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Hunton v. American Zurich Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. Arizona

March 6, 2018

Bryan Hunton, Plaintiff,
v.
American Zurich Insurance Company, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Douglas L. Rayes United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Bryan Hunton accuses Defendant American Zurich Insurance Company (“Zurich”) of handling his worker's compensation claim in bad faith and seeks both compensatory and punitive damages. (Doc. 1-1 at 5-14; Doc. 68.) Before the Court are Zurich's motion for summary judgment on the availability of punitive damages (Docs. 223, 240), and Hunton's motion to strike Zurich's reply, controverting statement of facts, and exhibits 74-95 (Doc. 247). The motions are fully-indeed, excessively-briefed. As explained below, Zurich's motion for summary judgment is denied and Hunton's motion to strike is granted in part.[1]

         I. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and, viewing those facts in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Summary judgment may also be entered “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 Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the case, and a dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party based on the competing evidence. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The burden then shifts to the non-movant to establish the existence of material factual issues that “can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.

         II. Discussion

         Having reviewed the parties' briefs and competing separate statements of fact, the Court will eschew an exhaustive recitation of the evidence and arguments. Suffice it to say that, based on the briefing, the Court cannot confidently conclude that there are no genuine issues of material fact bearing on the availability of punitive damages. This is particularly so because it appears that Hunton's punitive damages theory is so intertwined with his bad faith evidence that disputes of fact on the latter likely apply equally to the former.

         The Court emphasizes that its decision is based on the briefing before it because the parties' briefs have not brought clarity to the facts material to the punitive damages issue. For perspective, this is an insurance bad faith action in which neither party has moved for summary judgment on the tort itself. Both parties agree, then, that Hunton's bad faith claim is suitable for trial, and for this reason there obviously will be genuinely disputed facts touching on the manner in which Zurich handled Hunton's worker's compensation claim. The sole issue raised on summary judgment is whether Hunton also can present sufficient evidence to justify an award of punitive damages.[2]

         In insurance bad faith actions, punitive damages are unavailable “absent evidence reflecting something more than conduct necessary to establish the tort.” Filasky v. Preferred Risk Mut. Ins. Co., 734 P.2d 76, 83 (Ariz. 1987) (internal quotation and citation omitted). “The something more is an evil mind, which is satisfied by evidence that defendant's wrongful conduct was motivate by spite, actual malice, or intent to defraud or defendant's conscious and deliberate disregard of the interest and rights of others.” Volz v. Coleman Co., Inc., 748 P.2d 1191, 1194 (Ariz. 1987) (internal quotation and citation omitted). Given the limited relief Zurich seeks, the briefs should have addressed with laser focus the evidence (or lack thereof) of the “something more.” Assuming that Zurich acted in bad faith, is there also sufficient evidence that its conduct was motivated by spite, actual malice, or intent to defraud, or that Zurich consciously and deliberately disregard Hunton's interests and rights? Yet the briefing on this discrete question spans nearly 900 pages, which overflow with information and argument over matters that might be pertinent to the underlying bad faith claim, but seem not to materially bear on the “something more.”

         Take, for example, Hunton's supplemental statement of fact 64, which states “Bryan Hunton was 43 years old and had worked as a surveyor at Sundt for over 17 years when he sustained an injury at work on September 18, 2014.” (Doc. 228-1 ¶ 64.) This fact provides exposition but is immaterial to whether Zurich acted with an evil mind, and therefore should not be listed in a document reserved for “facts that establish a genuine issue of material fact or otherwise preclude judgment in favor of the moving party.” LRCiv 56.1(b). Or consider paragraph 65 of the same, which states “[a]fter finishing hammering stakes into the ground with a sledgehammer, [Hunton] felt pain in his lower back when he went to get into his truck which increased throughout the day.” (Doc. 228-1 ¶ 65.) How this fact precludes summary judgment on the availability of punitive damages is lost on the Court. Zurich nonetheless saw it fit to submit an unauthorized separate statement of controverting facts to controvert Hunton's supplemental statement of controverting facts, and therein Zurich “dispute[s] in part” paragraph 65, evidently because “[t]he incident report does not mention a ‘sledgehammer[.]'” (Doc. 252 ¶ 65.) Does the sledgehammer make it any more or less likely that Zurich acted with the requisite evil mind? To make matters worse, Zurich's filing of an unauthorized separate statement of controverting facts spurred another round of briefing on whether to strike Zurich's reply submissions.

         “The parties' voluminous objections are sadly representative of a growing trend where attorneys . . . raise every objection imaginable without regard to whether the objections are necessary, or even useful, given the nature of summary judgment motions in general, and the facts of their cases in particular.” Marceau v. Int'l Broth. of Elec. Workers, 618 F.Supp.2d 1127, 1141-42 (D. Ariz. 2009) (internal quotations and citation omitted). They also reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of LRCiv 56.1, which imposes specific requirements on the form and content of summary judgment motions with the goal of simplifying the process.

         A. Non-Compliance with LRCiv 56.1

         “Any party filing a motion for summary judgment must file a statement, separate from the motion and memorandum of law, setting forth each material fact on which the party relies in support of the motion.” LRCiv 56.1(a) (emphasis added). Each of these facts “must refer to a specific admissible portion of the record where the fact finds support (for example, affidavit, deposition, discovery response, etc.).” Id. In turn:

Any party opposing a motion for summary judgment must file a statement, separate from that party's memorandum of law, setting forth: (1) for each paragraph of the moving party's separate statement of facts, a correspondingly numbered paragraph indicating whether the party disputes the statement of fact set forth in that paragraph and a reference to the specific admissible portion of the record supporting the party's position if the fact is disputed; and (2) any additional facts that establish a genuine issue of material fact or otherwise preclude judgment in favor of the moving party. Each additional ...

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