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Jackson v. Allstate Ins. Co.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

May 7, 2015

Patricia Jackson, Plaintiff - Appellant
v.
Allstate Insurance Company Defendant - Appellee

Submitted January 14, 2015.

Page 1194

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1195

Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas - Little Rock.

For Patricia Jackson, Plaintiff - Appellant: David A. Hodges Sr., Pamela Brooke Jackson, Law Offices of David Hodges, Little Rock, AR.

For Allstate Insurance Company, Defendant - Appellee: Jacquelyn B. Harrison, John E. Moore, Ashleigh D. Phillips, Munson & Rowlett, Little Rock, AR.

Before RILEY, Chief Judge, BEAM and COLLOTON, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

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BEAM, Circuit Judge.

After a fire of incendiary origin destroyed her house, Patricia Jackson sued Allstate Insurance Company for denying her claim on a homeowner's insurance policy. Allstate asserted that Jackson's coverage was void because she burned the house or caused it to be burned and because she made material misrepresentations regarding how the fire was started. The district court[1] granted Allstate's motion for partial summary judgment and denied Jackson's motion for summary judgment. The parties then proceeded to trial on Jackson's breach of contract claim, and the jury found in favor of Allstate. On appeal, Jackson asserts that the jury's verdict was not supported by sufficient evidence. Jackson also appeals the district court's dismissal of her remaining claims, its imposition of a one-day time limit for

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Jackson to present her case, numerous evidentiary and discovery rulings, and the court's denial of Jackson's request for a statutory penalty and attorney's fees related to Allstate's untimely attempt to pay her mortgage. We affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

Sometime between 6:00 a.m. and 6:40 a.m. on the morning of February 22, 2012, a fire severely damaged Jackson's house. Jackson testified that she spent the night of February 21 at her mother's house in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and the trial record indicates that Jackson was at work during the time period in which the fire began. The Little Rock Fire Department was called to Jackson's residence and successfully put out the fire. Ryan Baker, an investigator for the Little Rock Fire Department's Fire Marshal's Division, was tasked with determining the cause of the fire. Baker ultimately classified the fire as an incendiary fire, meaning that it was started by human intervention. Baker reached this conclusion after he detected accelerants (i.e., gasoline) in multiple locations in the house and discovered that the fire's points of origin were inconsistent with any accidental causes. At trial, the parties agreed that the fire was a product of arson, and the district court instructed the jury to this effect.

Baker testified that he initially believed that Jackson might have been the victim of a hate crime, primarily because he discovered racially derogative graffiti in her garage and basement. However, Baker testified that as his investigation unfolded, Jackson's status quickly changed from that of victim to that of suspect. Baker testified that there were no signs of forced entry into Jackson's house, which indicated that whoever started the fire had a key. Baker also testified that Jackson's house was largely devoid of personal items, food, or furniture. Baker interviewed Jackson, and he claims she told him that she was the only person with access to the house, that she did not believe anyone had any motive to harm her, and that she was not missing any items of property. Baker also testified that Jackson told him that she was at work when the fire started. Baker therefore wrote a search warrant for her cell phone records to verify her whereabouts. These records indicated that, although Jackson was probably at work when the fire started, Alexander Henson, who is Jackson's coworker, attempted to call Jackson three times between 5:49 a.m. and 6:12 a.m. on the morning of the fire. Baker subsequently interviewed Henson, who denied that he tried to call Jackson. Jackson also told Baker that she never received any phone calls from Henson. However, Baker testified that the cell phone records clearly established that Henson's phone called Jackson's phone, and he therefore concluded that Henson and Jackson were lying about their contact on the morning of the fire. Baker ultimately concluded that, based upon the incendiary origin of the fire, the lack of evidence of forced entry or burglary, the dearth of items in the house, and Jackson's and Henson's alleged dishonesty regarding their contact, that Henson may have burned Jackson's home at her request. However, no criminal charges were filed against Henson or Jackson.

Wilbur Jordan, a member of Allstate's special investigative unit, testified that he conducted an independent investigation of the events surrounding the fire and concluded that Henson had burned Jackson's home. Allstate's investigators also discovered that Jackson was subject to a 2006 divorce decree that ordered her to sell her house, that she tried to sell the house for several years, and that she took the house off the market after her efforts to sell were unsuccessful. Allstate thus denied

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Jackson's insurance claim based on two provisions in her policy, one of which excluded coverage for losses caused by " intentional or criminal acts of or at the direction of any insured person," (Intentional Acts Exclusion) and one that excluded coverage for any loss " in which any insured person has concealed or misrepresented any material fact" (Material Misrepresentations Exclusion). Following the denial, Jackson filed suit against Allstate, asserting, inter alia, claims for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, bad faith, and promissory and equitable estoppel. Allstate countered that Jackson's policy was void based on the Intentional Acts and Material Misrepresentations exclusions.

Shortly after Jackson filed suit, Allstate submitted a privilege log that sought to protect from disclosure numerous documents related to Jackson's policy claim that contained attorney-client communications and work product. Jackson filed a motion to compel production of these documents, and Allstate resisted the motion. Jackson requested that the district court review the documents in camera, and Allstate did not object to this request. After performing an in camera review, the district court held the documents were not discoverable and denied Jackson's motion.

After the parties completed substantial discovery, Allstate filed a motion for partial summary judgment with respect to all of Jackson's claims except for the breach of contract claim. Jackson resisted this motion and filed a motion for summary judgment on Allstate's affirmative defenses. The district court denied Jackson's motion for summary judgment after concluding there were material questions of fact regarding whether she was involved in burning her house and whether she made material misrepresentations. However, the district court granted Allstate's motion for partial summary judgment on the grounds that Jackson's unjust enrichment and estoppel claims were precluded under Arkansas law and that Jackson had failed to produce sufficient evidence that Allstate denied her claim in bad faith.

Before trial, the parties filed numerous motions in limine. Jackson moved to exclude all evidence related to Henson's cell phone records; the district court denied this motion. Jackson moved to exclude as inherently unreliable any evidence that involved the use of historical cell phone data to place individuals at certain locations. Jackson also attempted to exclude Allstate's expert, Kevin Levy, who was slated to testify on the subject of cell phone records, based on an untimely disclosed expert report. The district court denied both motions. Allstate moved to exclude one of Jackson's experts, David Van Puffelen, who was scheduled to testify that Allstate's investigation of the fire was inadequate because Allstate failed to establish that Jackson had a motive to cause the fire and because Allstate's investigator did not sufficiently rule out other possible suspects. The district court did not immediately rule on Allstate's motion but did indicate that it was " highly dubious" of the admissibility of Van Puffelen's testimony. Jackson filed a motion for reconsideration, which the district court denied. After Jackson again raised the issue at a pretrial conference, the district court ruled that Van Puffelen's testimony was inadmissible.

Approximately one month before trial was scheduled to begin, Jackson submitted a pretrial disclosure sheet which stated that Jackson planned to call approximately fifty witnesses and needed around thirty hours to examine them. The night before trial, the district court informed the parties that, because the case had ...


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