United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
J. RUETER United States Magistrate Judge
before the court is defendant State Farm Fire and Casualty
Company's ("State Farm") Motion for Summary
Judgment ("Motion, " Doc. No. 26) and
plaintiffs' response in opposition thereto
("Pis.' Resp., " Doc. No. 28). The court held
oral argument on the Motion on March 17, 2017. The court
finds that based on the undisputed facts, defendant State
Farm has fulfilled its obligations under the insurance
contract at issue and is entitled to summary judgment as a
matter of law. Therefore, the Motion is GRANTED.
an insurance coverage dispute case. On March 29, 2016,
plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint ("Am.
Compl.") alleging a single count of breach of contract
against State Farm, their insurer, in the Court of Common
Pleas for Philadelphia County. State Farm removed this matter
to federal court. Plaintiffs contend that on March 3, 2015,
they suffered "sudden and accidental direct physical
loss and damage" to their property located in Plymouth
Meeting, Pennsylvania (the "Property") caused by
wind, snow and ice. See Am. Compl. ¶ 4. Plaintiffs
maintain that the Property is covered by a homeowner's
insurance policy no. 78-EW-7584-2 issued by State Farm (the
"Policy") and that State Farm has refused to pay
monies owed under the Policy relating to the March 3, 2015
damage. Plaintiffs assert that State Farm's failure to
pay amounts due under the Policy constitutes a breach of the
insurance contract (Am. Compl.). On May 4, 2016, State Farm
filed an answer with affirmative defenses (Doc. No. 4).
Farm contends that summary judgment is warranted primarily
because the alleged loss is not covered under the Policy due
to the Policy's exclusion provisions. State Farm further
contends that plaintiffs have presented no expert opinion to
rebut State Farm's expert's opinion that the cause of
the damages they allege to have suffered was not the weather
event on March 3, 2015 and, therefore, the losses are not
covered by the terms of the Policy.
their claim against State Farm, plaintiffs seek to replace
all the stucco and most of the windows on the Property, as
well as, inter alia, the dining room floor inside
the Property. See J&P General Report at
1. The claim initially was assigned by State
Farm to Pilot Catastrophe Service's adjustor Kyle Hayes
Gerhardt who inspected the Property and determined the Policy
covered a portion of the claimed loss. As a result of the
inspection, plaintiffs received an insurance payment from
State Farm in the amount of $4, 871.05 (Motion Exs. H, I).
Shortly thereafter, plaintiffs forwarded to State Farm an
estimate for additional repairs prepared by J&P General
Contractors, Inc. ("J&P General") totaling $85,
275.00 (Pis.' Resp. Ex. A). State Farm assigned the claim
to State Farm specialist Jamie Sabatini who, on September 10,
2015, with State Farm team manager Annie German, inspected
the Property. After the inspection, Sabatini advised
plaintiffs that an expert was needed to determine the amount
of damages and repairs attributable to the March 3, 2015
incident. As a result, State Farm contacted Gary Popolizio,
P.E. of GLP Construction Management, Inc.
("Popolizio") to inspect the Property and issue a
report (Motion Ex. K). Popolizio prepared an expert report of
damages and causation related to the March 3, 2015 loss and a
supplemental payment of $12, 037.08 was made by State Farm to
plaintiffs (Motion Exs. M and N).
Farm filed the instant Motion on March 1, 2017, seeking
summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, asserting that
the additional damages claimed by plaintiffs are not covered
under the terms and exclusions of the Policy. This matter
initially was assigned to the Honorable J. Curtis Joyner. The
parties consented to proceed before the undersigned (Doc. No.
12). Pursuant to the court's Scheduling Orders (Doc. Nos.
15, 24 and 25), discovery in this matter is complete and
trial is scheduled to commence on March 29, 2017.
Summary Judgment Standard
judgment is appropriate where "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). A fact is "material" if it
might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing
substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby. Inc..
477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). Furthermore, an issue is
"genuine" if a reasonable jury possibly could hold
in the nonmovant's favor on that issue. Boyle v.
