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Madkins v. State Farm Fire and Casualty

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

September 17, 2019

Sheronda Madkins, Plaintiff,
v.
State Farm Fire and Casualty, Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          SEAN F. COX UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         Plaintiff had a homeowners insurance policy with Defendant and filed a claim after a fire at her home. After Defendant denied her claim, Plaintiff filed this action. Following the close of discovery, Defendant filed the instant summary judgment motion. Defendant asserts that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because Plaintiff submitted a personal property inventory that included a number of items that it alleges were copied from another one previously submitted to Defendant by another insured, and therefore, Plaintiff violated the insurance policy's concealment and fraud provision. The parties have briefed the issues and the Court heard oral argument on September 12, 2019. The Court shall DENY the motion because the issue of whether Plaintiff had an intent to defraud Defendant, under the facts presented here, is a question of fact for the jury.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Sheronda Madkins filed this action against Defendant State Farm Fire and Casualty Company in state court and Defendant removed it to federal Court, based on diversity jurisdiction. Plaintiff's complaint includes the following counts: 1) “Breach of Contract” (Count I); 2) “Violation of the Uniform Trade Practices Act” (Count II); 3) “Insurance Bad Faith” (Count III); and 4) “Declaratory Relief for Insurance Bad Faith” (Count IV).

         The Scheduling Order in this case reflects that discovery closed on April 29, 2019. On May 29, 2019, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff filed a response brief opposing the motion on June 19, 2019. Defendant did not file a reply brief in support of its motion. The motion was heard on September 12, 2019.

         In support of its summary judgment motion, Defendant filed a Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute, as directed in this Court's practice guidelines. In response, Plaintiff filed a “Counter-Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute” but it does not entirely align with the paragraphs set forth in Defendant's statement.

         It is undisputed that Plaintiff was insured with Defendant under a homeowners insurance policy and that Plaintiff's home had a fire on November 22, 2018. A copy of the insurance policy is attached as Exhibit A to Defendant's motion. Plaintiff alleges, and Defendant does not appear to dispute, that it was a “total loss” fire.

         After the fire, Plaintiff retained Raymond Fair as a Public Adjuster, to assist her in the preparation, presentation and adjusting of her insurance claim. (See Plaintiff's “Residential Public Adjusting Contract” with Raymond Fair, attached as Exhibit B to Def.'s Motion).

         With Mr. Fair's assistance, Plaintiff signed and submitted a “Proof of Loss” form to Defendant, claiming damages for the building in the amount of $226, 005.00 and claiming $97, 000.00 in damages for its contents. (Ex. C to Def.'s Motion). These figures were noted to be “subject to change.” An itemized written list of personal property (“the Inventory”) was also submitted to Defendant in relation to Plaintiff's claim. The Inventory was not signed by Plaintiff. It is undisputed that the Inventory that was submitted to Defendant regarding Plaintiff's claim had the name “Monique Sinkfield” at the top of the document, rather than Plaintiff's name (Sheronda Madkins).

         Fair testified that he prepared the Inventory after meeting with Plaintiff on more than one occasion. (Fair Dep. at 29-30). Fair used a previous inventory he had prepared for another client named Monique Sinkfield to ask questions to Plaintiff to jog her memory regarding various items she may have lost. (Id. at 30-33). Fair testified that he asked Plaintiff questions, line-byline, as he reviewed the various items on the prior inventory and “pretty much copied and paste, you know, as we went through our conversation.” (Id.). Fair testified that he incorrectly left the name Monique Sinkfield on the top of the Inventory he submitted for Plaintiff's claim.

         Plaintiff testified that her understanding of the Inventory was that it is “my stuff that I lost” in the fire. (Pl.'s 2/23/18 Dep. at 91). Her Public Adjuster prepared it, with her assistance. (Id.). Plaintiff testified:

Q. All right. So was it like - tell me how you prepared it?
A. I couldn't remember everything that was in my house because I've been there for a minute. So he showed me paperwork to try to jog my memory, did I have this, did I have that. So he depreciated the numbers. So he depreciated the suff I had and how long I had it for.
Q. Did you draft this while you were at his office?
A. I was at his office.
Q. He showed you things -
A. Like previous cases he had, he showed me different things, like pots, pans, T-shirts, trying to make me remember things that was in my home.
Q. I see. So he showed you like someone else's inventory?
A. Yes.
Q. And so you said, oh, I had that?
A. Yes.

(Id. at 91-92). Plaintiff further testified, during her second deposition:

Q. Now, there was a second Proof of Loss that was filed . . . do you recall seeing a document like this which is marked as Exhibit 2 which is the Proof of Loss that was submitted to State Farm?
A. This ...

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