This case was last updated from Los Angeles County Superior Courts on 11/11/2020 at 09:54:56 (UTC).

RAUL LOPEZ VS STATE FARM INSURANCE

Case Summary

On 01/10/2018 RAUL LOPEZ filed a Contract - Other Contract lawsuit against STATE FARM INSURANCE. This case was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Courts, Pomona Courthouse South located in Los Angeles, California. The Judges overseeing this case are DUKES, ROBERT A. and PETER A. HERNANDEZ. The case status is Pending - Other Pending.

Case Details Parties Documents Dockets

 

Case Details

  • Case Number:

    ****9943

  • Filing Date:

    01/10/2018

  • Case Status:

    Pending - Other Pending

  • Case Type:

    Contract - Other Contract

  • Court:

    Los Angeles County Superior Courts

  • Courthouse:

    Pomona Courthouse South

  • County, State:

    Los Angeles, California

Judge Details

Presiding Judges

DUKES, ROBERT A.

PETER A. HERNANDEZ

 

Party Details

Plaintiff

LOPEZ RAUL

Defendant

STATE FARM INSURANCE

Attorney/Law Firm Details

Plaintiff Attorney

SELSKI BERL HILLEL

Defendant Attorney

DALY JEAN M.

 

Court Documents

Certificate of Mailing for - CERTIFICATE OF MAILING FOR (RULING ON SUBMITTED MATTER;) OF 06/23/2020

6/23/2020: Certificate of Mailing for - CERTIFICATE OF MAILING FOR (RULING ON SUBMITTED MATTER;) OF 06/23/2020

Certificate of Mailing for - CERTIFICATE OF MAILING FOR [NOTICE OF CONTINUANCE DUE TO COVID-19 STATE OF EMERGENCY DECLARATIONS]

4/23/2020: Certificate of Mailing for - CERTIFICATE OF MAILING FOR [NOTICE OF CONTINUANCE DUE TO COVID-19 STATE OF EMERGENCY DECLARATIONS]

Notice - NOTICE NOTICE OF CONTINUANCE OF DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

3/18/2020: Notice - NOTICE NOTICE OF CONTINUANCE OF DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Declaration - DECLARATION DECLARATION OF RAUL LOPEZ IN SUPPRT OF

1/8/2020: Declaration - DECLARATION DECLARATION OF RAUL LOPEZ IN SUPPRT OF

Notice of Lodging - NOTICE OF LODGING NOTICE OF LODGING OF EXHIBITS

1/8/2020: Notice of Lodging - NOTICE OF LODGING NOTICE OF LODGING OF EXHIBITS

Declaration - DECLARATION DECLARATION OF JOSE AQUINO IN SUPPORT OF PLAINTIFF

1/8/2020: Declaration - DECLARATION DECLARATION OF JOSE AQUINO IN SUPPORT OF PLAINTIFF

Minute Order - MINUTE ORDER (COURT ORDER;)

1/17/2020: Minute Order - MINUTE ORDER (COURT ORDER;)

Civil Case Cover Sheet

1/10/2018: Civil Case Cover Sheet

Minute Order - MINUTE ORDER ENTERED: 2018-05-16 00:00:00

5/16/2018: Minute Order - MINUTE ORDER ENTERED: 2018-05-16 00:00:00

Case Management Statement

5/29/2018: Case Management Statement

Minute Order - MINUTE ORDER ENTERED: 2018-06-04 00:00:00

6/4/2018: Minute Order - MINUTE ORDER ENTERED: 2018-06-04 00:00:00

Legacy Document - LEGACY DOCUMENT TYPE: MOTION TO STRIKE

6/14/2018: Legacy Document - LEGACY DOCUMENT TYPE: MOTION TO STRIKE

Declaration - DECLARATION DECLARATION OF CHRISTY GARGALIS

8/22/2019: Declaration - DECLARATION DECLARATION OF CHRISTY GARGALIS

Substitution of Attorney

4/10/2019: Substitution of Attorney

Notice Re: Continuance of Hearing and Order

2/4/2019: Notice Re: Continuance of Hearing and Order

Notice of Case Reassignment and Order for Plaintiff to Give Notice -

10/2/2018: Notice of Case Reassignment and Order for Plaintiff to Give Notice -

Notice of Ruling -

7/27/2018: Notice of Ruling -

Answer - TO COMPLAINT

8/2/2018: Answer - TO COMPLAINT

38 More Documents Available

 

