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Moyer v. Allstate Insurance Co.

August 20, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge McClure


I. Introduction

On July 7, 2009, plaintiff Janet L. Moyer ("Moyer") instituted this civil action, through counsel, against defendant Allstate Insurance Company ("Allstate"). Moyer's complaint contained three counts, which alleged that Allstate breached the contract it entered into with Moyer ("Count I"); engaged in acts or practices considered unfair or deceptive under the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law ("UTPCPL"), 73 Pa.C.S. § 201.2(4) ("Count II"); and acted in bad faith in violation of the Pennsylvania Bad Faith Law, 42 Pa.C.S. § 8371, et seq. ("Count III"). (Rec. Doc. No. 1). On September 8, 2009, Allstate joined Franklin Moyer, Jr., the plaintiff's son, as a plaintiff. (Rec. Doc. No. 6).*fn1 At issue in the case is the alleged denial by the defendant of Moyer's claim under her insurance policy for coverage and payment of losses incurred as a result of a fire at her home on October 31, 2008. Id. at 2-3.

On March 18, 2010, the parties stipulated to the dismissal, with prejudice, of Count III of the plaintiff's complaint. (Rec. Doc. No. 20). Also on March 18, 2010, the parties stipulated that "on October 31, 2008 Franklin Moyer, Jr. was a resident of the property located at 135 Haven Street, Schuylkill Haven, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania." (Rec. Doc. No. 18). On March 19, 2010, the parties stipulated to the dismissal, with prejudice, of Count II of the complaint. (Rec. Doc. No. 21). Therefore Count I, which alleges breach of contract, is the only remaining count.

II. Procedural History

On June 14, 2010, defendant Allstate filed a motion for summary judgment, with a statement of material facts in support, on the plaintiff's breach of contract claim. (Rec. Doc. No. 24). Defendant filed a brief in support on June 15, 2010. (Rec. Doc. No. 25). On June 22, 2010, plaintiff filed a brief in opposition to the motion for summary judgment, an answer and opposition to the motion, and a statement of facts concerning the motion. (Rec. Doc. Nos. 26-28). Defendant filed a reply brief on July 2, 2010. (Rec. Doc. No. 31).

On June 29, 2010, pursuant to a verbal order, the Honorable Thomas I. Vanaskie, upon his confirmation by the United States Senate to a position on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, reassigned the present action to the undersigned judge. (Rec. Doc. No. 30). As all fact discovery concerning the fire alleged to have caused the damage at issue in this case was completed as of May 10, 2010, and as the motion for summary judgment has been fully briefed, the matter is now ripe for disposition. Therefore, for the following reasons, we will grant the defendant's motion for summary judgment. (Rec. Doc. No. 24).

III. Factual Background

The facts of record,*fn2 viewed in a light most favorable to plaintiffs, the non-moving party, are as follows. In Count I of their complaint, plaintiffs contend that Allstate breached the contractual duties it owed to the plaintiff when it denied Moyer's claim for insurance coverage based on the fire damage to her property at 135 Haven Street, Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania, incurred on October 31, 2008. (Rec. Doc. No. 1 at 2-3). Defendant Allstate, however, has denied that the plaintiff's claim was covered under the terms, conditions, or exclusions of the insurance policy agreed to between the parties. (Rec. Doc. No. 24, Exhbt. B).

The fire at issue in the instant litigation occurred at the property on October 31, 2008. (Rec. Doc. No. 1 at 2). As of this date, the property was insured by Allstate under policy number 008462567. (Rec. Doc. No. 5, Exhbt. A). The Schuylkill Haven Borough Fire Chief and the Schuylkill Haven Police Department determined that the fire occurred as a result of arson. (Rec. Doc. No. 24, Exhbt. F). Franklin Moyer, before the Court of Common Pleas of Schuylkill County, pled guilty on August 25, 2009 to arson for the October 31, 2008 fire. Id., Exhbts. G and H. During the proceeding at which Franklin Moyer entered his guilty plea, he testified, in part, to the following:

THE COURT: . . . You're charged with doing the following things on October 31, 2008. That you endangered the property of another person or of your own property or the property of Janet Moyer. Who is that, you're estranged wife?

THE DEFENDANT: That would be my mother.

THE COURT: Your mother. And what you did was either set fire to the property or you paid another person to set fire or cause an explosion thereby recklessly placing an inhabited building or occupied structure of another person, your mother, in danger of destruction; or by destroying a building that was owned by you. And it was your intent to destroy or damage that building. How do you, in fact, plead to those two counts of arson, felonies two?


THE COURT: I'll accept those pleas as knowing, understanding and intelligent. You're also charged with criminal mischief in that you did intentionally pour gasoline into the residence and lit the gasoline on fire resulting in fire, smoke and water damage to the house causing damages in an amount greater than $5,000, and you did that intentionally, and that it was your conscious object to do it recklessly or negligently. And how do you, in fact, plead to that?


Id., Exhbt. G at 5-6.

Franklin indicated that he pled guilty to the above charges because he did not think a Ms. Kellie Heagy, who appears to have been present when the fire occurred, would be likely to tell the truth in light of her deposition testimony. (Rec. Doc. No. 28, Exhbt. A at 62-63). In addition, he appears to have had little confidence in his lawyer in the criminal case and that this lawyer had recommended that a prior case of unsworn falsification could be admissible against him at a later trial on the arson and related charges. Id., Exhbt. A at 66-69. Franklin never told the police how the fire began or that he intentionally started the fire; in fact, he appears to believe that the police would have pursued a drug charge against him if he were to fight the arson and related charges and succeed. Id., Exhbt. A at 74-75. Franklin claims that he accepted the plea deal, which places him in jeapordy of serving between one and three years imprisonment, as opposed to going to trial and risking a term of imprisonment ranging from one to three or five to ten years. Id., Exhbt. A at 69-76. Franklin claims that he "never" told any person that he started the fire at the residence intentionally. Id., Exhbt. A at 77.

The fire was reported to Allstate on October 31, 2008. Kellie Heagy, who resides on 1617 Long Run Road, Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania, was present in the residence at the time of the fire. (Rec. Doc. No. 5, Exhbt. B at 5). Ms. Heagy has given four different statements concerning the cause of the fire: (1) a statement she gave to the Schuylkill Haven Police Department on the night of the fire that she and Franklin discovered the fire after smelling smoke from the second floor fifteen minutes after Franklin had been arguing with his mother (Rec. Doc. No. 28, Exhbt. B at 77-78); (2) another statement given to the Schuylkill Haven Police Department that she saw Franklin pour gasoline in the kitchen and living room and throw an unlit lighter at the gasoline, Id., Exhbt. B at 79-80; (3) a statement to Franklin's criminal defense attorney that as she and Franklin were cleaning up the kitchen and, as Franklin attempted to use a lighter to light a cigarette, the lighter caught fire and he dropped it, causing the kitchen to catch fire, Id., Exhbt. B at 67; and (4) deposition testimony that Franklin lit a match while in the kitchen, shook it out, and then lit another match and dropped it, causing the kitchen to catch fire, Id., Exhbt. B at 45. At his own deposition, Franklin testified that on October 31, 2008, he and his mother had been fighting, and he was angry with her. (Rec. Doc. No. 28, Exhbt. A at 37-39).*fn3 Franklin poured gasoline on the kitchen floor of the residence and threw items, including Moyer's cigarettes and a lighter, on the floor as well. Id., Exhbt. A at 42. After Franklin and Kellie went upstairs, the gasoline odor coming from the kitchen caused the two to go back downstairs to attempt to clean up the gasoline. Id., Exhbt. A ...

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