Madison - St. Clair Record

Thursday, September 19, 2019

State Farm seeks to dismiss conspiracy suit, denies that its investigation wasn't thorough

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Aug 23, 2017

State Farm seeks to dismiss a woman’s suit alleging she was wrongfully accused of vandalizing a rental home in an effort to pay for dangerous code violations the landlords allegedly refused to repair.

Megan Sallee filed her lawsuit on Feb. 3 against State Farm Insurance, Walter Volentine, Becky Volentine and David Volentine. She filed an amended complaint on Aug. 2 against the same defendants.

According to the complaint, Sallee alleges she was a tenant at 8160 State Route 140 in Edwardsville with her husband Jim Sallee and two children. They began renting the premises on Dec. 18, 2012. The Volentines were their landlords.

Sallee’s husband died at the residence on Sept. 16, 2015.

Sallee alleges she and her husband were both disabled and the Volentines knew of their disablement.

On Sept. 24, 2015, eight days after Jim Sallee’s death and the day before his funeral, the Volentines placed a demand for rent on the door.

She claims she had paid $1,000 in rent on Sept. 7, 2015, pursuant to the rental agreement, which wasn’t due until Sept. 19. She claims her rent was paid until Oct. 19, 2015.

Sallee alleges her father and her children went to the house to get clothing for the funeral. She claims she misplaced her key but had left the door unlocked. However, when Sallee’s daughter attempted to enter the house, it was locked and a notice had been placed on the door demanding rent for $1,902 within five days or she would be evicted.

Around noon on Sept. 24, deputies for the Madison County Sheriff’s Department were allegedly called to the home for a purported safety check on the Sallees by the defendants and found “nothing suspicious noted” upon inspection.

On Sept. 26, Sallee’s mother received a phone call from David Volentine, who wanted to know when the plaintiff would pay her rent, the suit states.

David Volentine allegedly “reiterated that his father needed the income from the rental house and they wanted to rent it again by the end of October.”

He said he would give the plaintiff two weeks to be moved out, the complaint alleges.

Sallee also alleges the defendants refused to call a plumber and an electrician to make “essential” repairs in the rental house.

“The Defendants failed to repair the deteriorated and unsanitary conditions and make the home habitable,” the complaint states. “The Defendants should have reasonably known that the home was not in a habitable condition at the time it was rented to the Sallees and subsequently should have addressed the issues of the Plaintiff.”

On Oct. 22, 2015, Don Hawley of Hawley Home Inspections allegedly found multiple health and safety violations on the premises, which put the plaintiff’s family in danger of gas explosions, fire and electrocution, among others. He allegedly found no evidence of vandalism in the house.

The Madison County Planning and Development declared the home uninhabitable in November 2015.

Sallee turned over possession of the house on Nov. 13, 2015.

The Volentines reported the claim to State Farm on Dec. 8, 2015, alleging “extensive” vandalism and malicious mischief by Sallee.

They allegedly reported the date of loss as Sept. 15, one day before James Sallee’s death.

“Sallee was ill on September 15 and unable to get out of bed. The date of September 15 is otherwise unremarkable,” the suit states.

The plaintiff alleges the State Farm policy lapsed on Sept. 30, 2015.

An insurance adjuster took photos of the property on Dec. 11, 2015, which allegedly shows gutted walls and debris where the kitchen sink and cupboards were removed.

On Jan. 6, 2016, State Farm sent $9,929.23 to Walter Volentine.

Sallee claims numerous people were in the home between the alleged date of loss in September and when the photos were taken by a State Farm agent, including the police during the welfare check.

Beginning Jan. 14, 2016, State Farm sent letters to Sallee alleging she vandalized the home and demanded $10,929.23 to pay for the damage.

Sallee alleges State Farm failed to conduct a thorough investigation and should have known she did not commit the damage.

She seeks a judgment of more than $300,000.

State Farm Fire & Casualty Company filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on March 13 through attorneys Patrick Cloud and Alisha Biesinger of Heyl Royster Voelker & Allen in Edwardsville. It states that it was incorrectly named in the suit.

State Farm argues that the plaintiff’s complaint lacks facts necessary to support either of her “baseless charges.”

The defendant claims the complaint lacks facts suggesting the existence of a conspiracy between the Volentines and State Farm.

“Even if State Farm failed to conduct a thorough investigation and erroneously concluded that the Plaintiff vandalized the rented premises (which State Farm denies), the existence of a conspiracy simply cannot be inferred from these facts.

“There is absolutely nothing conspiratorial about an insurance company paying an insurance claim and then asserting subrogation rights,” the motion states.

In fact, State Farm argues that the plaintiff’s allegations “suggest an absence of a conspiracy.”

“Presumably, parties enter into conspiracies because they believe that the conspiracy would advance their interest. Why would State Farm enter into a conspiracy with the Volentines to pay a claim just so State Farm has the opportunity to incur the time and expense of subrogation efforts that may not lead to even a partial recovery?” the motion asks.

State Farm also argues that the claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress is deficient.

The defendant claims the complaint does not rise to the needed level of “extreme and outrageous” conduct and does not plead sufficient facts of “severe” emotional distress.

Sallee responded to the motion to dismiss on May 3 through attorney Greg Roosevelt of Edwardsville.

She states that she believes an amendment to the complaint would cure any defects and clarify the pleading.

Sallee filed an amended complaint on Aug. 2

A suggestion of death for Walter Volentine was filed by attorney Ryan Mahoney of Cates Mahoney LLC on May 9.

Madison County Circuit Court case number 17-L-167

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Heyl Royster Madison County Circuit Court