United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
R. Hornak, United States District Judge
the third Opinion in Plaintiffs insurance coverage case.
Plaintiffs Amended Complaint, ECF No. 37, contains two
counts: one for breach of contract and one for bad faith
denial of insurance coverage. Previously, the Court denied
Plaintiffs Motion for Joinder of an Additional Defendant, ECF
No. 35, Wehrenberg v. Metro. Prop. & Cas. Ins.
Co., No. 2:14-CV-01477, 2015 WL 1643043 (W.D. Pa. Apr.
9, 2015), and Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 57,
Wehrenberg v. Metro. Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., No.
2:14-CV-01477, 2015 WL 4716305 (W.D. Pa. Aug. 7, 2015). Now
pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion for
Summary Judgment, ECF No. 81. For the reasons which follow,
Defendant's Motion is granted as to both Counts I and II,
and summary judgment is entered in favor of the Defendant.
Court has twice before recounted the facts in this case. In
summary, they are as follows:
Wehrenberg owned a house located at 226 Sheryl Lane,
Pittsburgh, Pa 15221 ("226 Sheryl Lane"), which was
insured by a homeowners insurance policy issued by
Metropolitan. 226 Sheryl Lane was subject to a mortgage held
by Wells Fargo. In October 2011, Wehrenberg leased 226 Sheryl
Lane to Alphonso Hyman. Under the agreement, Hyman was to
lease 226 Sheryl Lane for five years starting in November,
2011, and Hyman was to pay each month's rent directly to
the mortgage company. An option in the lease gave Hyman the
right to purchase 226 Sheryl Lane by doing this.
In early 2012, Hyman stopped making his monthly rent
payments, and around June 2012 Wehrenberg received notice
from the mortgage company that foreclosure proceedings had
begun. Wehrenberg called and emailed Hyman unsuccessfully and
so he visited 226 Sheryl Lane around June 24, 2012, where he
found that the locks had been changed. Wehrenberg looked
through the windows and saw that "in essence, the place
was gutted done [sic ] to the bare studs." Wehrenberg
was then able to get ahold of Hyman on the phone (the next
day) and told him that he (Hyman) did not have permission to
gut the house or to do any work on 226 Sheryl Lane and that
the property had been damaged. Hyman responded that he was a
contractor, that the house had major structural problems that
he had decided to fix and which required him to gut the
house, and that he would put the house back together.
Wehrenberg did not notify Metropolitan of this turn of
events, but instead he allowed Hyman to continue his
"work" on the property. Wehrenberg told Hyman to
get the mortgage caught up and to get the house put back
together as soon as possible, which Hyman did. In January
2013, Wehrenberg noticed that a rental payment was late and
called Hyman, who assured Wehrenberg that payment would be
made by January 15, 2013 and that the house was coming along.
But Hyman never made the payment. Wehrenberg called Hyman
again but found that the phone was disconnected, so
Wehrenberg went to 226 Sheryl Lane and found not only that
the first floor was in the same disassembled condition but
that the basement and second floor had been gutted also.
Three bathrooms, flooring, bedroom walls, closets, furnaces,
and air conditioner had all been removed. The furnaces and
air conditioners had, however, been replaced.
On February 28, 2013, Wehrenberg filed a claim with
Metropolitan, asserting that the property had been
vandalized. Wehrenberg says that the Metropolitan adjuster
came out to take pictures of the damages and "threatened
to leave the premises" almost immediately, told
Wehrenberg that Metropolitan would not cover the claim, and
was "short" with him (Wehrenberg). After that,
Wehrenberg says he called Metropolitan regarding his claim
but was "pushed from agent to agent and many times his
phone calls were not returned." Wehrenberg eventually
lost the house to foreclosure (though no foreclosure date was
included in either the Complaint or the Amended Complaint).
Metropolitan has never made an offer of settlement under the
Wehrenberg v. Metro. Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., No.
2:14-CV-01477, 2015 WL 4716305, at *l-2 (W.D. Pa. Aug. 7,
2015) (internal citations and alterations omitted).
20, 2016, Defendant filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. The
Court has considered all of the parties' papers and held
oral argument on the Motion on August 30., 2016.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a), summary judgment is
proper "if the movant shows that there is no genuine
dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).
Furthermore, to evaluate a motion for summary judgment, the
Court must "view the evidence in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all inferences in
favor of that party." Schock v. Baker, No.
16-1678, 2016 WL 6276048, at *2 (3d Cir. Oct. 27, 2016)
(citing Kaucher v. County of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418,
422-23 (3d Cir. 2006)). Under Rule 56, an issue is
"genuine" when "the evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving
party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).
The Court may consider all of the materials in the record,
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3), including "depositions,
documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or
declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes
of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or
other materials." Fed. R Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A).
Breach of Contract
In this case, both parties agree that Pennsylvania law
applies. ECF No. 82 at 6; ECF No. 88 at 2. "In
Pennsylvania, the insured bears the burden of proving facts
that bring its claim within the policy's affirmative
grant of coverage." Koppers Co. v. Aetna Cas. &
Sur. Co., 98 F.3d 1440, 1446 (3d Cir. 1996). However,
"the insurer bears the burden of proving the
applicability of any exclusions or limitations on coverage,
since disclaiming coverage on the basis of an exclusion is an
affirmative defense." Id. Additionally, as the
Court explained in its second Opinion in this case, the Third
Circuit has stated:
The interpretation of an insurance contract is a question of
law that is properly decided by the court. Standard
Venetian Blind Co. v. American Empire Ins. Co., 503 Pa.
300, 469 A.2d 563, 566 (Pa.1983). In determining whether a
contract is ambiguous, the court must examine the
questionable term or language in the context of the entire
policy and decide whether the contract is "reasonably
susceptible of different constructions and capable of being
understood in more than one sense." Gamble Farm Inn,
Inc. v. Selective Ins. Co.,440 Pa.Super. 501, 656 A.2d
142, 143-44 (Pa.Super.Ct.1995) (quoting Hutchison v.
Sunbeam Coal Corp.,513 Pa. 192, 519 A.2d 385, 390 (Pa.
1986)). Where a provision of a policy is ambiguous, the
provision should be construed in favor of the insured and
against the insurer, the drafter of the agreement.
Standard Venetian Blind, 469 A.2d at 566. If,
however, the terms of the policy are clear and unambiguous,
the general rule in Pennsylvania is to ...