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Post & Schell Secures Summary Judgment for Client in Superior Court of Pennsylvania Insurance Bad Faith Case

On June 21, 2016, Insurance Law Principal Steven J. Schildt and Associate Jeffrey M. Brenner secured summary judgment on behalf of Post & Schell client Metropolitan Property and Casualty Insurance Company in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. Their motion for summary judgment was granted on Defendant’s assertion that Plaintiff’s claims of insurance bad faith were time-barred under the applicable statute of limitations.

In Fieldhouse v. Metropolitan Property and Casualty Insurance Company, 2016 Pa. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2166, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed a trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Metropolitan on Mr. Fieldhouse’s complaint alleging insurance bad faith in the handling of his first-party property damage claim. In its motion for summary judgment, Metropolitan argued that Mr. Fieldhouse’s claim was time-barred under the applicable two-year statute of limitations.

Mr. Fieldhouse filed his writ of summons on October 16, 2012, and a subsequent complaint alleged he was involved in a motor vehicle-pedestrian accident on June 9, 2008. Mr. Fieldhouse filed a claim with Metropolitan for property damage to his vehicle and Metropolitan assigned a claims investigator, who also cooperated with the police department’s criminal investigation of the accident. Based in part on the information received from Metropolitan, the police arrested Mr. Fieldhouse, and the district attorney filed charges. Metropolitan’s claims investigator testified at a preliminary hearing on January 5, 2009, and thereafter, the district attorney withdrew all of the charges.

Mr. Fieldhouse’s complaint alleged that Metropolitan had aided and conspired with the police and other law enforcement agencies by complying with law enforcement requests for information regarding his alleged criminal activity. Mr. Fieldhouse alleged this activity amounted to bad faith under 42 Pa. C.S. 8371.

In its motion for summary judgment, Metropolitan argued that Mr. Fieldhouse’s bad faith claim was barred by the applicable two-year statute of limitations because the most recent conduct alleged to be bad faith in the complaint was the testimony by Metropolitan’s claims investigator at the preliminary hearing on January 5, 2009. Thus, Metropolitan argued, Mr. Fieldhouse’s claim was time-barred after January 5, 2011, and because Mr. Fieldhouse did not file his writ until October 16, 2012, his bad faith case was time-barred.

Mr. Fieldhouse argued the statute of limitations was tolled until October 18, 2010, when the Commonwealth dismissed the criminal charges against him, or on January 5, 2014, when the statute of limitations expired for the criminal charges. The sole support for Mr. Fieldhouse’s argument rested upon Diamon v. Penn Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 372 A.2d 1218 (Pa. Super. 1977). In Diamon, an insured had been charged by the police with filing a false proof of loss after a fire broke out in his home. Although the insured was convicted, the charge was later reversed. In the insured’s subsequent civil suit against the insurer, the insurer argued that the insured’s claim was time-barred. However, the Superior Court disagreed and found the statute of limitations to be tolled because the criminal charges were only brought against the insured “as a result of being told by [the insurer’s] adjuster that [the appellant-husband] had attempted to cheat the company” and that the detective involved in the matter signed the criminal information “at the instigation” of the insurer’s adjuster.

Metropolitan distinguished Diamon by noting that in the instant matter the Commonwealth had sought information from Metropolitan independently, and Metropolitan did not decide on its own to contact and share information with the Commonwealth. The Superior Court agreed, noting:  “There is no dispute that [Metropolitan’s agent] shared information with law enforcement, which in turn aided them in their investigation. However, Fieldhouse admitted to the trial court that law enforcement solicited that information from [Metropolitan], not the other way around.”  Further, the Superior Court noted that “Fieldhouse has not forwarded any evidence that [Metropolitan’s agent], or any other agent of [Metropolitan] requested a criminal investigation or that charges be filed.” Accordingly, the Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s entry of summary judgment in favor of Metropolitan.