PAUL G. ULRICH, Judge Pro Tem.
The question presented in this appeal is whether the trial court properly granted appellee insurer's motion for partial summary judgment on three counts of appellants' complaint alleging bad faith in denying a claim pursuant to an automobile insurance policy and violations of A.R.S. § 44-1481 (prohibiting fraudulent advertising practices) and § 20-441 et seq. (proscribing unfair insurance practices).
Viewing the evidence and all inferences reasonably drawn therefrom most favorably to appellants, Schroeder v. Hudgins, 142 Ariz. 395, 690 P.2d 114 (App. 1984), the facts essential to resolution of the appeal are as follows. Appellants Sterling and Martha Ward purchased an "Economy Plus Automobile Policy" from appellee Fireman's Fund Insurance Company through the Mirick-Patterson Insurance Agency in December, 1977. The comprehensive coverage portion of the issued policy clearly and unambiguously provided coverage for loss caused other than by collision for an insured driving a non-owned vehicle.
On March 9, 1981, Mrs. Ward contacted an agent at Ag-Com Insurance Agency, successor in interest to Mirick-Patterson. She was informed her policy did not cover the loss to her sister's vehicle. According to Mrs. Ward's deposition testimony, the agent stated: "Well, we are not going to pay for your sister's car ... your policy isn't right." On March 11, 1981, Sterling Ward filed a claim with the Fireman's Fund
The record indicates Fireman's Fund denied the claim because the "Economy Plus" automobile policy had been discontinued in 1978 and replaced with a "Personal Automobile Policy" that did not extend coverage to non-owned vehicles unless the insured was legally responsible for the loss.
Appellants filed suit against Fireman's Fund on various theories of tort, contract and statutory liability.
COUNT ONE: BAD FAITH
In order to establish a prima facie case of bad faith an insured must present some evidence of (1) the absence of a reasonable basis for the insurer's denial of policy benefits, and (2) the insurer's knowledge or reckless disregard of the lack of a reasonable basis for denying the claim. Noble v. Nat'l American Life Ins. Co., 128 Ariz. 188, 190, 624 P.2d 866, 868 (1981); see also, Anderson v. Continental Ins. Co., 85 Wis.2d 675, 691, 271 N.W.2d 368, 376-77 (1978). More recently, our supreme court has indicated the primary focus of a bad faith inquiry is the reasonableness of the insurer's actions rather than its state of mind:
Sparks v. Republic Nat'l Life Ins. Co., 132 Ariz. 529, 538, 647 P.2d 1127, 1136 (1982). Determination of whether an insurer has
Anderson v. Continental Ins. Co., supra, 85 Wis.2d 675, 692, 271 N.W.2d 368, 377. Cf., Brown v. Superior Court, 137 Ariz. 327, 336, 670 P.2d 725, 734 (1983) (stating bad faith actions "can only be proved by showing exactly how the company processed the claim, how thoroughly it was considered and why the company took the action it did ... the need for the information in the [claims] file is not only substantial, but overwhelming"). An insurer that has fulfilled its duty of reasonable care, as by conducting an adequate investigation, has the right to challenge and deny claims which are "fairly debatable" without subjecting itself to bad faith liability if its decision is ultimately held erroneous. Noble; Anderson.
Turning to the facts of the instant case, appellants produced a copy of the original policy which clearly provided coverage for the loss as well as deposition testimony by Mrs. Ward stating appellants had not received notice of any subsequent alteration in coverage. Appellee has not contested either point. Standing alone, this evidence establishes a basis for the argument Fireman's Fund was estopped to deny coverage under the original policy based on the language of a subsequently issued policy never received by appellants. See General Ins. Co. v. Truly Nolen of America, Inc., 136 Ariz. 142, 664 P.2d 686 (App. 1983) (holding an insured may assert estoppel against an insurer to extend coverage beyond the terms of a written insurance contract where the insured does not receive a copy of the insurance policy prior to the time the loss occurs).
Despite the evidence presented by appellants, appellee contends the claim was fairly debatable as a matter of law because the "Personal Automobile Policy" in effect at the time of the accident clearly and unambiguously excluded coverage for the loss. Appellee argues it was entitled to deny the claim on this basis and to obtain summary judgment against a "bad faith" claim based on appellants' "self-serving assertion" they had not received a copy of the new policy. The trial court agreed with appellee's position, holding appellee was entitled to summary judgment on the bad faith claim because appellees had "reason to believe" appellants had received the new policy excluding coverage prior to the loss. We disagree.
It is impossible to assess the reasonability of an insurer's decision unless there is evidence tending to show the reasonability of the insurer's actions under the circumstances, such as evidence regarding the nature of the investigation undertaken prior to denial of the insured's claim. See Farr v. Transamerica Occidental Life Ins. Co., 145 Ariz. 1, 699 P.2d 376 (App. 1984). Absent evidence of compliance with the requisite standard of care, it cannot be said an insurer is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law based solely on its subjective belief and assertion the insured's claim is "fairly debatable." See generally, Rawlings v. Apodaca, 151 Ariz. 149, 726 P.2d 565 (1986).
