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Sarcopski v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

December 6, 2018

DOUGLAS SARCOPSKI and SHARON SARCOPSKI, Plaintiffs,
v.
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, RICHARD B. KASDAN, M.D. and CENTRE COMMONS MRI, P.C., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT STATE FARM'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT ON THE CLAIMS OF PLAINTIFF SHARON SARCOPSKI

          FREDERICK P. STAMP, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Background

         Counsel for defendant State Farm Automobile Insurance Company (“State Farm”) removed this case to this Court on April 3, 2017, from the Circuit Court of Ohio County, West Virginia. The case arises from an automobile accident in which a woman, Misty Merinar, collided with the vehicle Douglas Sarcopski (“Mr. Sarcopski”) was driving and in which Sharon Sarcopski (“Mrs. Sarcopski”) was a passenger. Plaintiffs Douglas and Sharon Sarcopski were insured under a first-party automobile insurance policy purchased and contracted from State Farm. The plaintiffs allege that the collision was entirely the fault of Ms. Merinar. Mr. Sarcopski made a claim for Mr. Merinar's liability policy limits of $50, 000.00 and was paid by Ms. Merinar's first-party liability carrier, Safeco Insurance Company. The plaintiffs allege that State Farm has refused to timely settle Mr. Sarcopski's claim for underinsured motor vehicle insurance policy benefits, even though it was clear to State Farm that they were liable to Mr. Sarcopski for the injuries, damages, and losses sustained by him in excess of the liability policy limits paid by Safeco. Plaintiffs seek compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorney's fees and expenses, pre-judgment interest, post-judgment interest, and costs.

         On October 12, 2018, the defendant State Farm filed a motion for summary judgment on the claims of plaintiff Sharon Sarcopski. ECF Nos. 147. In the defendant's memorandum in support of its motion for summary judgment, defendant State Farm argues that: (1) Mrs. Sarcopski lacks Article III standing to bring this action; (2) Mrs. Sarcopski made no claim for insurance coverage that could give rise to either common-law or statutory bad faith claims; (3) Mrs. Sarcopski cannot show a change in position or reliance on any alleged material misrepresentation to establish a claim for fraud; and (4) there is no evidence to support an award of punitive damages to Mrs. Sarcopski. ECF No. 148 at 1-13.

         The plaintiffs did not file a response to the defendant's motion for summary judgment.

         On August 22, 2018, this Court scheduled a supplemental pretrial conference/final settlement conference on November 26, 2018. ECF No. 137 at 5. At the supplemental pretrial conference, the Court explained that it cannot grant a dispositive motion by default, but rather must consider the motion on the merits, citing Custer v. Pan Am. Life Ins. Co., 12 F.3d 410, 416 (4th Cir. 1993) (“Although the failure of a party to respond to a summary judgment motion may leave uncontroverted those facts established by the motion, the moving party must still show that the uncontroverted facts entitle the party to ‘a judgment as a matter of law.'”).

         For the following reasons, the defendant's motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 147) is granted.

         II. Applicable Law

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), summary judgment is appropriate if “the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of showing the absence of any genuine issues of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). “The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to come forward with facts sufficient to create a triable issue of fact.” Temkin v. Frederick County Comm'rs, 945 F.2d 716, 718 (4th Cir. 1991), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 1095 (1992)(citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986)).

         However, as the United States Supreme Court noted in Anderson, “Rule 56(e) itself provides that a party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but . . . must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256. “The inquiry performed is the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is the need for a trial - whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.” Id. at 250; see also Charbonnages de France v. Smith, 597 F.2d 406, 414 (4th Cir. 1979) (Summary judgment “should be granted only in those cases where it is perfectly clear that no issue of fact is involved and inquiry into the facts is not desirable to clarify the application of the law.” (citing Stevens v. Howard D. Johnson Co., 181 F.2d 390, 394 (4th Cir. 1950))).

         In Celotex, the Court stated that “the plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Summary judgment is not appropriate until after the non-moving party has had sufficient opportunity for discovery. See Oksanen v. Page Mem'l Hosp., 912 F.2d 73, 78 (4th Cir. 1990), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 1074 (1992). In reviewing the supported underlying facts, all inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

         III. Discussion

         The defendant State Farm filed a motion for summary judgment on the claims of Mrs. Sarcopski asserting that, as a matter of law, Mrs. Sarcopski is not entitled to any damages. ECF No. 147.

         In this motion, defendant State Farm first argues that Mrs. Sarcopski lacks Article III standing to bring this action, because she fails to demonstrate that she has suffered an injury-in-fact; and she fails to meet the two-prong test for establishing third-party standing. ECF No. 148 at 6-9. Second, the defendant contends that Mrs. Sarcopski made no claim for insurance coverage that could give rise to either common-law or statutory bad faith claims, since she was not involved in the accident, did not sustain injuries, did not incur medical expenses or lost wages, and did not make a claim for liability coverage. Id. at 9-11. Third, defendant State Farm argues that it is entitled to summary judgment on Mrs. Sarcopski's claim for fraud, because she cannot show a change in position or reliance on any alleged material misrepresentation. Id. at 11. Specifically, defendant argues that Mrs. Sarcopski did not sustain injuries that could be covered under the underinsured motorist policy, she did not file the underlying underinsured motorist claim, and she did not present any evidence that State Farm made any ...


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