Stechert v. Travelers Home & Marine Ins. Co., CIVIL ACTION NO. 17-CV-784

Decision Date15 May 2018
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 17-CV-784
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania


This putative class action has been brought before this Court for disposition of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on the individual claims of the Plaintiffs, Kyle and Marie Stechert. For the reasons outlined in the following paragraphs, the Motion shall be GRANTED.

History of the Case

The instant action has its origins in an automobile accident which occurred on January 23, 2015 when the 2014 Chevrolet Equinox which Plaintiff Marie Stechert was driving was struck by another vehicle when it turned left directly into Mrs. Stechert's path of travel, pushing her off the road into a utility pole. As a result of this accident, Mrs. Stechert and her two small children were injured and their car had to be towed away.

Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff Kyle Stechert contacted his insurance agent at the Univest Insurance Agency in Lansdale, PA to notify them of the accident and the agent then turned the matter over to the Stecherts' automobile insurance carrier, Travelers Home and Marine Insurance Company1. Under their Travelers policy, Plaintiffs had an "extended transportation expense" or "ETE" benefit which afforded them the ability to secure a rental vehicle at the maximum rate of $30 per day up to a total of $900, or for a period not to exceed 30 days. After receiving notification of the accident, a Travelers representative arranged for a five-day rental car reservation for Plaintiffs through Enterprise Rent-A-Car. Thus, following discharge of Mrs. Stechert and the children from the hospital emergency room later that afternoon, Mr. and Mrs. Stechert obtained a rental car from Enterprise. Plaintiffs however, required a larger car than what was available for $30 per day, and therefore they personally paid the overage of $11.49 daily for the vehicle they rented.

A few days after the accident, Travelers sent an appraiserto Souderton Auto Body in Souderton, Pennsylvania to examine the damaged Equinox. On January 27, 2015, that appraiser, Brian Killen, determined the vehicle to have been a total loss. On that same date, Mr. Killen sent a form "Rental Reimbursement/Loss of Use Notice" to Mr. Stechert which, in addition to notifying him that the vehicle had been deemed a "Total Loss," also contained the following language:

"Throughout this process, if your vehicle is determined to be a total loss, your rental will be limited to 5 days from when your vehicle was deemed non-repairable."

Notwithstanding this language, Plaintiffs did not return their rental vehicle within five days. Rather, it took until February 6, 2015 for Travelers to determine, in consultation with the leasing company which owned the Equinox, that its value was $19,752.60. Plaintiffs disagreed with that assessment and requested an extension on the rental car. Travelers granted the extension to February 13, 2015 and told them to submit comparable values for consideration. Although Travelers had been in discussions with Ally Bank (the lienholder on the Stecherts' vehicle) about Ally sending a letter of guarantee2, this issue was not resolved until after February 13th. On the morning of February 12, 2015, the Travelers adjuster assigned to the Plaintiffs' claim entered the following notes into the claimfile:

Spoke with Gloria at Ally Bank Total Loss and she advised that the LOG request is still in progress and will send it out as soon as their review has been completed, and could not give me an eta.
Called insured and left voicemail message following up on the status of the LOG request and if he had found any comparables to submit for review.
Extended rental to 2/18. Updated reserves to authorized total of $810.00.

Apparently, however, that voicemail message was not received by Plaintiffs and that evening, believing that they would have to return their rental the next day, Plaintiffs purchased a pre-owned 2012 Chevrolet Equinox. The following morning, the rental vehicle was returned to Enterprise. However, it also does not appear that Plaintiffs informed Travelers that they had purchased a replacement vehicle or that they had returned the rental to Enterprise because the adjuster added the following note to the claim file at 12:05:52 p.m. on February 13:

Spoke with Mr. Stechert and reviewed total loss claim status. Advised waiting for LOG from Lienholder. Comparable submitted by agent is n/a and also reviewed rental and 30 days would be 2/21.
I extended rental to 2/21 which is the maximum. Updated reserves to $900.00.

The adjuster's notes reflect that the letter of guarantee was finally received from Ally Financial for $19,752.60 on February 17, 2015 and that at 3:27:47 p.m. that same day, she left a voicemail message for Plaintiff "following up on valuationof vehicle prior to payment, as he thought he would be receiving a payment for settlement."

By this action, Plaintiffs assert that in sending them the Rental/Reimbursement/Loss of Use Notice (hereafter "the Rental Letter") with the language limiting the rental to five days from the date the total loss determination is made, Travelers breached its contract with them insofar as their policy did not contain such a limitation. Plaintiffs also submit that the policy was further breached by Travelers' failure to make a determination as to what period of time was reasonably required to repair or replace their vehicle. In addition to seeking monetary damages for breach of contract, Plaintiffs also allege that Defendants acted in bad faith and in violation of 42 Pa. C. S. §8371 thereby entitling them to further compensatory and punitive damages as well as declaratory and equitable/injunctive relief. Further, Plaintiffs seek to represent a class consisting of:

All persons, since at least six years prior to the filing of this Complaint, who have been policyholders of automobile insurance policies sold in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by Defendants (and/or their subsidiaries, affiliates and/or related entities) that have provided Extended Transportation Expense Coverage, who have made a claim to Defendants for Extended Transportation Expense Coverage as a result of a total loss of a vehicle damaged in a covered accident, and as to whom Defendants have limited the amount of time such coverage is provided to a period of time less than thirty (30) days. Excluded from the Class are Defendants, each of the parents, subsidiaries, authorized distributors and affiliates, and their legal representatives, heirs, successors, and assigns of any excluded person.

In our Order of November 8, 2017, this Court grantedDefendants' Motion to Stay Class Certification or for Protective Order and prohibited the taking of discovery relative to the class and the issue of class certification until after such time as we issued a decision on summary judgment motions on the Plaintiffs' individual claims. On January 17, 2018, Defendants timely filed the motion for summary judgment which is now before us.

Standards for Determining Summary Judgment Motions

Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a):

A party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense - or the part of each claim or defense - on which summary judgment is sought. The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The court should state on the record the reasons for granting or denying the motion.

As this Rule makes clear then, summary judgment is appropriately entered only when the movant shows 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. Willis v. UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, 808 F.3d 638, 643 (3d Cir. 2015). An issue of fact is material and genuine if it "affects the outcome of the suit under the governing law and could lead a reasonable jury to return a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party." Parkell v. Danberg, 833 F.3d 313, 323 (3d Cir. 2016)(quoting Willis, supra. and Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248,106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986)).

In considering a motion for summary judgment, the reviewing court should view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in that party's favor. Burton v. Teleflex, Inc., 707 F.3d 417, 425 (3d Cir. 2013). "If the non-moving party bears the burden of persuasion at trial, 'the moving party may meet its burden on summary judgment by showing that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to carry that burden.'" Kaucher v. County of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006)(quoting Wetzel v. Tucker, 139 F.3d 380, 383, n.2 (3d Cir. 1998)). In response, and "to prevail on a motion for summary judgment, 'the non-moving party must present more than a mere scintilla of evidence; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the non-movant.'" Burton, supra,(quoting Jakimas v. Hoffmann-La Roche, Inc., 485 F.3d 770, 777 (3d Cir. 2007)). Thus, "[t]he moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law when the non-moving party fails to make "a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof." Moody v. Atlantic City Board of Education, 870 F.3d 206, 213 (3d Cir. 2017)(quoting Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 91 L. Ed.2d 265 (1986)).3


Defendants' motion for summary judgment is essentially premised on the argument that since Plaintiffs received the Extended Transportation Expense benefits to which they were entitled, Defendants are entitled to the entry of judgment in...

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