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Rizzo v. State Farm Insurance Co.

Supreme Court of Idaho

May 22, 2013

EVA MARIE RIZZO, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE FARM INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant-Respondent. and ROGER DANIEL RIZZO, Plaintiff-Appellant,

2013 Opinion No. 59

Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Timothy Hansen, District Judge.

The district court's order granting summary judgment is affirmed.

Roger D. Rizzo, Eagle, self-represented appellant.

Elam & Burke, P.A., Boise for respondent.

BURDICK, Chief Justice

This case arises out of the water loss claims Appellant Roger Daniel Rizzo made under Respondent State Farm Fire and Casualty Company's ("State Farm") homeowners insurance policy. All of Rizzo's claims were for water damage to his home's basement. This is an appeal from the Ada County district court's grant of summary judgment dismissing all of Rizzo's causes of action because Rizzo's homeowners policy did not cover his water damage claims. Rizzo also appeals from the district court's denial of his motion to amend his complaint to include various new causes of action and the district court's grant of State Farm's motion for protective order against certain overbroad discovery requests. We affirm the district court's decisions.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Roger and Eva Rizzos' home was damaged by water entering their basement on May 22, 2010, and December 29, 2010. At the time of the losses, State Farm insured the Rizzos' home. The policy has an exclusion for water damage caused by surface water and water from below the surface of the ground.

Rizzo states that on May 23, 2010, he and his wife contacted Rod Brooks, a State Farm agent, to report a claim under his policy. Rizzo alleges that Brooks told him that a policy exclusion applied, and that State Farm was denying coverage. Donna Hoyne, a State Farm Representative, was assigned to investigate and evaluate the loss. On May 26, 2011, she conducted an onsite inspection of the Rizzos' basement. According to Rizzo, Hoyne indicated that Brooks had no authority to discuss whether a policy exclusion applied, and assured Rizzo that State Farm had not yet made a coverage decision as to his claim. In his affidavit, Rizzo stated that he believed that rainwater entered his basement through holes in the foundation caused by severe winds. According to Hoyne,

The windowsill appeared to be clean and undamaged and there was no visible damage to the wallpaper below the window. However, the baseboard along the South Wall had been removed and holes had been drilled into the drywall. Mr. Rizzo did not inform me that one to two feet of water had accumulated in the window well or inform me of his "theory" that this one to two feet of water exerted a substantial pressure against the house wall adjacent to the window.

Rizzo asserts that on June 8, 2010, Ross Sheridan, a team manager for State Farm, informed him that State Farm was denying coverage for the damage to Rizzo's home. Soon after, Rizzo received a claim denial letter from Hoyne that set forth State Farm's conclusion that water had entered Rizzo's basement foundation wall at a point underground.

Rizzo filed a complaint against State Farm on November 24, 2010, alleging four causes of action: (1) breach of contract; (2) breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; (3) bad faith; and (4) negligence per se. On December 29, 2010, Rizzo reported a second water damage claim. A new claim number was assigned and the following day State Farm assigned Eric Vane to the claim. Vane's investigation determined that water entering the home at the joint between the south wall and the basement floor caused the water damage complained of in Rizzo's second claim. After concluding the investigation, Vane sent the Rizzos a formal letter denying coverage for this second claim.

According to Rizzo, when his basement flooded on December 29, 2010, "the combination of both the wind and the rain, coupled with the wind direction at particular times of night and day caused the hole to reopen or another hole to form in the house wall and rainwater flooded in." On February 14, 2011, Rizzo filed a Motion to Amend Complaint to include claims for punitive damages, failure to warn, personal injury, diminution in value of his home, and damages from the December claim. Because State Farm did not object to the additional claim for damages arising from the December 29, 2011 flooding, the district court granted the motion to amend as to that claim. The district court also granted the motion as to Rizzo's failure to warn claim, but denied it as to the claims for punitive damages, personal injury, and diminution in value of his home.

