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Holder v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Insurance Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Hot Springs Division

December 19, 2014

PENNIE HOLDER, Individually, and JIMMY HOLDER, SR., Individually, Plaintiffs,
v.
STATE FARM FIRE AND CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ROBERT T. DAWSON, District Judge.

Before the Court are the Motion for Summary Judgment and supporting documents (docs. 12-14) filed on behalf of Defendant State Farm Fire and Casualty Insurance Company, the Response in opposition and supporting Statement of Facts (docs. 16-17) filed on behalf of Separate Plaintiff Pennie Holder, the Reply (doc. 19) filed on behalf of Defendant, and the parties' Joint Motion to Dismiss Claims for Bad Faith, Punitive Damages, and Violations of the Arkansas Trade Practices Act (doc. 21). For the reasons set out below, the parties' Joint Motion to Dismiss (doc. 21) is GRANTED, and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED; however, Separate Plaintiff Jimmy Holder, Sr. is directed to show cause within fourteen (14) days why his claims against Defendant should not be dismissed in their entirety.

I. Procedural Background

On April 15, 2014, Defendant filed a Notice of Removal (doc. 1) of this case from Garland County Circuit Court (case no. CV-2013-959-III) based upon diversity of citizenship between the parties pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Copies of Plaintiffs' Original Complaint, Summons, and Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint were attached collectively as Exhibit A to Defendant's Notice of Removal. (Doc. 1-1). Plaintiffs' Original Complaint, which was signed by counsel on behalf of Plaintiffs, was filed in Garland County on December 23, 2013, and contained claims against Defendant for breach of contract, breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing, and violation of the Arkansas Trade Practices Act. The Amended Complaint, filed in Garland County on March 19, 2014, contained the same substantive allegations as the Original Complaint, but indicated that Plaintiffs were no longer represented by counsel and were proceeding pro se. However, the Amended Complaint was signed only by Pennie Holder and not by Jimmy Holder, Sr. Defendant's Answer to the Amended Complaint (doc. 3) was also filed on April 15, 2014. In its Answer, Defendant denies that Plaintiffs are entitled to any relief and asserts certain affirmative defenses to Plaintiffs' claims.

On September 12, 2014, counsel filed a Notice of Appearance on behalf of Plaintiff Pennie Holder (doc. 10). No appearance has been entered on behalf of Plaintiff Jimmy Holder, Sr. since the case was removed to this Court.

On October 3, 2014, Defendant filed its Motion for Summary Judgment and supporting documents (docs. 12-14), seeking judgment as a matter of law on all of Plaintiffs' claims. On October 24, 2014 (after requesting and obtaining an extension of time to respond), Plaintiff Pennie Holder filed her Response in opposition and supporting Statement of Facts (docs. 16-17). In her Response, Ms. Holder concedes that summary judgment is appropriate as to her claims for bad faith and violations of the Arkansas Trade Practices Act, but argues that a genuine issue of material fact exists as to her claim for breach of contract that precludes summary judgment.

On October 31, 2014, Defendant filed its Reply (doc. 19), arguing that the claims of Plaintiff Jimmy Holder, Sr. should be dismissed with prejudice as he has failed to respond to discovery or to appear for his deposition, or to make any appearance in this case since its removal from state court. Defendant also asserts in its Reply that punitive damages are not appropriate and that Plaintiff has failed to produce sufficient evidence in support of her claim for breach of contract to create a genuine issue of material fact. On November 14, 2014, the parties filed a Joint Motion to Dismiss (doc. 21) reflecting their agreement that the claims for bad faith, punitive damages, and violations of the Arkansas Trade Practices Act should be dismissed with prejudice.

II. Standard of Review

In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, the burden is placed on the moving party to establish both the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986); Nat'l. Bank of Commerce of El Dorado, Ark. v. Dow Chem. Co., 165 F.3d 602 (8th Cir. 1999). The Court must review the facts in a light most favorable to the party opposing a motion for summary judgment and give that party the benefit of any inferences that logically can be drawn from those facts. Canada v. Union Elec. Co., 135 F.3d 1211, 1212-13 (8th Cir. 1998) ( citing Buller v. Buechler, 706 F.2d 844, 846 (8th Cir. 1983)).

Once the moving party demonstrates that the record does not disclose a genuine dispute on a material fact, the non-moving party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleadings, but his response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in Rule 56, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Ghane v. West, 148 F.3d 979, 981 (8th Cir. 1998) ( citing Burst v. Adolph Coors Co., 650 F.2d 930, 932 (8th Cir. 1981)). In order for there to be a genuine issue of material fact, the non-moving party must produce evidence "such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Allison v. Flexway Trucking, Inc., 28 F.3d 64, 66 (8th Cir. 1994) ( quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). Furthermore, "[w]here the unresolved issues are primarily legal rather than factual, summary judgment is particularly appropriate." Aucutt v. Six Flags Over Mid-America, Inc., 85 F.3d 1311, 1315 (8th Cir. 1996) ( quoting Crain v. Bd. of Police Comm'rs, 920 F.2d 1402, 1405-06 (8th Cir. 1990)).

III. Uncontroverted Facts

The following relevant facts are deemed uncontroverted, unless otherwise noted, and are viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party:

1. This suit arises from a burglary that occurred at Plaintiffs' home in Hot Springs, Arkansas, on or about December 26, 2011. At that time, Plaintiffs were insured under a homeowner's insurance policy issued by Defendant. (Doc. 14, ¶ 2).

2. In their Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs allege Defendant failed to perform its contractual obligations under the terms of their insurance policy, including by failing and refusing to ...


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