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Patterson v. Infinity Insurance Co.

Supreme Court of Alaska

June 28, 2013

TOMMIE PATTERSON, Appellant,
v.
INFINITY INSURANCE COMPANY, Appellee.

Appeal from the Superior Court No.3AN-10-06325CI of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, John Suddock, Judge.

Tommie Patterson, pro se, Anchorage, Appellant.

Rebecca J. Hozubin, Law Office of Hozubin & Moberly, Anchorage, for Appellee.

Before: Fabe, Chief Justice, Carpeneti, Winfree, and Stowers, Justices.

OPINION

CARPENETI, Justice.

I. INTRODUCTION

A man who held motor vehicle insurance coverage was involved in a motor vehicle accident. Following the accident, the insurance company paid the man's medical providers the policy limit. Two years later, the man filed suit against the insurance company, alleging that it had shown bad faith following the accident. The insurance company moved for summary judgment. The superior court granted the motion and entered final judgment in the case. Just over one month later, the man filed a second lawsuit, alleging that the insurance company had falsely advertised its services, breached the insurance contract, embezzled money from him, falsified documents, and "threaten[ed] to make [him] at fault, " for the accident. The insurance company moved for summary judgment, and the superior court granted its motion on the grounds that the man's entire suit was barred by the doctrine of res judicata. The man appealed. Because the man's embezzlement claim in the second suit alleges a distinct injury that constitutes a harm separate from that litigated in the first suit, we reverse the superior court's grant of summary judgment in regards to this claim and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion. Because all of the man's other claims are barred by the doctrine of res judicata, we affirm the superior court in all other respects.

II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

Tommie Patterson was involved in a motor vehicle accident in December 2006. At that time, he held motor vehicle insurance coverage with Infinity Insurance Company (Infinity). Patterson's policy provided that Infinity would pay for medical expenses from a motor vehicle accident totaling up to $5, 000. Following the accident, he sought medical treatment and his medical providers in turn sought payment from Infinity. Infinity paid the providers $5, 000 and then declined to make further payments.

A. Patterson's First Suit Against Infinity

In D ecember 2008 Patterson filed suit against Infinity, alleging that Infinity "showed bad faith . . . by claiming that [Infinity] had paid medical bills that have never been paid and saying that [Patterson] was part of the cause of the [December 2006] accident." Patterson later clarified that Infinity had actually paid his medical bills, but "they were very slow paying these bills and [Patterson] was getting calls daily from doctors and the hospital." Patterson disputed the accuracy of affidavits submitted by Infinity employees, Stephen Nelson and Peggy Taggart, in regards to the timely payment of his medical bills. Finally, Patterson alleged that, "[w]ithout [his] knowing or approving, " Infinity had continued to draw money from his checking account to pay premiums after he had cancelled his insurance policy.

In July 2009 Infinity moved for summary judgment, arguing that it fulfilled its contractual obligations to Patterson by paying out $5, 000 and therefore there was no bad faith breach of contract. Infinity also asserted that, even assuming Infinity employees had made comments regarding Patterson's fault in causing the accident, it "was not contractually obligated to refrain from offering opinions regarding [Patterson's] share of fault in any motor vehicle accident." Patterson opposed Infinity's motion for summary judgment.

On October 14, 2009, the superior court granted Infinity's motion for summary judgment. The court stated that Patterson provided "no facts or evidence to support his claim that Infinity was slow in paying his medical bills, nor [did] he inform the court of how long it actually took to pay the bills." Regarding the alleged withdrawals from Patterson's checking account, the court concluded that "[t]he continuing withdrawal of premium payments has nothing to do with the underlying issues in this case and will therefore not be considered by the court." The court also noted that it was unsure what Patterson meant when he said that Infinity told him that "he would be 'responsible for part of the accident, ' " but concluded that the comment likely related to Infinity having explained that Patterson had a $5, 000 policy limit on medical coverage. Because Patterson had not demonstrated a genuine issue of material fact as to any alleged breach of contract, the superior court ruled that Infinity was entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Patterson moved for reconsideration or recusal. In his motion, Patterson argued that the assigned judge should have recused himself from the case for "incompetency." Rather than rule on that request for recusal, the judge noted that Patterson had not been notified of the judge's assignment to the case until distribution of the October 2009 summary judgment order. The court therefore allowed Patterson five days to exercise a peremptory challenge, which he did. The case was then transferred to another judge, ...


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