Cilent Update – Coverage – CRN case law developments
November 2, 2020
Julien v. United Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 2020 Fla. App. LEXIS 13520, Case No. 4D19-2763 (Fla. 4th DCA Sept. 23, 2020).
In Julien, the Fourth District Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a bad faith action on the ground that the insured’s Civil Remedy Notice was overbroad and did satisfy the requirements at Florida Statutes §624.155(3)(b) that a CRN “shall state with specificity” the “specific language of the statute” allegedly violated and the “specific policy language” relevant to the alleged violation.
Specifically, the CRN at issue in Julian cited 14 statutory provisions as well as 21 sections of the Florida Administrative Code, and in attempting to identify the policy provisions at issue had listed the entire policy and each of its sections. The Fourth District observed that this method of “list[ing] every statutory provision and every policy provision available to him as the insured … failed to satisfy the requirement that the insured identify the specific statute and specific policy provision relevant to [the insurer’s] alleged violation.”
In holding the CRN ineffective, the Fourth District cited with approval two federal cases in which bad faith complaints were dismissed due to insufficiently specific CRNs. First, the Fourth District discussed in Fox v. Starr Indem. & Liab. Co., No. 8:16-CV-3254-T-23MAP, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 65123, (M.D. Fla. Apr. 28, 2017), wherein the Middle District of Florida observed that “the Legislature included ‘specific’ or a variant not once but twice in the statute,” and held therefore that an insured’s “casual ‘reference’ to the entire insurance policy” and/or “listing of whole sections of the insurance policy” lacked the specificity required by Florida law. Second, the Fourth District discussed Pin-Pon Corp. v. Landmark Am. Ins. Co., No. 20-CV-14013-MIDDLEBROOKS, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 100072, (S.D. Fla. June 5, 2020), in which the Southern District of Florida similarly dismissed a bad faith complaint on the ground that the insured’s three CRNs were all deficient for failure to satisfy statutory requirements of specificity: the first because it had listed an insured other than the plaintiff; the second because it listed the same e-mail address for both complainant and attorney; and the third because it listed the wrong address for the complainant and also omitted the insurer’s address.
In Julien, the Fourth District also rejected the insured’s argument that the CRN could not be deficient because it had not been returned by the Department of Financial Services. The Court reasoned that the applicable law uses the word “may,” and thus accords the Department discretion—but not an obligation—to return deficient CRNs.
Bay v. United Services Automobile Association, 2020 Fla. App. LEXIS 14946 *, Case No. 4D19-3332 (Fla. 4th DCA, October 21, 2020) (decision not final until a timely motion for rehearing, if made, is disposed of)
In Bay, the insured had a policy with “United Services Automobile Association,” but mistakenly listed in her CRN a related but different entity, “USAA Casualty Insurance Company.” The lower court dismissed with prejudice her subsequent bad faith complaint on the ground that because she improperly identified the insurer in her CRN, it was ineffective as a matter of law.
On appeal, the Fourth District agreed that the misidentification of the insurer constituted failure to strictly comply with Florida Statute §624.155 and thus failure of the condition precedent of notice for a bad faith action.
However, the Forth District reversed the dismissal on the ground that the insurer waived the misidentification argument because it had responded the CRN and contested the merits of its allegations, but failed to specifically raise the argument that the CRN was invalid because it listed the wrong insurer. The Fourth District found that waiver was not avoided by the fact that the insurer had referred to the actions of “USAA” several times in its response to the CRN, nor by the fact that the response was submitted by a user whose email ended in “usaa.com.” In reversing for waiver, the Court reiterated its statement in Evergreen Lakes HOA, Inc. v. Lloyd’s Underwriters at London, 230 So. 3d 1 (Fla. 4th DCA 2017) that “an insurer can waive compliance with the statutory notice requirements of a bad faith action if not raised.”
Notably, during oral argument on Bay the insurer asserted that even if the Court found waiver, the lower court’s dismissal must be affirmed under the tipsy coachman doctrine because the Court’s decision in Julian, issued only days before oral argument in Bay, was on-point as to the arguments that the CRN failed to meet the statutory specificity requirements. However, the Fourth District apparently declined to take this course. Instead, it reversed and remanded the case to the lower court for further proceedings to rule on previously undecided arguments as to the sufficiency of the CRN’s specificity. The Fourth District’s written opinion did not address Julian or the tipsy coachman doctrine, but obliquely responded to the insurer’s arguments on this point by citing a Fifth District decision which declined to address arguments, raised for the first time on appeal, that a CRN was alternatively invalid on the merits for noncompliance with the bad faith statute.
The recent decisions Julian and Bay bolster the principle that an insured must strictly comply with the statutory requirements for CRNs in order to maintain a bad faith action. In this respect, these decisions are favorable to insurers. Additionally, decisions provide important guidance to both insurers and insureds navigating the CRN process.
To insureds, the sound decision in Julian admonishes, first that a “kitchen sink” approach to identifying alleged violations does not satisfy the statutory requirement that a CRN “shall state with specificity” the “specific language of the statute” allegedly violated and the “specific policy language” relevant to the alleged violation; and second, that just because the Department of Financial Services did not return your CRN does not necessarily mean that it is valid or effective, as returning a deficient CRN is something the Department may but not must do. The latter point will be of less importance going forward, because following the amendment at Ch. 19-108 §6, Laws of Fla., effective July 1, 2019, the Department is no longer permitted to return a CRN for lack of specificity.
To insurers, Bay offers a clear warning: in responding to a CRN, the insurer must be wary of waiver and must therefore be sure to specifically raise any and all deficiencies in the CRN, not only as to the substantive merits of the allegations, but also as to any errors as to whom the notice was directed or other matters of form which may deviate from the strict statutory requirements.
Atkinson, P.A. remains committed to providing you with sound guidance, representation, and defense with respect to Civil Remedy Notices, bad faith actions, and other complex legal issues. To this end that end will continue to monitor and provide you with updates on noteworthy cases.
Our office continues to remain open and all of our attorneys remain fully available to assist you. As needs arise, continue to contact us via telephone or e-mail. Should you need immediate assistance, please feel free to contact our partners directly.
Very truly yours,
JOHN BOND ATKINSON