Lisa Hull, Partner at Harrison and Hull recently argued in front of the Court of Appeals, Fifth District of Texas at Dallas on behalf of State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. After successfully defending a motion for declaratory judgment (Plaintiff’s motion denied), and obtaining a partial summary judgment as to Plaintiff’s breach of contract claim, Hull went back to Court to defend the judgments won by her client. In the end, Hull won the day and preserved the judgement of the lower court as State Farm retained their district court victories.

Case: Van K. Martin, Appellant v. State Farm Mutual Insurance Company, Appellee (No. 05-14-01473-CV)
Court: Court of Appeals, Fifth District of Texas at Dallas
Date: March 22, 2016

Background Facts:

[Plaintiff] Martin’s son was involved in an auto accident with another State Farm insured, Jeffery Lonsdale. No one was injured in the accident, but Lonsdale filed a claim for property damage, which was submitted to State Farm under Part A of Martin’s liability policy. Martin filed a claim for property damage to his vehicle under Part D of the policy.

State Farm settled Lonsdale’s claim and provided coverage for the property damage to Martin’s vehicle. Martin alleges that State Farm unreasonably concluded his son was primarily responsible for the accident without interviewing Martin’s son or other witnesses in the car. Martin alleges he paid the deductible to have his vehicle repaired and paid “incremental semi-annual premiums” related to the accident.

Martin sued State Farm for breach of contract and sought a declaration that State Farm violated a common law duty of good faith and fair dealing by acting unreasonably in determining the responsible party. State Farm moved for partial summary judgment on the breach of contract claim, arguing it did not breach the contract because the policy permits State Farm to “settle or defend, as we consider appropriate, any claim or suit asking for these damages.”

The trial court granted the partial summary judgment. After a brief bench trial on the declaratory judgment claim, the trial court rendered a final judgment denying Martin’s declaratory judgment claim. The trial court filed written and amended findings of fact and conclusions of law.

Appeals Court Decision on Breach of Contract Issue:

We conclude State Farm established it did not breach the contract and Martin failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to that element of his breach of contract claim. Thus, the trial court did not err by granting the motion for partial summary judgment. We overrule Martin’s first issue.

Appeals Court Decision on Declaratory Judgment Issue:

We conclude Martin’s declaratory judgment claim does not present a justiciable controversy. We overrule Martin’s second issue.