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Murphy-Sims v. Owners Insurance Co.

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

January 7, 2020

LUZETTA MURPHY-SIMS, Plaintiff - Appellant,
v.
OWNERS INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant-Appellee.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Colorado D.C. No. 1:16-CV-00759-CMA-SKC

          Bradley A. Levin (Jeremy A. Sitcoff and Elisabeth L. Owen of Levin, Sitcoff, P.C., Natalie Brown and Joseph A. Sirchio of Franklin D. Azar & Associates, P.C., with him on the briefs, Aurora, Colorado), Levin Sitcoff PC, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff -Appellant.

          Gregory R. Giometti (John D. Mereness and Taylor R. Seibel of Giometti & Mereness, P.C., with him on the brief), Denver, Colorado, for Defendant - Appellee.

          Before HOLMES, KELLY, and BACHARACH, Circuit Judges.

          KELLY, Circuit Judge.

         Plaintiff-Appellant Luzetta Murphy-Sims appeals from a judgment on a jury verdict in favor of Defendant-Appellee Owners Insurance Company (Owners). On appeal, Ms. Murphy-Sims argues that the district court erred by (1) denying her motion for judgment as a matter of law; (2) instructing the jury that it did not need to consider bad faith absent a breach of contract; (3) linking the breach of contract and bad faith claims; (4) instructing the jury on bad faith and damages; and (5) admitting and excluding certain evidence. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, and we affirm.

         Background

         On March 27, 2013, Mr. Switzer and Ms. Murphy-Sims were involved in a car accident in which Mr. Switzer was at fault. At the time, he was insured by Owners under an automobile policy that provided liability coverage of $100, 000 per person and covered the vehicle that Mr. Switzer was driving.

         Ms. Murphy-Sims maintained that she suffered extensive injuries, and consequently incurred significant medical costs, as a result of the accident. In February 2014, she sent Owners a letter demanding settlement claiming $41, 000 in medical expenses. Owners timely replied with a request for more information. When Ms. Murphy-Sims failed to reply, Owners sent two additional follow-up requests. Finally, in June 2014, Ms. Murphy-Sims provided Owners with some of the requested information. It did not offer a settlement payment in response.

         In July 2014, Ms. Murphy-Sims sued Mr. Switzer. The parties agreed roughly three weeks later to enter into a Nunn agreement[1] wherein the parties agreed to submit the issue of damages to binding arbitration. The arbitrator awarded Ms. Murphy-Sims approximately $1.3 million and judgment was entered against Mr. Switzer. Pursuant to the agreement, Ms. Murphy-Sims did not execute on the judgment.

         In March 2016, Ms. Murphy-Sims, standing in Mr. Switzer's shoes as permitted under the Nunn agreement, filed the underlying lawsuit against Owners in state district court. She claimed that Owners had breached its contract with Mr. Switzer and had done so in bad faith. Owners removed the suit to federal court and the case proceeded to trial. A jury ultimately found that Owners did not breach its contract with Mr. Switzer, thereby declining to award $1.3 million in damages to Ms. Murphy-Sims. The jury did not reach the bad faith claim having been instructed that it need not be reached in the absence of a breach of contract.

         Discussion

         Ms. Murphy-Sims argues that the district court made five distinct errors, three of which are contingent upon our finding that the district court improperly instructed the jury that they need only reach the bad faith claim if they found breach of contract. As discussed below, we do not find that the district court so erred and thus only address her first two arguments.

         A. ...


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