The record on appeal in this case is wholly devoid of any evidence tending to show appellee's denial of appellants' claim was reasonable under the circumstances. For example, the record contains nothing establishing that prior to its denial of appellants' claim Fireman's Fund attempted to determine whether the "policyholder message" or a copy of the policy itself had in fact been mailed to appellants by it or its agents. The record also contains no evidence regarding the reliability of the procedure used to mail notice to other insureds similarly situated to appellants, or even of the existence of such a procedure. Absent evidence in the record confirming appellee exercised due care in investigating appellants' claim or evidence of the reliability of
COUNT VII: FRAUDULENT ADVERTISING PRACTICES ACT
We turn next to whether the trial court properly granted summary judgment in favor of appellees on Count VII of appellants' complaint alleging a violation of Article 5, Fraudulent Advertising Practices Act, A.R.S. § 44-1481. That article provides in its entirety:
The article itself does not contain any provision that can reasonably be construed as authorizing a private cause of action. Recent Arizona Supreme Court decisions interpreting other consumer protection statutes have discussed the existence of such statutory language before holding the legislature intended the enactments to serve as the basis for civil remedies.
For example, in holding the Consumer Fraud Act, A.R.S. § 44-1521 et seq., creates a private cause of action for deceptive practices, our supreme court discussed the language of A.R.S. § 44-1533:
Sellinger v. Freeway Mobile Home Sales, Inc., 110 Ariz. 573, 576, 521 P.2d 1119, 1122 (1974). More recently, the court discussed a similar statutory provision in holding the Arizona Insurance Code may be privately enforced:
Sellinger also found reinforcement for its holding that the Consumer Fraud Act creates a private cause of action in a number of United States Supreme Court decisions that did not appear to be dependent upon the existence of authorizing statutory language but rather reflected a purely judicial determination that providing a private cause of action is appropriate if it furthered the relevant statute's legislative goals.
Later United States Supreme Court decisions in a variety of other contexts have also focused on Congressional intent as the "central inquiry." See, e.g., Daily Income Fund, Inc. v. Fox, 464 U.S. 523, 104 S.Ct. 831, 838-42, 78 L.Ed.2d 645 (1984); California v. Sierra Club, 451 U.S. 287, 292, 101 S.Ct. 1775, 1778, 68 L.Ed.2d 101 (1981); Transamerica Mortgage Advisors, Inc. v. Lewis, 444 U.S. 11, 100 S.Ct. 242, 62 L.Ed.2d 146 (1979); Touche Ross & Co. v. Redington, 442 U.S. 560, 99 S.Ct. 2479, 61 L.Ed.2d 82 (1979).
Given these more recent decisions, we must conclude that the "reinforcement" Sellinger found in the earlier decisions of the United States Supreme Court no longer exists. To the contrary, assuming the Arizona Supreme Court would continue to look for guidance to United States Supreme Court decisions in this field, we believe the conclusion is now required that no private cause of action should be inferred based on a criminal statute where there is no indication whatsoever that the legislature intended to protect any special group by creating a private cause of action by a member of that group. As stated in Touche Ross & Co., supra, the question is not "whether this Court thinks that it can improve upon the statutory scheme that Congress enacted into law." 442 U.S. at 578, 99 S.Ct. at 2490. Instead, without any supporting indication of legislative intent, we must conclude no private right of action was intended. Under these circumstances, we conclude the trial court properly granted summary judgment on Count VII of appellants' complaint.
Count IX of appellants' complaint is based on Fireman's Fund alleged violation of A.R.S. § 20-443, prohibiting misrepresentation with respect to the sale of insurance coverage. That section provides in relevant part:
Appellants' argument under the Insurance Code is also based on the allegedly misleading "Economy Plus" language contained in the policy declaration sheets. "Misrepresent" is nowhere defined in the Insurance Code provisions here involved. However, we believe it appropriate in interpreting this language to refer to the construction given this term under the Consumer Fraud Act, as both acts are intended to prevent deception of the public. See, e.g., A.R.S. § 20-442 ("No person shall engage in this state in any trade practice which is ... an unfair or deceptive act or practice in the business of insurance").
In determining whether a representation is misleading or deceptive pursuant to the Consumer Fraud Act, this court has recently stated:
Summary judgment is improper if there is a permissible inference that appellee's practices or correspondence "had the capacity to mislead an ordinary person." Id. Assuming for summary judgment purposes appellants received only the policy declaration sheets and not the accompanying "policyholder message" or a copy of the new policy itself, we cannot say as a matter of law the statements contained in the first line of the policy declaration sheet might not lead ordinary persons to believe their former policy had continued in effect.
Since appellants have succeeded in obtaining reversal of summary judgment with respect to a majority of issues in an appeal involving a bad-faith claim, they are the prevailing parties and would thus be entitled to consideration for an award of attorneys' fees on appeal. Sparks v. Republic National Life Ins. Co., 132 Ariz. 529, 647 P.2d 1127 (1982); Wagenseller v. Scottsdale Memorial Hospital, 147 Ariz. 370, 389, 710 P.2d 1025, 1044 (1985) (supplemental opinion). However, since appellants have not requested an award of attorneys' fees on appeal as required by ARCAP 21(c)(1), we are unable to authorize application for such an award as a part of our decision.
The trial court's order granting summary judgment on Counts I and IX is reversed and remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion; the summary judgment on Count VII is affirmed.
CONTRERAS, P.J., and GRANT, J., concur.
NOTE: Paul G. Ulrich was authorized to participate in this case by the Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court pursuant to Ariz. Const. Art. VI, § 3 and A.R.S. §§ 12-145-47.