United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division
Marshall Jr., United States District Judge.
Bilal is an older African-American Muslim gentleman. His home
was damaged by two storms, one in October 2014 and another in
January 2015. IDS Property & Casualty Insurance Company
had Bilal's homeowner's coverage. This case is about
the allegedly discriminatory things said and done in handling
the insurance claims from the storms.
the first storm, IDS engaged Insurance Claims Adjusters,
Inc., to inspect the damage. That company, in turn, assigned
the claim to Arkansas Insuring Adjusters, Inc. This second
company is owned and operated by Garry Smith, who went to
inspect, document, and appraise the damage. Bilal says, and
the Court accepts as true, that Smith asked him where the
name "Bilal" comes from and how it's
pronounced. When Smith learned that Bilal is Muslim, he said,
"Oh, you're one of them." This upset Bilal, but
he went on with the inspection. Smith appraised the damage at
just more than $1, 600.
months later, after the second storm, IDS hired a different
adjustment company, Associated Adjusters Network, to evaluate
the new damage. The adjuster this time around was Daniel
Parker. He evaluated the damage and estimated $1200 would
cover the needed repairs.
thought both appraisals were too low, so he hired a roofer
and sent his own estimates to the insurance company. IDS
rejected Bilal's estimates and sent him two checks, one
for each storm, based on the adjusters' numbers. Bilal
cashed those checks but continued calling IDS seeking more
money for repairs. In March 2015, IDS decided not to renew
Bilal's policy. The company cited increased risks and
hazards at Bilal's house based on missing siding, peeling
paint, loose window trim, missing and lifting shingles, dry
rotting fascia, and other conditions. No. 42-4 at 3.
months of back and forth, Bilal and IDS compromised. The
company used one of Bilal's estimates, which had pegged
the total cost of repairing the damage from both storms at
$4800. IDS divided that amount between the claims, subtracted
what had already been paid, and sent Bilal two more checks.
He cashed them, then filed this case.
Bilal made many federal claims in his pro se
complaint. On screening, the Court concluded that Bilal had
stated a plausible "claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1981
for unequal treatment based on race in a contractual
relationship[, ]" and dismissed all other claims without
prejudice. No. 5 at 2. It became clear that IDS, not
Progressive, was the right insurance company, and that change
was made. Discovery was done. Bilal requested appointed
counsel several times, but the Court concluded he could
handle his own case. IDS seeks summary judgment. The Court
takes the genuinely disputed facts in the light most
favorable to Bilal. Camfield Tires, Inc. v. Michelin Tire
Corp., 719 F.2d 1361, 1363-64 (8th Cir. 1983).
IDS's argument that parties' compromise should end
the case might seem strong, but it isn't. There is no
written agreement. The deal was made in a phone call. No.
42-3 at 1-2. Bilal cashed the checks, but they don't say
"full and final settlement" or any similar words.
There's just not enough here for the Court to rule that
the parties made a firm deal to resolve all differences.
Glover v. Woodhaven Homes, Inc., 346 Ark. 397,
403-04 (2001). Plus, any settlement was (at most) about
coverage, not any related discrimination claims. On the
record presented, though, IDS is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law for several other reasons.
Bilal's remaining claim was for race discrimination, and
there's no evidence that his race prompted IDS's
coverage decisions. Green v. Dillard's, Inc.,
483 F.3d 533, 538, 540 (8th Cir. 2007). The insurance company
has offered sworn testimony that Bilal's race played no
role in the company's actions. No. 42-2 at 1 & No.
42-3 at 2. Bilal hasn't met this proof with contrary
proof. Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd., v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986).
§ 1981 probably doesn't provide a vehicle for
challenging discrimination based on religion. E.g., Noyes
v. Kelly Services, 488 F.3d 1163, 1167 n.3 (9th Cir.
2007); Manzanares v. Safe way Stores, Inc., 593 F.2d
968, 971-72 (10th Cir. 1979). This Reconstruction-era statute
speaks of every person having the same rights to make and
enforce contracts as "white citizens" have. 42
U.S.C. § 1981(a). While the Eighth Circuit hasn't
addressed this issue, the law's trend toward limiting
this statute to race-related claims is clear.
assuming § 1981 does apply, based on discriminatory
animus that mixed race and religion, there's a
vicarious-liability hurdle. Smith wasn't an IDS employee.
He worked for an independent adjustment company, which had
been assigned the claim by another independent adjustment
company, which had been hired by Bilal's insurance
company. So Smith was two steps removed from IDS. If-as has
been strongly urged in a two-judge concurrence - § 1981
requires purposeful discrimination, then the record might
well support a claim against Smith individually, but not IDS.
Ellis v. Houston, 742 F.3d 307, 326-28 (8th Cir.
2014). The unrebutted affidavits establish, instead, that
Bilal's religion played no part in IDS's decisions.
No. 42-2 at 1 & No. 42-3 at 2. And if Smith's
estimate was a lowball, infected by race and religion,
IDS's eventual acceptance of Bilal's higher repair
estimate cured the infection. There's no evidence that
the insurance company itself interfered with its own contract
with Bilal because he was an African-American Muslim.
the policy cancelation. Bilal has not met proof with proof on
the reason why. IDS's risk-based explanation is
unrebutted. Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586-87. On this
record, a jury could not reasonably conclude that Bilal's
race or religion had anything to do with the non-renewal.