United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division
ROBERT NEWMAN, individually, as Personal Representative on behalf of THE ESTATE OF JACKIE ANN NEWMAN, and on behalf of STEPHANIE NEWMAN and MANDY NEWMAN, Plaintiffs,
FARMERS ALLIANCE MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISQUALIFY
ATTORNEY JOSEPH P. COOK AS TRIAL COUNSEL
TIMOTHY J. CAVAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
Robert Newman, individually, as Personal Representative on
behalf of the Estate of Jackie Ann Newman, and on behalf of
Stephanie Newman and Mandy Newman (“Plaintiffs”
or the “Newman family”) brings this action
against Defendant Farmers Alliance Mutual Insurance Company
(“Farmers Alliance”) for bad faith breach of
contract and unfair trade practices arising out of Farmers
Alliance's investigation and denial of the Newman
family's claims following the death of Jackie Ann Newman.
before the Court is Farmers Alliance's Motion to
Disqualify Plaintiff's Attorney Joseph P. Cook as Trial
Counsel. (Doc. 10.) The motion is fully briefed and ripe for
the Court's review. (Docs. 11, 18, 19.)
considered the parties' submissions, the Court
DENIES Farmers Alliance's Motion to
October 15, 2015, a fatal collision occurred between a pickup
truck and trailer driven by James C. Crowley and an ATV
operated by Jackie Ann Newman on U.S. Highway 12 in
Musselshell County, Montana. (Doc. 1-3 at ¶ 4.) Mrs.
Newman was killed in the accident. (Id. at ¶
13.) The pickup truck was owned by the Newmans and insured
under a Farmers Alliance policy. (Id. at ¶ 2.)
Robert and Jackie Newman were named insureds under the
November 2, 2015, Mr. Newman made a claim for insurance
benefits. (Id. at ¶ 20.) On December 16, 2015,
Farmers Alliance denied Mr. Newman's first-party claim
for medical payment benefits, and the Newman family's
third-party claims against Mr. Crowley. (Id. at
February 1, 2016, Mr. Newman filed a Consumer Complaint with
the Montana Commissioner of Securities and Insurance.
(Id. at ¶ 30; Doc. 18-3.) In his complaint, Mr.
Newman indicated he was not represented by an attorney. (Doc.
18-3 at 1.) Farmers Alliance responded to the Insurance
Commissioner by letter on February 11, 2016, again denying
coverage. (Doc. 18-4.) On February 18, 2016, the Insurance
Commissioner's office relayed Farmers Alliance's
response to Mr. Newman. (Doc. 18-5.)
Mr. Newman's liability claims had been formally denied
twice by Farmers Alliance, he consulted with and retained
attorney Joseph P. Cook on March 2, 2016. (Doc. 18-2.) Mr.
Newman had not consulted with Mr. Cook prior to either the
December 16, 2015 or the February 18, 2016 denials.
March 7, 2016, Mr. Cook wrote a letter to Farmers Alliance
notifying the insurer of his representation of Plaintiffs.
(Doc. 11-1.) Mr. Cook wrote a subsequent policy limits demand
letter to Christopher C. Voigt on May 10, 2016. (Doc. 11-2.)
In the letters, Mr. Cook made several statements
characterizing the events surrounding the accident as
supporting liability against Mr. Crowley. (Id.)
Alliance now moves the Court to disqualify Mr. Cook as trial
counsel under Montana Rule of Professional Conduct 3.7.
Farmers Alliance contends the statements Mr. Cook made in his
letters are not supported by the evidence in the record, and
therefore, he has inserted himself as a necessary witness in
respond that this case solely concerns the actions and
inactions of Farmers Alliance prior to denying the Newman
family's claims in December 2015 and February 2016.
Plaintiffs argue Mr. Cook did not become involved in the case
until after the alleged bad faith conduct had occurred, and
note that he was not a witness to any of the contested issues
in the underlying case. Plaintiffs also assert Mr. Cook's
descriptions of the events in his letters are advocacy based
upon interpretation of the reported facts.