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Tweedle v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co.

September 6, 2005

KATHERINE TWEEDLE
PLAINTIFF
v.
STATE FARM FIRE AND CASUALTY COMPANY
DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rodney S. Webb United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

I. Introduction

Before the Court is defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (doc. #66). The defendant moves for summary judgment on plaintiff's claims of (1) bad faith, (2) slander, (3) outrage, and (4) negligence. As articulated below, the defendant's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

II. Background

On June 16, 2003, the plaintiff's former residence, located at 1811 Chitwood Street, Benton, Arkansas, was damaged by two separate fires. The residence was insured by the defendant, State Farm Fire and Casualty Company. Ms. Tweedle made a claim to State Farm for the loss suffered from the two fires. After an investigation, State Farm denied Ms. Tweedle's claim on the basis of the fires being incendiary in nature and occurring at the direction of plaintiff or someone on her behalf. The defendant further stated that the policy was void because of intentional concealment or misrepresentation of material facts by the plaintiff.

Ms. Tweedle then filed this action against State Farm, alleging bad faith and breach of contract. The plaintiff later amended the Complaint to include the Complaint to include causes of action for breach of the implied warranty of good faith and fair dealing, slander, outrage, and negligence. Trial in this matter is currently set for October 31, 2005.

III. Discussion

A. Standard of Review

Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with 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." All evidence and inferences are to be viewed in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The moving party bears the initial responsibility to demonstrate the absence of any genuine issue of material fact and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). To defeat summary judgment, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts showing a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Id. at 324. Thus, the ''basic inquiry" for purposes of summary judgment is "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Quick v. Donaldson Co., Inc., 90 F. 3d 1372, 1376 (8th Cir. 1996) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52 (1986)). With this standard in mind, the Court begins its analysis.

B. Tort of Bad Faith

Bad faith is an actionable tort in Arkansas. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co. v. Broadway Arms Corp., 281 Ark. 128, 664 S.W. 2d 463, 465 (1984). In order to succeed on her claim of bad faith, the plaintiff must show that there was affirmative misconduct by State Farm, without a good faith defense. Id. "The misconduct must be dishonest, malicious, or oppressive in an attempt to avoid liability under an insurance policy. Id. State Farm's conduct must be characterized by actual malice, which is "hatred, ill will or a spirit of revenge." Id. at 133-34. However, actual malice can be inferred from conduct and surrounding circumstances. Id. at 134. As articulated below, the plaintiff has failed to designate specific facts showing a genuine issue of material fact for trial in regards to her claim of bad faith.

The basis for the plaintiff's claim of bad faith against State Farm is that the defendant accused the plaintiff of arson and denied her claim without justification. The problem with this argument is that there was ample justification for State Farm to deny Ms. Tweedle's claim.

In his report of the incident, Bruce Armstrong of the Benton Fire Department concluded that there were two different fires with two distinct areas of origin and that both fires were incendiary in nature. Ms. Tweedle testified that she was the last one that she knew of to leave the house on June 15th and the first one to arrive on June 16th. Ms. Tweedle was also the only person that Bruce Armstrong saw at the scene shortly before discovering the second fire. Ms. Tweedle also told Bruce Armstrong that she had been in Ben's bedroom that morning, which was the location of the second fire.

In addition, it is undisputed that mortgage payments from her ex-husband had stopped due to the couple's child turning eighteen. The house was to be sold and the proceeds split between Ms. Tweedle and her ex-husband, Stansel Harvey. Ms. Tweedle had already moved to a different residence when the fire occurred. According to the couple's divorce decree, Ms. Tweedle was responsible for keeping the house in a reasonable condition. Mr. Harvey alleges ...


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