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Defendant Redland Insurance Company is a private insurer that administers federally subsidized flood insurance pursuant to the National Flood Insurance Act, 42 U redlands insurance company claims.S.C. § 4001-4041, 4071-4129.
In February of 1997, Ron and Cheryl Mancini bought a 70-acre farm near Dry Lake in Minnesota. Because the winter's heavy snowfall had left large drifts on the property, the Mancinis went to a local agent on March 11, 1997, and purchased a Standard Flood Insurance Policy (SFIP) from Redland. 1 This was a federally subsidized policy issued pursuant to the National Flood Insurance Act. Its coverage was limited to $75,000 for the Mancinis' mobile home and $18,000 for their personal property inside the home. After a 30-day waiting period, of which the Mancinis were informed at the time of purchase, the policy became effective on April 10, 1997.
A county worker activated an overflow pump near the home on April 3, which caused water to flow toward the home. As of April 4, about six inches of water covered part of the county road that runs past the home. The County closed the road the same day. At that time, the water had not yet reached the home, and freezing temperatures prevented it from doing so until after the effective date of the policy.
Redland hired an adjusting company called RGA, Inc. The RGA adjuster who visited the property on April 23 reported to Redland that he predicted a total loss. He first estimated the damage at $30,000, but later revised that estimate to $60,000. RGA gave the Mancinis slightly different numbers: they were initially told that the value of their loss would be $31,000, but another RGA adjuster, Ray Graf, later raised that valuation to $56,000.
The SFIP provides that: Where the insured building has been inundated by rising lake waters continuously for 90 days or more and it appears reasonably certain that a continuation of this flooding will result in damage, reimbursable under this policy, to the insured building equal to or greater than the building policy limits plus the deductible(s) or the maximum payable under the policy for any one building loss, we will pay you the lesser of these two amounts without waiting for the further damage to occur if you sign a release agreeing: 1. To make no further claim under this policy; 2. Not to seek renewal of this policy; and 3. Not to apply for any flood insurance under the Act for property at the property location of the insured building. Trial Exhibit Appendix, Ex.As of July 13, the insured building had been inundated with water for 90 days. The SFIP requires that an insured comply with certain claim-handling procedures in order to recover under the policy. Among the requirements in the Mancinis' policy is that, within 60 days after the loss, the insured must submit a “proof of loss,” defined as “your statement as to the amount you are claiming under the policy signed and sworn to by you ․” Trial Exhibit Appendix, Ex. 1 at 17.
The report was signed by the adjuster and had blank spaces for the Mancinis' signatures. Each of these spaces was marked with a handwritten X. The proof-of-loss form, which the adjuster did not sign, bore handwritten Xs on the two signature lines reading “Insured.” A letter accompanying the forms stated as follows: Enclosed are your spread sheets that reflect your covered damages to your dwelling and contents, with the Proof of loss and Final report forms.1. Proof of Loss-Must be notarized! 2. Final Report-Must be Witnessed! Once we receive these forms, we will attach to your file and forward to the process center for final determination and payment consideration. Trial Exhibit Appendix, Ex.
The District Court found that the Mancinis believed that, by submitting the forms to Redland accompanied by a transmittal letter bearing their printed names, they had signed and sworn to the proof of loss. The policy, which they had read, states that to make a false statement in submitting a claim may be a violation of federal law. On August 28, Redland asked a National Flood Insurance Program adjuster to inspect the Mancinis' property. The adjuster did so on September 3. By a letter to the Mancinis' attorney, dated November 11, 1997, Redland denied the Mancinis' claim on the ground that the loss was already in progress on the effective date of the policy. Redland contended that the date of loss was not April 13 but April 4, when the County closed the road near the home. The letter denying the claim specifically reserved all of Redland's rights and remedies under the policy or applicable law, and disclaimed any intent to waive any right or any provision or condition of the policy. On February 17, 1998, the Mancinis' attorney wrote to Redland asking whether the claim had been denied. The letter specifically asked whether Redland contended that the Mancinis had failed to submit a proper proof of loss. Redland's reply, dated March 9, stated that Redland had denied the claim as a loss in progress. It made no mention whatsoever of the proof-of-loss issue.
F.R. § 61.13 (1997).
Federal Crop Ins. Corp. v. Merrill, 332 U.S.Ct. 1, 92 L.Ed. 10 (1947).
927, 121 S.Ct. 305, 148 L.Ed.2d 245 (2000); Gowland v.