In connection with his motion to amend his complaint, Rizzo filed the Affidavit of Donald Flynn, who is the president of Shadow Mountain Construction. In the affidavit, Flynn sets forth the following opinion regarding the cause of the damage to Rizzo's home:

The damage to the Rizzos' home which occurred on May 22, 2010 and December 2010 almost certainly happened because of the following events. An extremely high level of rainfall collected in a house window well. This rainwater became one to two feet deep in the window well. It exerted substantial pressure on the side of the home and an approximately 18 mile an hour wind blowing in the right direction against a very large structural wall caused an opening in the wall. Large amounts of rainfall then penetrated the wall through the opening and flooded the downstairs floor of the house.

State Farm filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on August 25, 2011, and a hearing was held two months later. On February 15, 2012, the district court entered its final judgment granting State Farm's summary judgment motion and dismissing all of Rizzo's claims against State Farm.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When this Court reviews a district court's grant of summary judgment, it uses the same standard properly employed by the district court originally ruling on the motion. Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co. of Idaho v. Eisenman, 153 Idaho 549, ___, 286 P.3d 185, 188 (2012). Summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, 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 judgment as a matter of law." I.R.C.P. 56(c). Summary judgment must be entered against the non-moving party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish an essential element of his case. Foster v. Traul, 141 Idaho 890, 892, 120 P.3d 278, 280 (2005).

"All disputed facts are to be construed liberally in favor of the non-moving party, and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the record are to be drawn in favor of the non-moving party." Id.

In interpreting an insurance policy, "where the policy language is clear and unambiguous, coverage must be determined, as a matter of law, according to the plain meaning of the words used." Farm Bureau, 153 Idaho at ___, 286 P.3d at 188 (quoting Cascade Auto Glass, Inc. v. Idaho Farm Bureau Ins. Co., 141 Idaho 660, 662, 115 P.3d 751, 753 (2005)). Thus, the interpretation of the legal effect of an insurance policy is a question of law over which this Court exercises free review. Id.

Finally, whether to permit an amended pleading is committed to the sound discretion of the district court, McCann v. McCann, 138 Idaho 228, 232, 61 P.3d 585, 589 (2002), as is the determination to grant a protective order, Vaught v. Dairylands Insurance Co., 131 Idaho 357, 360, 956 P.2d 674, 677 (1998).

III. ANALYSIS

A. The district court properly exercised its discretion in denying Rizzo's request for deletion of part of the record on appeal.

In his Notice of Appeal, Rizzo requested fewer documents than are provided in a standard record on appeal. However, the Clerk of the Court still provided the standard record on appeal. As a preliminary issue, Rizzo claims that State Farm failed to request these documents within the timeframe Idaho Appellate Rule 19(c) prescribes and the clerk erred in submitting the standard record to this Court. Rizzo filed an objection to the clerk's record, which the district court overruled finding the record "sufficient and appropriate." On appeal, Rizzo asks this Court to sanction State Farm for relying on documents that he claims are completely impermissible under Idaho law.

"When reviewing a district court's decision settling the record and transcript pursuant to I.A.R. 29(a), this Court applies an abuse of discretion standard." Lamar Corp. v. City of Twin Falls, 133 Idaho 36, 40, 981 P.2d 1146, 1150 (1999). Idaho Appellate Rule 28 sets forth the contents of a "standard record" and provides that the parties "are responsible for designating the documents which will comprise the clerk's record on appeal." I.A.R. 28(a), (b). Idaho Appellate Rule 19 provides that:

(a) Requests for Less than the Standard Transcript and Standard Record on Appeal. When the appellant has requested less than the standard transcript per I.A.R. 25 or less than the standard clerk's or agency's record per I.A.R. 28, and the respondent wants to include documents that are part of the standard transcript or standard clerk's or agency's record, then the respondent must file a request for this additional material within 14 days of the filing of the notice of ...

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