Docket Entries

  • 03/02/2021
  • Hearing03/02/2021 at 08:30 AM in Department O at 400 Civic Center Plaza, Pomona, CA 91766; Jury Trial

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  • 02/17/2021
  • Hearing02/17/2021 at 08:30 AM in Department O at 400 Civic Center Plaza, Pomona, CA 91766; Final Status Conference

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  • 07/07/2020
  • Docketat 08:30 AM in Department O, Peter A. Hernandez, Presiding; Jury Trial - Not Held - Continued - Stipulation

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  • 06/25/2020
  • Docketat 08:30 AM in Department O, Peter A. Hernandez, Presiding; Final Status Conference - Not Held - Continued - Stipulation

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  • 06/23/2020
  • Docketat 11:00 AM in Department O, Peter A. Hernandez, Presiding; Ruling on Submitted Matter

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  • 06/23/2020
  • DocketCertificate of Mailing for ((Ruling on Submitted Matter;) of 06/23/2020); Filed by Clerk

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  • 06/23/2020
  • DocketMinute Order ( (Ruling on Submitted Matter;)); Filed by Clerk

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  • 06/23/2020
  • DocketOrder (on the Court's Modified Tentative Ruling); Filed by Clerk

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  • 06/22/2020
  • Docketat 08:30 AM in Department O, Peter A. Hernandez, Presiding; Hearing on Motion for Summary Judgment - Not Held - Continued - Court's Motion

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  • 06/22/2020
  • Docketat 2:00 PM in Department O, Peter A. Hernandez, Presiding; Hearing on Motion for Summary Judgment - Held - Taken under Submission

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74 More Docket Entries
  • 05/16/2018
  • DocketMinute order entered: 2018-05-16 00:00:00; Filed by Clerk

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  • 03/19/2018
  • DocketOSC-Failure to File Proof of Serv; Filed by Clerk

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  • 03/19/2018
  • DocketOSC-Failure to File Proof of Serv; Filed by Clerk

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  • 01/11/2018
  • DocketNotice of Case Management Conference; Filed by Clerk

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  • 01/11/2018
  • DocketNotice-Case Management Conference; Filed by Clerk

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  • 01/10/2018
  • DocketComplaint Filed

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  • 01/10/2018
  • DocketNotice of Case Assignment - Unlimited Civil Case; Filed by Clerk

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  • 01/10/2018
  • DocketCivil Case Cover Sheet; Filed by RAUL LOPEZ (Plaintiff)

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  • 01/10/2018
  • DocketSummons (on Complaint)

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  • 01/10/2018
  • DocketComplaint; Filed by RAUL LOPEZ (Plaintiff)

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Tentative Rulings

Case Number: KC069943    Hearing Date: June 22, 2020    Dept: O

Defendant State Farm General Insurance Company’s motion for summary judgment is DENIED. Defendant’s motion for summary adjudication is DENIED in part and GRANTED in part.

Introduction

On August 22, 2019, Defendant State Farm General Insurance Company (“Defendant”) filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, or in the alternative, for Summary Adjudication on all the causes of action named against it for Breach of Contract and Breach of the Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing in Plaintiff Raul Lopez’s (“Plaintiff”) Complaint. Plaintiff filed did not file an Opposition but filed a Separate Statement of Disputed and Undisputed facts on January 8, 2020. Defendant did not file a reply. The Court held a hearing on June 22, 2020, and took the matter under submission. The Court hereby finds as follows:

Judicial Notice

Judicial notice is taken of Defendant’s Exhibits XXXX. (Evid. Code §§ 452, 453.)

