O'neal v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co.

Decision Date07 January 2011
Docket NumberNo. 10–1350.,10–1350.
PartiesWilliam Carroll O'NEAL; Doris O'Neal, Appellants,v.STATE FARM FIRE & CASUALTY COMPANY, Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit


Matthew W. Lytle, argued, John F. Edgar, John M. Edgar, Michael D. Pospisil, Stephen R. Miller, and John H. Schirger, on the brief, Kansas City, MO, for appellant.Mark Alan Johnson, argued, Columbus, OH, Dale Lee Beckerman, Mimi Elizabeth Doherty, Kansas City, MO, and Rodger L. Eckelberry, Columbus, OH, on the brief, for appellee.Before WOLLMAN, BYE, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.WOLLMAN, Circuit Judge.

Putative class representatives William and Doris O'Neal (the O'Neals) appeal from the district court's 1 order dismissing their breach of contract and unjust enrichment claims. They alleged that State Farm Fire and Casualty Company (State Farm) failed to comply with code requirements that govern how wood shake and shingle roofs damaged by hail or wind are to be repaired. The district court concluded that State Farm had fulfilled its duty under the policy. We affirm.


The O'Neals own a home with a wood roof. They purchased a homeowners' policy from State Farm, wherein State Farm agrees to repair, or cover the cost of repairing, wood shakes or shingles damaged by wind or hail. In May 2008, hail and wind damaged their roof. State Farm inspected the damage and approved a claim for replacement of 80 wood shakes and 35 ridge cap shingles. This approach, called “spot replacement,” would replace the shakes damaged by the storm but leave undisturbed those that were not. The O'Neals found State Farm's offer of spot replacement inadequate and filed this class-action lawsuit, alleging breach of contract and unjust enrichment.2

A wood roof assembly is comprised of either shakes or shingles placed side-by-side to form a horizontal row called a course. The small gap between a shake or shingle and its neighbors is called a joint. Courses are staggered horizontally so the joints in one course do not align with the joints of the course above or below it. Courses also overlap each other, so that a lower portion of each shake or shingle will be visible but the remainder will be hidden by the overlap of the course(s) above.

To affix each shake or shingle to the roof assembly, two nails are driven through it at an angle perpendicular to its face. Depending on the size and positioning of the shakes or shingles and the amount of overlap, the nails driven through a shake or shingle to affix it to the roof may also penetrate the shakes or shingles of one or more courses below it. As a result, a single nail may penetrate a shake or shingle and pass through one or more courses that sit below it. Likewise, a single shake or shingle initially affixed to the roof assembly with two nails may be pierced by additional nails from the course(s) above.

The O'Neals' complaint contends that the building code governing the repairs covered under the insurance policy requires something more than spot replacement. For purposes of this appeal, the parties agree that the International Residential Code (IRC) defines the requirements that any such repairs must satisfy. The relevant provisions in the IRC state: [w]ood shingles shall be attached to the roof with two fasteners per shingle” and [w]ood shakes shall be attached to the roof with two fasteners per shake.” IRC §§ R905.7.5, R905.8.6.

The O'Neals claim that, when read in its entirety, the IRC requires at least four nails per shingle. They cite provisions in the IRC that specify the gap between individual shingles and the extent to which upper courses should overlap those that come below. As they see it, a builder who follows these provisions and adheres to the IRC in every respect will use four nails per shake or shingle. In further support of this claim, they included in the complaint comments from one of State Farm's engineers, who stated: [T]hough each individual shake unit is attached to a roof slope using (commonly) 2 fasteners per unit, if positioned correctly, each shingle may actually have four—six fasteners holding it to the deck.”

According to the O'Neals, the text of the IRC and the engineer's comments show that repairing a damaged shake or shingle roof in compliance with the IRC requires more than simply swapping out the individual damaged shakes or shingles. The O'Neals claim that to comply with the implied four-nail requirement of the IRC, State Farm would need to cover the following costs: 1) replacement of the entire roof; or 2) replacement of all courses from the top of the roof to the lowest point where damages from hail or wind occurred. In their view, spot replacement is an insufficient remedy under the terms of the policy.

State Farm maintained that the IRC provisions quoted above mean what they say: wood shakes or shingles must be attached with two nails per shake or shingle. It contended that spot replacement fulfills its obligations under both the IRC and...

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