County of Allegheny Pennsylvania. 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d
Cir. 1998). To demonstrate that no material facts are in
dispute, the moving party must show that the non-moving party
has failed to establish one or more essential elements of his
or her case. Hugh v. Butler County Family YMCA. 418
F.3d 265, 267 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett. 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986)). In analyzing the
evidence, the court will view the facts in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party and draw all inferences in
that party's favor. Prowel v. Wise Bus. Forms.
Inc.. 579 F.3d 285, 286 (3d Cir. 2009). Once the moving
party has demonstrated that there is no genuine issue of
material fact, the non-moving party may present evidence in
accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The nonmovant must
present affirmative evidence in order to defeat a properly
supported motion for summary judgment. Anderson. 477
U.S. at 257. "While the evidence that the non-moving
party presents may be either direct or circumstantial, and
need not be as great as a preponderance, the evidence must be
more than a scintilla." Hugh. 418 F.3d at 267
(citing Anderson. 477 U.S. at 251).
Pennsylvania Law on Coverage Disputes
parties do not dispute that Pennsylvania law applies.
"Ordinarily [under Pennsylvania law] in insurance
coverage disputes an insured bears the initial burden to make
a prima facie case showing that a claim falls within the
policy's grant of coverage, but if the insured meets that
burden, the insurer then bears the burden of demonstrating
that a policy exclusion excuses the insurer from providing
coverage if the insurer contends that it does."
State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. The Estate of
Mehlman. 589 F.3d 105, 111 (3d Cir. 2009) (citation
omitted). Disclaiming coverage on the basis of an exclusion
is an affirmative defense. Koppers Company. Inc.
v. The Aetna Cas. & Surety Co.. 98 F.3d 1440, 1446
(3d Cir. 1996) (citations omitted). Exclusions are construed
narrowly against the insurer. Fry v. The Phoenix Ins.
Co.. 54 F.Supp.3d 354, 361 (E.D. Pa. 2014). In the
context of a motion for summary judgment, if the
movant/insurer, establishes that an exclusion applies, the
insured must come forward with evidence to raise a factual
question sufficient to withstand summary judgment on the
application of the exclusion. Id. at 363-64. See
also Dougherty v. Allstate Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co..
2017 WL 888218, at *3 (3d Cir. Mar. 6, 2017) (not
precedential) (nonmovant must offer "more than a
'mere scintilla of evidence' to rebut [the
insurer's] credible showing that the maintenance
exclusion barred coverage for his claim") (quoting
Williams v. Borough of West Chester. Pa.. 891 F.2d
458, 460 (3d Cir. 1989)). Under Pennsylvania law, the
interpretation of an insurance contract regarding the
existence or non-existence of coverage is generally performed
by the court. Pelleerino v. State Farm Fire & Cas.
Co.. 2013 WL 3878591, at *4 (E.D. Pa. July 29, 2013)
undisputed that the Policy language at issue states as
SECTION I - LOSSES INSURED
COVERAGE A - DWELLING
We insure for accidental direct physical loss to the property
described in Coverage A, except as provided in SECTION I -
LOSSES NOT INSURED.
SECTION I - LOSSES NOT INSURED
1. We do not insure for any loss to the property described in
Coverage A which consists of, or is directly and immediately
caused by, one or more of the perils listed in items a.
through n, below, regardless of whether the loss occurs
suddenly or gradually, involves isolated or widespread
damage, arises from natural or external forces, or occurs as
a result of any combination of these:
g. wear, tear, marring, scratching, deterioration, inherent
vice, latent defect or mechanical breakdown;
1. settling, cracking, shrinking, bulging, or expansion of
pavements, patios, foundations, walls, floors, roofs or
3. We do not insure under any coverage for any loss
consisting of one or more of the items below. Further, we do
not insure for loss described in paragraphs 1. and 2.
immediately above regardless of whether one or more of the
following: (a) directly or indirectly cause, contribute to or
aggravate the loss; or (b) ...