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Semler v. Chartis Property Casualty Co.

United States District Court, D. Oregon

October 10, 2019

DR. HERBERT SEMLER and SHIRLEY SEMLER, individuals, Plaintiffs,
v.
CHARTIS PROPERTY CASUALTY COMPANY, a Pennsylvania company, Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          MICHAEL W. MOSMAN CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         On July 1, 2019, Magistrate Judge John V. Acosta issued his Findings and Recommendation ("F&R") [30], recommending that Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [19] be granted. Plaintiffs Dr. Herbert Semler and Shirley Semler, husband and wife, filed objections [36] to which Defendant AIG Property Casualty Company ("AIGPCC")[1] responded [39].

         For reasons I will explain below, I decline to adopt the F&R and DENY Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. In short, I reach this conclusion because I find that 1) the Semlers' interpretation of the "Legal Action Against Us" clause is reasonable and thus controlling pursuant to Hoffman Construction Co. of Alaska v. Fred S. James & Co. of Oregon, 836 P.2d 703 (Or. 1992); and 2) under the Semlers' interpretation of the LAAU clause, there remains a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether the Semlers' suit is time-barred.

         BACKGROUND

         For the complete factual background to the present case, I incorporate Judge Acosta's comprehensive summary contained in his F&R. See F&R [ECF 30] at 2-11. In brief, the dispute between the Semlers and AIGPCC revolves around an insurance policy issued by AIGPCC covering a beach house owned by the Semlers. In June 2012, the beach house suffered damage after a water supply line to an upstairs bathroom leaked. Decl. of Dr. Herbert Semler [ECF 23] at ¶ 3. The ultimate dispute between the parties is the amount owed under the insurance policy for the loss resulting from that incident. At issue in AIGPCC's Motion for Summary Judgment is whether the Semlers' suit is time-barred by a valid suit limitation provision contained in the insurance policy. See Pis.' Obj. to F&R [ECF 36] at 1.

         The suit limitation provision is known as the "Legal Action Against Us" clause ("LAAU clause"). Decl. of Kathleen Spinella [ECF 20] Ex. 1 at 18. It states:

No action shall be brought against us unless the insured person has complied with this policy's provisions .... You also agree to bring any action against us within one year after a loss occurs, but not until thirty (30) days after proof of loss has been filed and the amount of loss has been determined.

Id. (emphasis added).

         As described more fully below, the parties have differing interpretations for what it means for a loss to be "determined" under the LAAU clause, and thus they disagree as to when the one-year clock began ticking for the Semlers to file their suit. AIGPCC contends the loss was "determined" when it sent an email to the Semlers on November 3, 2014 ("November 2014 Email"). Def.'s Resp. to Pis.' Obj. to F&R [ECF 39] at 3-4; see also F&R [30] at 7-8 (describing the context of the November 2014 Email). The Semlers contest that the loss was not "determined" until August 24, 2017, when AIGPCC sent the Semlers a letter ("August 2017 Letter") specifically closing the claim and citing the limitation period of the LAAU clause. Pis.' Obj. [36] at 5; see also F&R [30] at 10 (describing the context of the August 2017 Letter). The Semlers filed this suit on April 13, 2018. Compl. [1].

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         I. Review of Findings and Recommendation

         The magistrate judge makes only recommendations to the court, to which any party may file written objections. The court is not bound by the recommendations of the magistrate judge but retains responsibility for making the final determination. The court is generally required to make a de novo determination regarding those portions of the report or specified findings or recommendation as to which an objection is made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). However, the court is not required to review, de novo or under any other standard, the factual or legal conclusions of the magistrate judge as to those portions of the F&R to which no objections are addressed. See Thomas v. Am, 474 U.S. 140, 149 (1985); United States v. Reyna-Tapia, 328 F.3d 1114, 1121 (9th Cir. 2003). While the level of scrutiny under which I am required to review the F&R depends on whether or not objections have been filed, in either case, I am free to accept, reject, or modify any part of the F&R. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).

         II. Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is appropriate when "there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the moving party demonstrates no issue of material fact exists, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and identify facts which show a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324. A party cannot defeat a summary judgment motion by relying on the allegations set forth in the complaint, unsupported conjecture, or conclusory statements. Hernandez v. Spacelabs Med., Inc.,343 F.3d 1107, 1112 (9th Cir. 2003). Summary judgment thus should be entered against "a party who fails to ...


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