Evidentiary Objections

Defendant’s evidentiary objections are…

Legal Standard

A defendant moving for summary judgment/adjudication has met his burden of showing a cause of action has no merit if the defendant can show one or more elements of the plaintiff’s cause of action cannot be established. (CCP § 437c(p)(2).) “A defendant can satisfy its burden by presenting evidence that negates an element of the cause of action or evidence that the plaintiff does not possess and cannot reasonably expect to obtain evidence needed to support an element of the cause of action.” (Superior Dispatch, Inc. v. Insurance Corp. of New York (2010) 181 Cal.App.4th 175, 186.) The court must liberally construe evidence in support of the party opposing summary judgment and resolve all doubts concerning the evidence in favor of that party. (Dore v. Arnold Worldwide, Inc. (2006) 39 Cal.4th 384, 389.)

The present case involves water damage to Plaintiff’s real property. (DSS 6-7.) Plaintiff had a homeowner insurance policy with Defendant. (DSS 2.) Plaintiff reported the claim to Defendant on September 27, 2015. (DSS 8.) Defendant alleges that it closed Plaintiff’s claim on August 30, 2016 after paying out all amounts it believed it was obligated to pay Plaintiff. (DSS 37.) Plaintiff asserts that this amount was only a partial payment of the complete amount owed to him. (Disputed DSS 3, 4, 30-31.) On March 30, 2017, Defendant briefly reopened Plaintiff’s claim to correct an error, and the claim was again closed on April 6, 2017. (DSS 39-42.) Plaintiff then filed his complaint on January 10, 2018. (DSS 43.)

Defendant contends that Plaintiff is unable to show a triable issue of fact as to all the claims named against it, including the affirmative defense of statute of limitations. This affirmative defense was listed in Defendant’s Answer as the Seventh Affirmative Defense. Defendant claims that Plaintiff’s homeowner insurance policy modified the statute of limitations to bring such claims against it to one year and that time had passed when Plaintiff filed this present suit. Thus, the Court will first address whether the statute of limitations had run out by the time Plaintiff filed this present suit. If the Court finds that the statute of limitations has run, then summary judgment would be proper. However, if the Court does find that there exists a dispute of fact as to the applicability of the statute of limitations to bar Plaintiff’s claims, then it will address whether there exists a dispute of material fact to warrant summary adjudication of the claims.

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations for a breach of written contract claim is generally four years. (CCP § 337.) However, the statute of limitations may be modified by contract, and a contract may shorten an otherwise applicable statute of limitations, provided the time remaining to file suit “is not so unreasonable as to show imposition or undue advantage.” (Hambrecht & Quist Venture Partners v. American Med. Int'l, Inc. (1995) 38 Cal.App.4th 1532, 1548 (Hambrecht & Quist).) The courts have recognized the shortening of the statute of limitations on a breach of written contract to as little as three months as not so unreasonable as to show imposition or undue advantage. (See Ward v. System Auto etc. Garages, Inc. (1957) 149 Cal.App.2d Supp. 879.)

Because a claim for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing is based in contract law, it also utilizes the same contractual statute of limitations provisions as a breach of contract. (Abari v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. (1988) 205 Cal.App.3d 530, 536.)

Tolling is the temporary suspension of the running of the statute of limitations pursuant to statute (i.e., statutory tolling) or judicially declared rule (i.e., equitable tolling). (Rubenstein v. Doe No. 1 (2017) 3 Cal.5th 903, 910-911.) The courts have held that in insurance cases, the statute of limitations is equitably tolled during the time the insurer investigates the insured’s claim. (Prudential-LMI Com. Ins. v. Sup. Ct. (1990) 51, Cal.3d 674, 678; Singh v. Allstate Ins. Co. (1998) 63 Cal.App.4th 135, 140.)

Defendant points to facts showing that there is no dispute of fact that the statute of limitation had run by the time Plaintiff filed this lawsuit. Particularly, both claims in the Complaint rely on essentially a claim for breach of contract based on the same facts and circumstances. The facts that are not in dispute are that Plaintiff reported the claim to Defendant on September 27, 2015. (DSS 8.) Defendant alleges that it closed Plaintiff’s claim on August 30, 2016. (DSS 37.) Defendant only briefly reopened it to correct an error. (DSS 39-42.) Plaintiff then filed his complaint on January 10, 2018. (DSS 43.)

