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Williams v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division

June 1, 2015

ANITA K. WILLIAMS PLAINTIFF
v.
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, JASON MODDE, and JOHNSTON TRUCKING DEFENDANTS

ORDER

Defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company’s (“State Farm”) first motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 47] is granted, its second motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 64] is denied, and the motion for summary judgment of defendants Jason Modde and Johnston Trucking, Inc., [Doc. No. 73] is denied. Plaintiff’s claim for vexatious refusal to pay against State Farm is dismissed with prejudice.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Viewing the record in the light most favorable to plaintiff Anita K. Williams, the facts are as follows. On February 6, 2013, Williams was traveling southbound on Interstate 55 in Mississippi County, Arkansas. A slow-moving truck carrying a wide load occupied the right lane, requiring Williams and other drivers to move into the left lane to pass it. Modde was driving an 18-wheeler owned by his employer, Johnston Trucking, Inc. (“Johnston”), while on or about his employer’s business. He also moved into the left lane in order to pass the wide load. Upon shifting into the left lane, directly ahead of Williams, Modde saw debris in the road, causing him to quickly decelerate the truck. Despite Williams’s efforts to brake and avoid a collision, she hit the rear end of the truck, whereupon her vehicle was caught underneath the truck’s carriage and was dragged until Modde came to a stop. Williams sustained injuries and was taken to a hospital by ambulance before law enforcement arrived on the scene.

After the accident, Corporal Russell Crowell reported to the scene, and later obtained Williams’s handwritten statement. See Def. State Farm’s Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. C, Doc. No. 47. Corporal Crowell’s assessment was that Williams failed to recognize the vehicle in front of her was slowing, and he cited her for following too close. See id., Ex. D.

Williams contacted her insurance company, State Farm, on the same day of the accident, at which point State Farm began an investigation. In letters sent to Williams, State Farm explained the details of her medical coverage policy and requested her medical bills. See id., Ex. G. The policy also covered collision expenses for Williams’s vehicle and Johnston’s truck. See id, Exs. H & I. Her medical pay was eventually exhausted. See Def. State Farm’s Mot. for Summ. J., Ex. E, at 54.

On April 22, 2013, Williams’s lawyer contacted State Farm, claiming that uninsured motorist coverage was triggered because the debris that caused the accident was discarded by an unknown driver. Id., Ex. J. Although State Farm’s position was that uninsured motorist coverage would not apply because Williams was at fault in the accident, an uninsured motorist coverage claim was ultimately opened so that a claim representative could investigate the request. The claim representative authored a “Level II Report” on June 19, 2013, which concluded that Williams was liable for the accident, and uninsured motorist coverage did not apply. Id., Ex. L.

Williams filed suit against State Farm on July 8, 2013, alleging breach of contract and vexatious refusal to pay. She filed a separate complaint against Modde and Johnston Trucking on January 28, 2014, alleging negligence.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249–50 (1986). Once the moving party demonstrates that there is no genuine dispute of material fact, the non-moving party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials in his pleadings. Holden v. Hirner, 663 F.3d 336, 340 (8th Cir. 2011). Instead, the non-moving party must produce admissible evidence demonstrating a genuine factual dispute that must be resolved at trial. Id . Importantly, when considering a motion for summary judgment, all reasonable inferences must be drawn in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Holland v. Sam’s Club, 487 F.3d 641, 643 (8th Cir. 2007). Additionally, the evidence is not weighed, and no credibility determinations are made. Jenkins v. Winter, 540 F.3d 742, 750 (8th Cir. 2008).

III. DISCUSSION

A. State Farm’s second motion for summary judgment was timely filed

As a preliminary matter, Williams’s claim that State Farm filed an untimely second motion for summary judgment is incorrect. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 6(a)(3)(A) provides if the clerk’s office is not accessible on the last day for filing then “the time for filing is extended to the first accessible day that is not a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday.” Due to inclement winter weather, the clerk’s office was closed on February 23, 2015, the motions deadline. As a result, the deadline continued to the next day, February 24, 2015, which is when State Farm filed its motion. Thus, State Farm’s motion is timely.

B. Williams’s vexatious refusal to pay claim against State Farm

State Farm is entitled to summary judgment on Williams’s claim of vexatious refusal to pay. This is because State Farm had a reasonable excuse to believe that Williams was ...


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