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Beaubrun v. GEICO General Insurance Co.

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

February 28, 2018

MARKIVA BEAUBRUN, individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of George Spence Clayton, Jr. deceased and as Assignee of the Estate of Carlos Bernard Brown, deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
GEICO GENERAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          ORDER ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          MARCIA G. COOKE United States District Judge.

         This action arose from a fatal car accident. Plaintiff Markiva Beaubrun, personal representative of decedent George Spence Clayton, Jr.'s estate, brings suit against Defendant GEICO General Insurance Company (“GEICO”), insurer of the third party driving the vehicle Clayton was a passenger in at the time of the accident (the “Driver”). Beaubrun seeks declaratory relief enforcing her purported rights under an insurance contract between the Driver and GEICO, and compensatory damages for GEICO's alleged bad faith. (ECF No. 1-1). I have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332 and 1441.

         Pending is GEICO's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 60). For the reasons that follow, I deny the Motion.

         BACKGROUND

         The accident happened in Miami-Dade County on August 8, 2015. (ECF No. 1). At that time, the Driver was insured with GEICO under a general automobile liability policy providing bodily injury liability coverage in the amount of $10, 000 per person and $20, 000 per accident. (ECF No. 59-2). The policy provided, inter alia, that GEICO “will defend any suit for damages payable under the terms of this policy. We may investigate and settle any claim or suit. We have no duty to investigate or defend any claims which are not covered under the terms of this policy. Our duty to defend ends when the limits of liability for bodily injury liability have been exhausted by payments of judgments or settlements.” (Id. at 10).

         Probate of Clayton's estate began in late November 2015.[1] (ECF No. 59-3). The court appointed Beaubrun as the estate's personal representative on November 17, 2015 (ECF No. 59-4). Probate of the Driver's estate also began around that time.[2] Beaubrun petitioned to be the estate's personal representative in that action as well (ECF No. 59-5), but the court instead appointed attorney David Crane as Administrator Ad Litem. (ECF No. 59-6).

         On February 19, 2016, Beaubrun filed a Statement of Claim (“SOC”) in the Driver's estate's probate action, asserting that Clayton's estate had, as of February 17, 2016, a secured, non-contingent claim for $1 million in a possible wrongful death action against the Driver's estate. (ECF No. 59-12). A few days later, Beaubrun filed a wrongful death action against the Driver's estate in Broward County, Florida seeking unspecified damages. (ECF No. 59-13). After learning that she had inadvertently filed that action in the wrong county (ECF No. 59-16), Beaubrun filed a second wrongful death action in Miami-Dade County, Florida (the “Wrongful Death Action”).[3] GEICO was aware of the Wrongful Death Action but did not provide the Driver's estate with a defense. (ECF Nos. 1-1 ¶ 9, 48-1 ¶ 9, 81 at 3).

         Beaubrun and the Driver's estate eventually entered into a “Stipulation and Agreement for Settlement of Claim and Covenant Not to Sue” (the “Agreement”). (ECF No. 59-28 at 2-4). In it, the Driver's estate agreed to entry of a $4 million judgment against it, and Beaubrun agreed not to execute the judgment against the Driver's estate. (Id.). The Agreement further assigned Beaubrun any and all causes of actions or rights of the Driver's estate against GEICO. (Id.).[4]

         With the Agreement in place, Beaubrun filed an Amended Statement of Claim (“ASOC”) in the Driver's estate's probate action, asserting that Clayton's estate had, as of February 17, 2016, a secured, non-contingent wrongful death claim against the Driver's estate for $4 million. (ECF No. 59-31). Beaubrun also filed a Motion for Entry of Final Consent Judgment in the Wrongful Death Action. (ECF No. 59-32). The court held a hearing on the Motion on June 8, 2016 (ECF No. 59 ¶ 30), and entered judgment against the Driver's estate for $4 million that same day. (ECF No. 59-26).

         On August 16, 2016, Beaubrun filed a two-count Complaint against GEICO in state court (ECF No. 1-1)[5] which GEICO removed (ECF No. 1). Count I seeks a declaration under Fla. Stat. § 86.011 that the Agreement was reasonable, executed in good faith, and imposed on GEICO a duty to defend and indemnify the Driver's estate in the Wrongful Death Action. Count II seeks damages for GEICO's alleged bad faith in refusing to defend the Driver's estate in that action. Count II is abated pending adjudication of Count I. (ECF No. 12).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment “shall be granted if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Allen v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 121 F.3d 642 (11th Cir. 1997) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)) (internal quotations omitted); Damon v. Fleming Supermarkets of Florida, Inc., 196 F.3d 1354, 1358 (11th Cir. 1999). Thus, the entry of summary judgment is appropriate “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

         “The moving party bears the initial burden to show the district court, by reference to materials on file, that there are no genuine issues of material fact that should be decided at trial.” Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th Cir. 1991). “Only when that burden has been met does the burden shift to the non-moving party to demonstrate that there is indeed a material issue of fact that precludes summary judgment.” Id.

         Rule 56 “requires the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by the ‘depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ' designate ‘specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. Thus, the nonmoving party “may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleadings, but must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         “A factual dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Damon, 196 F.3d at 1358. “A mere ‘scintilla' of evidence supporting the opposing party's position will not suffice; there must be enough of a showing that the jury could reasonably find for that party.” Abbes v. Embraer Servs., Inc., 195 F. App'x 898, 899-900 (11th Cir. 2006) (quoting Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1577 (11th Cir. 1990)).

         When deciding whether summary judgment is appropriate, “the evidence, and all inferences drawn from the facts, must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Bush v. Houston County Commission, 414 F. App'x 264, 266 (11th Cir. 2011).

         DISCUSSION

         A party seeking recovery under a Coblentz agreement “must bring an action against the insurer and prove coverage, wrongful refusal to defend, and that the settlement was reasonable and made in good faith.” Quintana v. Barad, 528 So.2d 1300, 1301 n.1. (Fla. Ct. App. 1988). GEICO argues Beaubrun fails to meet her burden because: (1) the ASOC underlying the Final Consent Judgment was invalid; (2) the settlement is “patently” unreasonable; and (3) the settlement “is tainted with bad faith, fraud, collusion, and lack of any effort to minimize liability” (ECF No. 60 at 11, 16). I address each argument in turn.

         A. Validity of the ASOC

         GEICO argues that “a time-barred probate claim that exceeds a decedent's insurance policy limits cannot be recovered in a subsequent action against an insurer.” (ECF No. 60 at 8). Such a claim, GEICO asserts, is invalid, and “[b]ecause there can be no exposure to an estate for the amount of an invalid claim, any agreement reached on such alleged exposure, like the Coblentz agreement in this case, must also fail.” (Id. at 19).

         The Driver's estate first published its Notice to Creditors on February 2, 2016. (ECF No. 59-10). Under Fla. Stat. § 733.702(1), creditors had three months from that date to file claims against the estate, or until May 2, 2016. The original SOC, filed during the claims period, valued the Driver's estate's potential liability at $1 million. (ECF No. 59-12). That figure increased to $4 million when Beaubrun filed the ASOC on May 19, 2016, more than two weeks after the claims period ended. (ECF No. 59-31). GEICO asserts the ASOC was invalid ...


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