18. On September 26, 1944, the plaintiff and Edward H. Friel submitted their proof of loss, under oath, to the defendant. The proof of loss stated that the cash value of the premises at the time of the fire was $ 236,671.90, and that the whole loss and damage, for the purpose of this adjustment, was $ 98,000. The assureds claimed of the defendant the sum of $ 16,333.34, or one-sixth of the loss and damage, plus $ 209.40 of unearned premiums, a total of $ 16,524.74.
19. On October 19, 1944, the defendant issued to Edward H. Friel and E. Harmon Friel and Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, the latter as loss payee, its draft in the sum of $ 16,542.74.
20. Edward H. Friel, H. Harmon Friel, and the Guardian Life Insurance Company of America endorsed the draft beneath a printed statement on the reverse side thereof which read: 'In consideration of the sum hereby paid, all claims and demands whatsoever against National Liberty Insurance Company of America under this policy by reason of the within mentioned claim for loss and damage, are released, settled and forever discharged.'
21. The defendant's draft, when presented, was duly paid by the defendant.
In the present action, the plaintiff seeks to recover from the defendant the difference between $ 25,000, the face amount of defendant's policy of insurance, and $ 16,333.34, which the plaintiff was actually paid thereunder. Plaintiff was not paid the face amount of defendant's policy by operation of the New Jersey Standard Percentage C0-Insurance Clause, under which the amount of payment under the policy was reduced because the total insurance carried on the damaged premises -- $ 150,000 -- was less than eighty per cent. of $ 236,671.90, which was determined, in the course of the adjustment, to have been the sound value of the building as of February 27, 1944, the date of the fire.
The plaintiff bases his case on the doctrine of equitable estoppel. He points to the fact that the defendant valued the property at $ 174,865 in its letter of October 23, 1941. He contends that he relied on that valuation in determining how much insurance should be carried on the building, and that the defendant is therefore estopped to deny that the property did in fact have a valuation of $ 174,865 on February 27, 1944, when the fire occurred.
I am of the opinion that the doctrine of equitable estoppel is not applicable to the instant case. As I understand it, the doctrine of equitable estoppel is intended to prevent a party from denying the truth or accuracy of that which he had previously asserted, or from assuming a position which is inconsistent with that which am of the opinion that the doctrine of equitable estoppel is not applicable he had previously taken. Analysis of the facts of the instant case will reveal, I think, that the defendant did not, subsequent to the fire, attempt to deny the truth or accuracy of what it had previously asserted, nor did it seek to assume a position which was inconsistent with that previously taken.
In its letter of October 23, 1941, the defendant gave its estimate of the present day replacement value of the building at $ 174,865. The defendant has never attempted to deny that the replacement value of the building, as of October 23, 1941, was $ 174,865. What the defendant does not assert is that on February, 27, 1944, the replacement value of the building was $ 236,671.90.
I can find in defendant's position neither inconsistency nor a denial of what it had previously stated. It is a matter of common knowledge that the replacement value of a building is subject to fluctuation, and it is equally well known that building replacement costs did actually rise appreciably between October 23, 1941, and February 27, 1944.
I cannot see how the plaintiff can seriously contend that the replacement value of the building did not increase between October 23, 1941, and February 27, 1944. He does suggest, however, that the defendant, having once submitted an estimate of the replacement value of the building, was under an obligation to apprise the plaintiff of any subsequent increase in valuation. This argument must be rejected, because it misconstrues the nature and extent of defendant's undertaking in writing the letter of October 23, 1941. That letter purported to be nothing more than an estimate of the present day replacement value of the property. Nothing that the defendant said or did could have led the plaintiff to believe that the defendant would furnish him with any further information on the subject of valuation, nor does it appear that the plaintiff ever asked for such information. Nor can I ascribe to the defendant the expectation that the plaintiff would continue to rely on the valuation given on October 23, 1941, for an indefinite period of time, or until he was advised of a change therein; on the contrary, the defendant, as a reasonable property owner, would realize that the valuation of the property would necessarily vary with subsequent change in economic conditions.
My conclusion then is that the doctrine of equitable estoppel may not be invoked in support of plaintiff's claim. In view of the foregoing discussion, it is unnecessary for me to consider whether all of the necessary elements of equitable estoppel are present in the instant case, or whether the provision of the policy covered in Finding of Fact No. 9 would constitute a partial defense to the present action.
Conclusions of Law
1. This Court has jurisdiction of the subject matter and the parties in the instant case.
2. Judgment will be entered in favor of the defendant.
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