Washington v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 02-20-00186-CV

CourtCourt of Appeals of Texas
Writing for the CourtDana Womack Justice
PartiesEdgar Washington, Florence Hill, and Chrislyn Hill, Appellants v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company and Chrysler Capital LLC, Appellees
Decision Date28 October 2021
Docket Number02-20-00186-CV

Edgar Washington, Florence Hill, and Chrislyn Hill, Appellants

State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company and Chrysler Capital LLC, Appellees

No. 02-20-00186-CV

Court of Appeals of Texas, Second District, Fort Worth

October 28, 2021

On Appeal from the 67th District Court Tarrant County, Texas Trial Court No. 067-304035-18

Before Sudderth, C.J.; Kerr and Womack, JJ.



Dana Womack Justice

I. Introduction

After a drunk driver struck their parked car, Appellants Edgar Washington, Florence Hill, and Chrislyn Hill-proceeding pro se-sued Appellees State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (the drunk driver's insurance company) and Chrysler Capital LLC (the lienholder on Appellants' vehicle). The trial court granted State Farm's and Chrysler Capital's motions for summary judgment, and Appellants appealed. In their pro se brief, Appellants assert six issues with numerous complaints. We hold that Appellants have not shown error and affirm the trial court's judgments.

II. Background

A. Appellants' Live Pleading

According to Appellants' "Amended Complaint - Number 3," in late October 2016, while driving under the influence of alcohol, Kyle Coleman drove into their parked vehicle, a 2012 Honda Civic, pushed it over a curb, and crashed it into four other parked vehicles. Police later impounded the Honda.

As further alleged in the pleadings, Chrislyn, a co-signer on the Honda's note and the vehicle's primary driver, now found herself without transportation.[1] Edgar,


Chrislyn's stepfather and the other co-signer on the note, found himself with a severely damaged car and, assuming payments on the car were stopped, a threat to his credit. Florence, Chrislyn's mother and Edgar's spouse, worried about her daughter's well-being.

Appellants notified their vehicle's lienholder, Chrysler Capital, that their Honda had been damaged, was undriveable, and had been impounded by the police. According to Appellants, Chrysler Capital gave them no instructions about whether it expected them to continue making payments or about what would happen if they stopped making payments.[2]

The vehicle that Kyle drove was owned by his father, Monte Coleman, and insured by Monte's insurance company, State Farm.[3] According to Appellants, State Farm had "accepted liability" for all five damaged vehicles.

A State Farm adjuster met with Appellants, and Edgar signed a release and gave it to the adjuster with the understanding that the adjuster would give the release to Copart Towing Company so that State Farm could move the Honda to its salvage


yard for inspection. Edgar and Florence asserted that thereafter State Farm representatives had assured them on multiple occasions that State Farm had taken possession of the Honda and that the Honda was in State Farm's salvage yard. According to Edgar and Florence, however, those assurances proved false. They maintained that the Honda had been accumulating daily impound fees because Chrysler Capital had delayed taking action; they asserted that Chrysler Capital had only "retrieved the vehicle from the police impound to avoid the 45[-]day auction rule."

According to Appellants, because of State Farm's mismanagement, all three of them-as well as three other individuals in their household-were without transportation. Initially, they resorted to renting cars, but eventually they purchased another vehicle to replace the Honda. They maintained that these new expenses caused them undue financial hardships.

Meanwhile, after Chrysler Capital retrieved the Honda from the police impound, it designated the Honda's status as "repo/totaled" and demanded a property-damage payment from State Farm. State Farm promptly paid. According to Appellants, Chrysler Capital then turned around and filed a claim with Appellants' insurance carrier for nonpayment, but their insurance carrier denied Chrysler Capital's demand.

Appellants maintain that State Farm had paid Chrysler Capital $3, 624.53 and then closed the claim, leaving them without any remedy for their loss of


transportation or for their mental and physical damages. State Farm informed Appellants that they could retrieve the "repairable" Honda from Manheim Auction in Dallas by paying the impound and any other applicable fees, but according to Appellants, this constituted "conspiratorial and erroneous actions" that caused "harmful personal injury" to them. Appellants maintained that State Farm and Chrysler Capital had conspired to benefit themselves to Appellants' detriment and noted that State Farm had listed the Honda as totaled for Chrysler Capital's purposes but as repairable for Appellants' purposes.[4]

Not all of Appellants' complaints went unheeded. After Appellants filed a complaint with the Texas Department of Insurance, State Farm paid the Honda's impound fees.

