GREENBERGER v. GEICO GENERAL INSURANCE CO. (January 10, 2011

The day after Stephen Greenberger got into a car accident, aGEICO insurance adjuster inspected his car and gave him a check for over $3200. Greenberger kept the money but never repaired the car. A few months later, in connection with the possible sale of the car, a mechanic estimated that the damage was closer to $5000. Greenberger eventually donated the car to charity. He brought suit against GEICO for breach of contract, fraud, and violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Practices Act. His claim is that GEICO purposely understates the value of necessary repairs in its estimates. Although he filed the action as a class action, the court never ruled on class certification. Judge Manning (N.D. Ill) dismissed the statutory fraud claim and granted summary judgment to GEICO on the contract and common law fraud claims. Greenberger appeals.

In their opinion, Seventh Circuit Chief Judge Easterbrook and Circuit Judges Kanne and Sykes affirmed. First, the Court concluded that the breach of contract claim was foreclosed by the Illinois Supreme Court's decision in Avery. That case stands for the proposition that a physical examination of the insured's automobile is necessary to prevail on a claim that one's insurer breached its promise to restore the automobile to its prior condition. Although Avery dealt with an insurer's practice of not using original equipment manufacturer parts, the principle is the same. The Court rejected Greenberger's attempts to distinguish Avery on the ground that he had an actual higher estimate. It also rejected his theory that GEICO failed to meet industry standards. With respect to the former, a higher estimate cannot establish the fact of a breach, although it may be admissible, supporting evidence. With respect to the latter, the Court noted that GEICO's promise was not to repair according to any industry standard. The Court also noted that Greenberger could not prove damages without the automobile. Second, the Court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the statutory fraud claim. The Act prohibits unfair and deceptive practices but does not apply to every simple contract dispute. Again, Avery controls. It held that a deceptive practice must include more than simply a promise and a breach. Here, Greenberger has only that. Finally, the Court addressed the common law fraud claim. That claim fails for the same reason the statutory fraud claim fails. Greenberger cannot identify a fraudulent act other than the breach. The Court noted that the claim also fails to the extent it alleges fraudulent concealment. Fraudulent concealment requires a fiduciary relationship. Insurers are generally not fiduciaries and Greenberger has not alleged with any specificity any reason why they should be considered so here.