Franklin Investment Co. v. Huffman

Decision Date04 October 1978
Docket NumberNo. 12485.,12485.
Citation393 A.2d 119
PartiesFRANKLIN INVESTMENT CO., INC., Appellant, v. John L. HUFFMAN et al., Appellees.
CourtD.C. Court of Appeals

Bernard D. Lipton, Silver Spring, Md., for appellant.

Gregory M. Murad and Randell H. Norton, Washington, D. C., with whom Stephen D. Keeffe, Washington, D. C., was on brief, for appellees.

Before NEWMAN, Chief Judge, and KERN and HARRIS, Associate Judges.

HARRIS, Associate Judge:

In a jury trial appellee Huffman was awarded $6,000 in damages for the failure of appellant Franklin Investment Company (Franklin) to provide insurance on Huffman's car. The jury found no liability on the part of appellee Motors Insurance Company (Motors), which Franklin had joined as a third party defendant under Super.Ct. Civ.R. 14. Franklin appeals from the jury's verdicts in favor of Huffman and Motors and from the motions judge's granting of summary judgment against Franklin on the issue of liability. We find the granting of summary judgment against Franklin to have been erroneous, and remand the case for a new trial.

I

In March 1975, appellee Huffman purchased an automobile from Lustine Chevrolet on an installment contract. Pursuant to the contract, Huffman was to maintain collision insurance on the automobile. Subsequently, Lustine Chevrolet assigned its rights under the contract to Franklin; Huffman was so notified.

In June 1975, Huffman received notice from his automobile insurance company, Motors, that his policy would be cancelled effective July 4, 1975, unless he paid the amount due on the policy by that date. On June 5, 1975, Franklin informed Huffman by letter that Motors had notified it that the policy was going to be cancelled effective July 4, 1975. It further advised Huffman that it was his obligation under the installment contract to provide collision insurance and that if proof of insurance was not provided by the cancellation date, this would "result in [Franklin's] having to enforce the contract terms."

At this point the facts become uncertain. Franklin alleges that it heard nothing further from Huffman, and that it therefore purchased a policy through Bankers Mutual Insurance Company and charged Huffman's account with the premium cost and a finance charge. Huffman alleges the following. On or about June 6, 1975, he spoke with Franklin concerning obtaining insurance. During this communication, Franklin offered to provide him with collision insurance and add the additional costs to his account. Huffman accepted the offer, and Franklin notified him by letter that pursuant to his request it had provided him with insurance and had charged his account with the premium cost and a finance charge.

The parties agree that on or about July 11, 1975, Franklin received notice from Motors that the premium on Huffman's original policy with it had been paid. Accordingly, believing that Huffman had paid the premium, Franklin cancelled the later-obtained Bankers Mutual policy and credited Huffman's account with the amount it previously had charged him. On October 17, 1975, Huffman was involved in an accident in which approximately $1,000 in damages was sustained by his automobile. He requested that Franklin submit an insurance claim for that damage. Franklin advised him to submit his claim to Motors, not to Bankers Mutual. Huffman then filed a claim with Motors, which rejected it on the ground that, contrary to its prior notice to Franklin (which had been sent erroneously by Motors), the premium on the policy with Motors in fact had not been paid. Motors stated that it would honor a claim from Franklin, but not one from Huffman.

On October 21, 1975, Huffman released the automobile to Franklin so that Franklin could submit a claim to Motors. An official of Franklin advised Huffman that it would file a claim against Motors and that the automobile would be returned to him. Motors had the automobile examined by a claims adjuster, and it was repaired at a price agreed upon by Motors and the repair shop. Franklin filed a lienholder's claim with Motors, but Motors refused to pay it. In December 1975 the repair shop asserted a mechanic's lien. Franklin thereupon paid the repair shop's bill and repossessed the automobile.

Motors informed Franklin that it would honor Franklin's claim if Huffman had no redemption rights on the automobile. Franklin refused to accept this condition. Huffman declined to redeem the car, and Franklin resold it to Lustine Chevrolet pursuant to the terms of the original installment contract. In February 1976, Franklin offered Huffman the opportunity to repurchase the automobile in settlement of any claim he had against it. Huffman declined that offer, and on March 16, 1976, he was notified by Franklin that it had sold the automobile.

On March 18, 1976, Huffman filed suit against Franklin for breach of contract in refusing to pay the cost of repairs and for negligence in failing to notify him that it had cancelled his insurance policy with Bankers Mutual. Franklin joined Motors as a third party defendant, alleging that any damage to Huffman had resulted from the negligent and willful acts of Motors.

At a pretrial motions hearing, Huffman and Motors both moved for summary judgments in their favor. The motions judge granted Huffman's motion as to liability only, and denied Motors' motion. In the subsequent trial the issues for jury resolution thus were (1) the amount of damages incurred by Huffman, (2) the liability vel non of Motors to Franklin, and (3) assuming such liability, the amount of damages experienced by Franklin. The jury returned a verdict of $6,000 against Franklin on Huffman's claim, and found Motors not liable on the third-party claim.

II

Franklin alleges numerous errors in the trial court, including the granting of summary judgment against it on the issue of liability to Huffman. As noted, we conclude that summary judgment as to Franklin's liability to Huffman was granted improperly.

Super.Ct.Civ.R. 56(c) provides that summary judgment shall be rendered only if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, 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 a judgment as a matter of law." See Basch v. George Washington University, D.C.App., 370 A.2d 1364 (1977). Summary judgment is appropriate only where it is clear what the truth is. International Underwriters, Inc. v. Boyles, D.C.A...

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