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Mitchell v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co.

August 08, 2003

BRUCE MITCHELL AND DEBORAH MITCHELL, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
STATE FARM FIRE & CASUALTY COMPANY, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from Circuit Court of McLean County No. 01MR196 Honorable G. Michael Prall, Judge Presiding.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Cook

UNPUBLISHED

Plaintiffs, Bruce and Deborah Mitchell, filed suit against defendant, State Farm Fire and Casualty Company, to compel defendant to provide coverage pursuant to an insurance policy. Defendant moved to dismiss on the basis that plaintiffs' suit was barred by a one-year limitations period found in the insurance policy. The trial court granted defendant's motion to dismiss, and plaintiffs appeal. We reverse and remand.

According to plaintiffs' second-amended complaint, their house burned down on November 11, 1999. Plaintiffs had an insurance policy through defendant that would have covered the loss from the fire.

On November 23, 1999, defendant delivered a letter to plaintiffs regarding claim number 13-Y533-90. This letter detailed the various steps the insurance policy required plaintiffs to take and documentation to provide within 60 days after the loss.

On May 8, 2000, defendant sent a letter to plaintiffs, notifying them of the decision to deny payment of their claim. The denial was based upon plaintiffs' failure to provide documentation and submit to an examination under oath as required by the insurance policy. This letter further informed plaintiffs that if they intended to proceed with litigation, strict compliance with the policy provisions would be required. Specifically, the policy requires suit to be commenced within one year after the loss. This period of limitations is tolled from the date on which proof of loss is filed until the date the claim is denied in whole or in part. Because defendant had never received a proof of loss, the letter explained, defendant did not believe there was any tolling of the period of limitations. Defendant suggested plaintiffs had to file suit on or before November 11, 2000, if they were so inclined. The letter ended by recommending that plaintiffs consult their own legal advisor.

Shortly after receiving the May 8 letter, plaintiffs hand delivered various documents to one of defendant's claim offices in Bloomington, Illinois. Defendant responded with a letter dated May 16, 2000. This letter informed plaintiffs that some of the documentation satisfied defendant's prior requests and that some of it did not. The letter finished by stating:

"This claim remains in a state of denial as indicated in our letter May, 8, 2000. When and if you comply with the requests noted herein, we will consider whether such delayed compliance is adequate for a reconsideration of our position on your claim."

On November 3, 2000, plaintiffs delivered more documentation to defendant. On November 11, 2000, plaintiffs filed a sworn proof of loss with their insurance agent. According to plaintiffs, their agent told them that the investigator gave the agent a list of things plaintiffs still had to do. Plaintiffs then asked their agent if they needed to have an attorney now that defendant was requesting that more information be submitted. Plaintiffs' agent responded that he did not think defendant would be asking for more information if defendant were not willing to settle this claim.

On November 16, 2000, defendant sent a letter to plaintiffs, which informed them that their claim had been denied on May 8, 2000, that the claim was still denied, and that as far as defendant knew currently, plaintiffs had failed to file suit within the one-year limitations period. The letter detailed the various documents plaintiffs had provided and how these documents did not satisfy defendant's requests. The letter finished by stating:

"To summarize, if the documents you submitted shortly before the period of limitations expired had been submitted in a timely fashion, they would have constituted the first step towards compliance with the policy conditions but they would not have been adequate to fully comply with the policy conditions. Your untimely and incomplete attempts to reverse our stated denial of the claim are ineffective and the claim remains denied."

Plaintiffs filed their first complaint on October 24, 2001. Defendant moved to dismiss on the basis that plaintiffs' suit was barred by a one-year contractual statute of limitations. The trial court granted defendant's motion to dismiss, and plaintiffs appeal.

This is an appeal from an order granting a motion to dismiss pursuant to section 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure. 735 ILCS 5/ 2-619 (West 2000). When a cause of action is dismissed on a section 2-619 motion, the question on appeal is whether there is a genuine issue of material fact and whether defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of ...


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