3d 951, 955 (5th Cir.1998). Additionally, the SFIP states that an insured must comply with all policy requirements or lose the right to sue under the policy. Because a plaintiff's judgment in such a suit would be paid out of the federal treasury, those requirements function as “conditions precedent to a waiver by the federal government of its sovereign immunity.” Wagner v. Director, FEMA, 847 F.2d 515, 518 (9th Cir.1988). That circumstance is an independent reason why we must strictly construe the proof-of-loss requirement.
It does deny, however, that the submitted documents conformed to the requirement of a “statement ․ signed and sworn” by the insured. The policy does not state that the proof of loss must be verified before a notary. Nor does it state that the proof must be submitted on any particular form. In fact, it warns insured parties that they are obligated to submit a proof of loss even if the adjuster does not provide them with a form. It does, however, define a proof of loss as a statement of the insured, not of some third party, and it does require that the insured sign and swear to that statement. 2 Given the special nature of this policy, the Mancinis must show actual and complete compliance with this requirement: it is not sufficient to show that they substantially complied or that the insurer suffered no prejudice. Compare Merrill, 332 U.
at 385, 68 S.Ct. 1 (stating that “the duty of all courts to observe the conditions defined by Congress for charging the public treasury” imposes on citizens a corresponding duty to “ ‘turn square corners when they deal with the Government’ ”), with Gowland, 143 F.3d 951, 954 (substantial compliance with proof-of-loss requirement is not enough), and Flick, 205 F.The District Court held that the Mancinis had submitted a valid proof of loss by (1) “signing” the transmittal sheet that accompanied the forms, and (2) sending the forms to Redland in the belief that to submit false information as part of their claim would subject them to penalties under federal law. We disagree with this conclusion. There is no evidence that the Mancinis regularly printed their signatures, and the contract for deed to their mobile home is signed in cursive. But even if we accepted that the printed names “Ron & Cheryl Mancini” constitute a signature, that signature does not appear on a statement by the Mancinis as to the amount they claimed under the policy. The handwritten note states only that the accompanying fax contains “the information ․ from Ray Graf. Graf's figures were correct, or that they wished to use them as a basis for their claim; in fact, Mr. Mancini testified that his reason for not signing the form was that “$56,000 was not agreeable.” Dep. of Ron Mancini at 37. We agree with the District Court that the Mancinis “did not indicate that they were specifically rejecting or nullifying the figures listed ․” But the Mancinis were required to do more than merely submit a set of figures together with a signed statement not rejecting or nullifying those figures.
They simply did not do so. Nor are we persuaded that the proof of loss was sworn. A false statement, to be sure, would have been punishable as a crime under 18 U.S.C.
The Mancinis next argue that, even if their proof of loss did not satisfy the policy requirements, Redland is equitably estopped to raise a proof-of-loss objection because they reasonably relied to their detriment on conduct by Redland that suggested their form had been accepted. The note that accompanied the form asked that Redland call them immediately, which Redland did not do. Instead, it requested a visit to the site of the loss by a government adjuster, who spoke with the Mancinis at length about the loss-in-progress issue but does not appear to have mentioned the proof of loss. This visit occurred in early September, during the 60-day period in which the Mancinis could still have signed and sworn to the form. After that period had expired, the Mancinis' lawyer wrote to the company and expressly inquired whether it was the company's position that the Mancinis' proof of loss was defective.
The Mancinis, in effect, are asking that we apply the doctrine of equitable estoppel to prevent the enforcement of a federal regulation. We are powerless to do so on the facts presented here. The Supreme Court has long and consistently held that “the Government may not be estopped on the same terms as any other litigant.” Heckler v.
of Crawford County, Inc., 467 U.S. 51, 60, 104 S.Ct.
Ct. 1468, 67 L.Ed.2d 685 (1981), might justify estoppel against the government in some circumstances, we see no such misconduct here.
Office of Personnel Mgmt. v. Richmond, 496 U.S. 414, 426, 110 S.
2465, 110 L.Ed.2d 387 (1990). Because we have concluded that the proof-of-loss requirement in the SFIP defines such a limit, the Mancinis' estoppel argument necessarily fails.
FOOTNOTES 1 . Although private companies like Redland that issue SFIPs are referred to as “Write-Your-Own” companies, see, e.g., 44 C.F.R. § 61.See 44 C.F.R. § 61.
For the policy at issue here, see 44 C.F.R. Pt.
A(1) (1997). 2 . The Mancinis do not assert that Redland waived the proof-of-loss requirement, as the terms of the policy arguably authorized it to do. Even if Redland had done so, however, the Mancinis would still have had to sign the adjuster's report in order to comply with the policy provisions.
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