However, Defendant assumes two fundamental facts that may be fatal to its request for summary judgment: (1) that its letter dated August 30, 2016 showed an unequivocal denial of Plaintiff’s claim, and (2) that the brief reopening of Defendant’s claim for about a month only acted as a toll on the statute of limitations.

As a preliminary matter, the Court notes that Defendant cites to statutes and case law that may not be relevant to this present case. Insurance Code sections 10350, et seq. are sections dealing with life and disability insurance. Here, the insurance policy at issue is homeowner insurance. Defendant did not cite to any section of the Insurance Code on homeowner insurance that would demonstrate that the statute of limitations may be modified, nor that the one-year statute of limitations set by Plaintiff’s policy was reasonable.[1] Furthermore, Singh v. Allstate Insurance Company (Singh) stated that the denial must be an unequivocal denial of a claim. (Singh, supra, 63 Cal.App.4th at 143.) Defendant has not shown that it denied Plaintiff’s claim specifically on the statute of limitations claim. In fact, Defendant maintains that it had paid Plaintiff the fair amount owed to him after investigating Plaintiff’s claim. (DSS 37-38.) Defendant has not shown facts that its closure of Plaintiff’s claim was an unequivocal denial of Plaintiff’s possible remaining claims. This is also what Plaintiff essentially contends in his Opposition: that his acceptance of the amount that Defendant paid him was only a partial payment of his claim, and possibly keeping the statute of limitations tolled. Thus, Defendant has not shown it had undisputedly given Plaintiff an unequivocal denial of his claim.

The Court also cannot find that Defendant has met its burden to show that there is no dispute of fact. Notably, Defendant does not address why it believes that reopening Plaintiff’s claim would only toll rather than restart the one-year statute of limitations. Defendant has not provided any legal authority to support this implicit assertion it makes in its moving papers. While Singh held that an insured’s request for reconsideration does not create an additional period of equitable tolling, Defendant has not shown any facts to suggest that such a request was even made by Plaintiff which caused Defendant to reopen Plaintiff’s claim. Furthermore, as already discussed above, the holding in Singh requires an unequivocal denial of the claim; again, Defendant has not demonstrated facts showing that its letter was an unequivocal denial of Plaintiff’s claim. Thus, there still exists material dispute of fact as to whether Plaintiff filed his suit outside the applicable statute of limitations.

Thus, summary adjudication on the issue of statute of limitations is DENIED.

Because triable issues of facts remain, summary judgment is also DENIED.

Breach of Contract (1st Cause of Action)

To prevail on a cause of action for breach of contract, plaintiff needs to demonstrate the following elements: (1) the existence or formation of a contract between the plaintiff and defendant, (2) the plaintiff’s performance of the contract or excuse for nonperformance, (3) the defendant’s breach, and (4) the resulting damage to the plaintiff (Richman v. Hartley (2014) 224 Cal.App.4th 1182, 1186.)

Defendant contends that it cannot be held liable for a breach of contract cause of action because it did not breach any agreement with Plaintiff. Particularly, it paid over $181,000 on Plaintiff’s claim. (DSS 16, 19, 23-24, 26-27, 29, 32, 35, 41.) And while Plaintiff alleged that Defendant did not pay for the emergency service repairs, Defendant had told Plaintiff that it had reviewed the bill from Master Management, the contractor Plaintiff hired to repair his property, and determined that several line items listed were not completed. (DSS 30.) Plaintiff is unable to identify work that was completed and not paid for by Defendant. Thus, Defendant has met its burden, and the burden shifts to Plaintiff to show a dispute of material fact under CCP § 437c.

Plaintiff attempts to meet his burden by showing that there is a dispute of fact as to whether Defendant did in fact pay the full amount owed to him. Plaintiff contends that he accepted the payments as partial payments on his claims for repairs to his home. (Disputed DSS 3, 4, 30, 31, 45.) These disputed facts go to the elements concerning whether Defendant breached the contract and/or whether the extent of damages is appropriate. Since there is a dispute of fact, summary adjudication of this issue is DENIED.

