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Fazio v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 22, 2017



          THOMAS J. RUETER United States Magistrate Judge

         Presently 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This is 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).

         State 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.[1]

         In 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.[2] 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).[3]

         State 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.


         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary 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).

         B. Pennsylvania Law on Coverage Disputes

         The 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) (quotations omitted).

         C. The Policy

         It is undisputed that the Policy language at issue states as follows:

We insure for accidental direct physical loss to the property described in Coverage A, except as provided in 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 ceilings;
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) ...

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