Session September 5, 2019
by Permission from the Court of Criminal Appeals Criminal
Court for Knox County No. 102034 Steven W. Sword, Judge
defendant, Reuben Eugene Mitchell, was convicted of one count
of arson and one count of presenting a false or fraudulent
insurance claim. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the
defendant's arson conviction but reversed his conviction
for presenting a false or fraudulent insurance claim. We
granted the State's application to appeal to address
whether the proof at trial was sufficient to support the
defendant's conviction for presenting a false or
fraudulent insurance claim. Our review leads us to conclude
that the evidence was sufficient. Accordingly, we reverse in
part the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals and
reinstate the defendant's conviction for presenting a
false or fraudulent insurance claim.
R. App. P. 11 Appeal by Permission; Judgment of the Court of
Criminal Appeals Affirmed in Part, Reversed in Part;
Judgments of the Trial Court Affirmed
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter;
Andrée S. Blumstein, Solicitor General; Katherine C.
Redding, Assistant Attorney General; Randall E. Nichols,
District Attorney General; and William C. Bright and Andrea
Kline, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the
appellant, the State of Tennessee.
D. Hedrick, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Reuben
A. Page, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which
Jeffrey S. Bivins, C.J., and Cornelia A. Clark, Sharon G.
Lee, and Holly Kirby, JJ., joined.
A. PAGE, JUSTICE.
Factual and Procedural Background
fire caused extensive damage to his house, the defendant was
charged with one count of arson and one count of presenting a
false or fraudulent insurance claim.At the ensuing jury trial,
the following evidence was adduced.
November 30, 2011, the defendant applied to Allstate Property
and Casualty Insurance Company ("Allstate") for a
homeowner's insurance policy. On December 1, 2011,
Allstate issued the homeowner's policy, number 9 63
861797, naming the defendant as the insured and the
defendant's residence as the insured dwelling ("the
Policy"). A copy of the Policy, which covered the house,
"other structures," personal property, and
"additional living expense," was admitted into
evidence. As to the dwelling, the Policy covered "sudden
and accidental direct physical loss." It also provided
portion titled "Section I Conditions," beginning on
page 16, the Policy contains multiple provisions directing
what the insured "Must Do After A Loss." One of the
requirements is to "immediately give" Allstate or
its agent "notice." Also required, "within 60
days after the loss," is a "signed, sworn proof of
the loss" including "the actual cash value and
amount of loss for each item damaged, destroyed or
stolen." Nowhere in the criteria for "What You Must
Do After A Loss" is the insured required to
"file" a "claim" for a loss resulting
from fire damage.
evening of December 5, 2011, just a few days after the Policy
was issued, a fire caused extensive damage to the living room
area of the defendant's residence. The defendant was not
at home, and neighbors called the fire department. Although
the fire had been extinguished, the defendant called the fire
department after he arrived home the morning after the fire.
The defendant, who testified at trial, also called Allstate
and told Allstate that there had been a house fire. He
acknowledged that he called Allstate "to report the
loss" and that his call was to "start the process
to file a claim." However, the defendant also testified
that he did not fill out any claim forms for Allstate, and he
denied telling anyone at Allstate that he wanted to be paid
for a property loss or that he wanted Allstate to make
repairs. He stated that he did not fill out a list of
property that he lost and wanted replaced but added that an
Allstate representative did so.
reporting the fire, the defendant met with two Allstate
representatives, Mr. David Gray and Ms. Heather Stover.
According to Mr. Gray, a "large loss adjuster," the
defendant told Mr. Gray that "he had been home, and he
had had a fire going in the fireplace and had to leave the
home and shortly after he left, the fire took place in the
December 9, 2011, Ms. Stover, a "large loss contents
adjuster," presented the defendant with a document
titled "Advance Payment Agreement" and a check for
$1, 000. The Advance Payment Agreement, signed by the
defendant on December 9, 2011, was admitted into evidence.
This document references "Claim No.: 0228336426"
and "Policy No.: 000963861797." It also lists the
defendant as the "Policyholder(s)," the
defendant's residence as the "Address of Insured
Property," and "[f]ire" as the "Type of
Damage." The Advance Payment Agreement further provides
In consideration of the advance payment described below, the
policyholder(s) ("you") and Allstate
("we") agree as follows:
Before any benefit can be paid under this policy, you have an
obligation to fully comply with all policy requirements in
submitting the claim. We have an obligation to
investigate and determine if the policy is valid, if the
claim is valid and the extent of coverage that may be
applicable to the loss, if any. We will continue to
investigate the claim. If there are requirements in
the policy which you have not yet completed, you need to
comply with those requirements.
In the meantime, in good faith and to prevent any undue
hardship which this loss may cause you, we advance $1, 000.00
on the loss under ...