, section 95.11 bars Plaintiffs' claims. Liberty Mutual also maintains that Plaintiffs' failure to give prompt notice negates any liability in this case.

         Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is authorized where there is no genuine issue of material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970). The party opposing the motion for summary judgment may not simply rest upon mere allegations or denials of the pleadings; the non-moving party must establish the essential elements of its case on which it will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986). The nonmovant must present more than a scintilla of evidence in support of the nonmovant's position. A jury must be able reasonably to find for the nonmovant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 254 (1986).

         Analysis

         A. Breach of Contract

         "The elements of a breach of contract action are: (1) a valid contract; (2) a material breach; and (3) damages." Abbott Labs, Inc. v. Gen. Elec. Capital, 765 So.2d 737, 740 (Fla. 5th DCA 2000). At summary judgment, the parties dispute whether a breach occurred. Liberty Mutual says it did not breach the insurance policy because in 2005 it paid $9, 145.05 for the claim at issue in this case. Plaintiffs assert Liberty Mutual breached the contract when it denied Plaintiffs' appraisal request on September 23, 2015.

         Tellingly, Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint states the Defendant breached the contract by "fail[ing] to: (i) acknowledge coverage for the Loss; and/or (ii) acknowledge that payment would be forthcoming; and/or (iii) make any payment of insurance proceeds to the insured." The breach of contract claim stated in the Amended Complaint is not in line with Plaintiffs' position at summary judgment - that the breach of contract is the denial of the request for appraisal. The undisputed evidence does not support the breach described in the Amended Complaint. Rather, it shows Liberty Mutual acknowledged coverage for the loss and made payment to the Plaintiffs in 2005.

         1. Statute ...


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