All three Appellants maintained that they were legally disabled and that the stress of this matter had exacerbated Florence's disability and had resulted in trips to the emergency room, surgery, and the "loss of an organ." As for Edgar, Appellants averred that he was "very overwhelmed by this entire matter (worsening his health as


witnessed and documented)." Finally, having no means of transportation, Appellants lamented that their entire holiday season had been ruined.[5]

Thereafter, Manheim Auction in Dallas sold the Honda at auction without changing the vehicle registration. The failure to change the vehicle registration meant that when the Drug Enforcement Administration later linked the Honda to a sting operation, DEA agents traced the Honda back to Appellants, who quickly found themselves targeted as suspected drug dealers. After "getting the necessary documents to [the] DEA," Appellants successfully warded off the DEA's suspicions but not without cost; they averred that the event distressed, humiliated, and degraded them.

Framing their complaints in terms of cognizable causes of action, Appellants alleged that State Farm and Chrysler Capital were negligent and grossly negligent and were liable for the intentional infliction of emotional distress. As a result of the actions described in their pleadings, Appellants sought the following damages:

(1) $25, 000 from Chrysler Capital to cover "the cost of an unplanned vehicle purchase";
(2) $2, 500 each from Chrysler Capital for damages to their credit ratings;
(3) $2, 500 each from Chrysler Capital for being "unethically mistreated as customers";
(4) $25, 000 from State Farm for its "mishandling of said insurance claim, mistreatment and total inconsideration of [Appellants'] hardships";
(5) $54, 000 for Edgar and $50, 000 for Florence from Chrysler Capital due to their "insurance claim of bodily injury and property damages being 'irreparably' and 'egregiously' harmed";
(6) $10, 000 each from State Farm for their "pain and suffering";
(7) $5, 000 each from State Farm for its "failure of standard duty" while handling the insurance claim;
(8) $54, 000 for Edgar and $50, 000 for Florence from State Farm due to their "insurance claim of bodily injury and property damages being 'irreparably' and 'egregiously' harmed";
(9) $5, 000 each from Chrysler Capital for its "failure of standard duty"; and
(10) punitive damages from State Farm and Chrysler Capital for the "serious and adverse altering of [Appellants'] quality of life and health."

B. Chrysler Capital's claims against Edgar and Chrislyn

In addition to Appellants' claims against State Farm and Chrysler Capital, Chrysler Capital had claims against Edgar and Chrislyn. But Chrysler Capital's claims against them took a circuitous and somewhat convoluted route.

Initially, Chrysler Capital filed a counterclaim against Edgar and Chrislyn for breach of the retail installment sales contract. At the time, though, Chrislyn was not yet a plaintiff. Technically, Chrysler Capital could not file a counterclaim against Chrislyn. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 97 (A "counterclaim" is a claim "against any opposing party[.]"); Complaint/Counter-Complaint, Black's Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019).


Recognizing its error, Chrysler Capital later sought and was granted leave to file a third-party claim against Chrislyn for breach of the installment contract. Chrislyn's nomenclature went from a counter-defendant to a third-party defendant. See Tex. R. Civ. P. 38; Complaint/Third-Party Complaint, Black's Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019).

But shortly thereafter, Edgar and Florence filed their third complaint and added Chrislyn as a plaintiff. Thus, a few weeks later, Chrysler Capital again filed a counterclaim against Edgar and Chrislyn for breach of the sales contract.

C. State Farm's and Chrysler Capital's Motions for Summary Judgment

State Farm's and Chrysler Capital's motions for summary judgment disposed of Appellants' claims against them in two steps.

1. Step One

First, in January 2019, State Farm filed a traditional motion for summary judgment based on Texas not being a direct-action state. State Farm argued that "[r]egardless of the nature of the relief sought, a suit brought directly against an insurer before liability has been determined is subject to dismissal." See In re Essex Ins. Co., 450 S.W.3d 524, 526-28 (Tex. 2014) (orig. proceeding). State Farm elaborated that "[i]n Texas, an injured party generally has no direct claim against the tortfeasor's insurer until the insured tortfeasor is determined liable to the tort claimant." See State Farm Cnty. Mut. Ins. Co. of Tex. v. Ollis, 768 S.W.2d 722, 723 (Tex. 1989); Great Am. Ins. Co. v. Murray, 437 S.W.2d 264, 265 (Tex. 1969) (orig. proceeding). In support of State


Farm's motion, it relied on the pleadings-Appellants' complaint and State Farm's answer.

In May 2019, the trial court granted State Farm's motion in part and denied it in part. The trial court (1)...

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