Breach of Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing (2nd Cause of Action)

The elements for a breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing cause of action in an insurance case are: (1) the insurer is obligated under policy to a first or third party; (2) this duty by insurer is implied; (3) there was unreasonable breach of that duty by the insurer; and (4) the breach by the insurer caused at least economic damages. (Love v. Fire Ins. Exchange (1990) 221 Cal.App.3d 1136, 1151 (addressing duty and breach elements); Waters v. United Services Auto. Ass'n (1996) 41 Cal.App.4th 1063, 1079 (addressing causation and damages elements).)

Defendant contends that, it cannot be held liable for this cause of action because Plaintiff is unable to show that Defendant acted in bad faith in covering Plaintiff’s claim for damages to his real property. Defendant attempts to meet its burden by showing facts that it acted reasonably and with cause. Particularly, Defendant points to the continuous communication it had with Plaintiff’s designated point of contact for Plaintiff’s claim. (DSS 9-42.) Thus, it had kept Plaintiff informed of the status of his claim throughout the investigation. As part of its review, Defendant determined that several line items listed on the bill from Master Management were not completed. (DSS 30). It would be unreasonable for Defendant to cover items on a repair bill that were never actually completed by the contractor. Furthermore, Defendant reopened the claim and correct an error when it noticed that Plaintiff’s significant other was unintentionally not included as an insured. (DSS 39-42.) Correcting an error demonstrates that Defendant did act diligently to pay out what it believed was owed to Plaintiff. Thus, Defendant has met its burden and the burden shifts to Plaintiff to show a dispute of material fact under CCP § 437c.

Plaintiff attempts to meet his burden by showing a dispute of fact that Defendant acted reasonably and with cause. He primarily points to the fact that Defendant failed to pay for the repairs to his home in full. (Disputed DSS 3, 4, 30, 31, 45.) However, this in and of itself does not show that Defendant acted in bad faith because Plaintiff has not shown that this failure was done without cause or was unreasonable. While the total amount requested by Plaintiff and denied by Defendant may show the contract was breached as to this cause of action, Plaintiff must show facts beyond merely not giving him full payment and must also show facts demonstrating why that failure was unreasonable. Because Plaintiff has presented no facts to dispute Defendant’s assertion of facts showing it had acted reasonably and with cause, Plaintiff has failed to meet his burden.

Summary adjudication of this issue is GRANTED.

Punitive Damages

“In an action for the breach of an obligation not arising from contract, where it is proven by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice, the plaintiff, in addition to the actual damages, may recover damages for the sake of example and by way of punishing the defendant.” (Civ. Code § 3294.)

For purposes of Civil Code section 3294, “malice” means “conduct which is intended by the defendant to cause injury to the plaintiff or despicable conduct which is carried on by the defendant with a willful and conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.” “Oppression” means “despicable conduct that subjects a person to cruel and unjust hardship in conscious disregard of that person's rights.” “Fraud” means “an intentional misrepresentation, deceit, or concealment of a material fact known to the defendant with the intention on the part of the defendant of thereby depriving a person of property or legal rights or otherwise causing injury.” (Civ. Code § 3294(c).)

To state a prima facie claim for punitive damages, a complaint must set forth allegations that the defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice in accordance with Civil Code section 3294. (See Turman v. Turning Point of Central California, Inc. (2010) 191 Cal.App.4th 53, 63.) Conclusory allegations that defendant’s conduct was intentional, willful, and fraudulent are a patently insufficient statement of oppression, fraud, or malice. (Brousseau v. Jarrett (1977) 73 Cal.App.3d 864, 872; see also Smith v. Superior Court (1992) 10 Cal.App.4th 1033, 1042.)

“[A] central theme common to those cases which have sustained punitive awards is the existence of established policies or practices in claims handling which are harmful to insureds.” (Mock v. Michigan Millers Mutual Ins. Co. (1992) 4 Cal.App.4th 306, 329.)

Plaintiff had requested punitive damages with respect to its second cause of action for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Because this court has already granted Defendant’s summary adjudication as to that cause of action, the request for summary adjudication on punitive damages is MOOT.


[1] Nonetheless, this may not be of concern since Hambrecht & Quist permits parties to modify the statute of limitations by contract, and the courts have found that shortening the time to even three months may be reasonable.