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C & N Farms v. Producers Agriculture Insurance Co.

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

February 15, 2017

C & N FARMS, et al., PLAINTIFFS
v.
PRODUCERS AGRICULTURE INSURANCE CO., DEFENDANT

          ORDER

         Defendant Producers Agriculture Insurance Company's (“Pro Ag”) motion for summary judgment [Doc. No. 24] is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This lawsuit stems from a denied insurance claim and an insured's inability to reverse that denial at binding arbitration. The insured, plaintiff C&N Farms, is run by business partners and co-plaintiffs Clinton Boles and Necola Boles (collectively “C&N Farms”). Pro Ag issued a crop insurance policy to C&N Farms providing for reimbursement if the farm was unable to plant or grow crops because of adverse weather conditions. This policy was issued pursuant to federal law for farm assistance programs, most notably the Federal Crop Insurance Act, 7 U.S.C. § 1501 et seq. See Compl., Doc. No. 1; Multiple Peril Crop Insurance Common Crop Insurance Policy (“Policy”), Doc. No. 1 at 8-42.

         C&N Farms alleged that adverse weather conditions prevented planting its wheat crop. The farm filed a claim with Pro Ag in December 2012. On May 14, 2013, Pro Ag denied the claim. Doc. No. 24-3. The letter C&N Farms received with this denial, however, referenced C&N Farms as located in the wrong Arkansas county. Apparently, Pro Ag realized the error and sent a corrected letter that same day, though C&N Farms did not receive it. See Clinton Boles Aff. ¶¶ 4-5, Doc. No. 32-4.

         On March 31, 2014, Charlotte Flintje, the farm's agent, sent additional information to Pro Ag and stated that the claim “should be reinstated.” Doc. No. 24-4. Pro Ag denied the request by letter dated April 28, 2014. Doc. No. 24-5.

         Pursuant to the insurance policy, C&N Farms could dispute Pro Ag's denial by mediation, unless the parties did not agree to mediate, after which the dispute must go to binding arbitration. See Policy at 35. The Policy required arbitration be initiated within one year from the denial of a claim or the determination in dispute, whichever is later. On May 21, 2014, C&N Farms filed for mediation, but Pro Ag refused. Arbitration ensued.

         The arbitrator issued his award on April 28, 2015, which denied C&N Farms relief. The arbitrator determined that the operative decision C&N Farms submitted to arbitration was the denial of the claim for benefits, which occurred on May 14, 2013; the one-year window for initiating arbitration, however, had closed on May 14, 2014. See Award of Arbitrator (hereafter “Award”) 7, Doc. No. 24-6. Therefore, the arbitrator determined that the arbitration was untimely because C&N Farms filed the request on May 21, 2014. Id. C&N Farms disagrees with this decision.

         C&N Farms filed suit “to recover damages arising from the wrongful denial of crop insurance benefits.” Compl. ¶ 1. It alleges that “[d]efendants breached their contractual obligations . . . by failing to properly and timely pay the insurance claim, ” and after the arbitrator denied its claim, it sought “judicial review.” Id. ¶¶ 16, 19. These activities, it argues, violate Arkansas law. Id. ¶¶ 21-22. Thus, they request the vacation or a modification of the arbitrator's decision. Id. ¶ 24.

         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 a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Holland v. Sam's Club, 487 F.3d 641, 643 (8th Cir. 2007). The evidence is not weighed and no credibility determinations are made. Jenkins v. Winter, 540 F.3d 742, 750 (8th Cir. 2008).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Pro Ag's motion for summary judgment is granted because C&N Farms did not timely file for arbitration. Consequently, there are no material factual disputes as to whether the arbitration award should be confirmed.

         A. Timeliness of Judicial Review

         C&N Farms seeks judicial review of the arbitrator's decision denying its insurance claim as untimely. Pro Ag argues (a) judicial review is unavailable because the parties' insurance agreement premises judicial review on initiating a proper arbitration, and since the underlying arbitration was untimely, judicial review is unavailable; or (b) C&N ...


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