United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
KAROLINE MEHALCHICK United States Magistrate Judge
the Court is a partial motion for summary judgment, filed on
December 15, 2016 by Defendant Travelers Home and Marine
Insurance Company (“Travelers H&M”). (Doc.
45). In its brief in support, Travelers H&M argues that
Count IV of the complaint filed by Plaintiff Pamela Souder
(“Souder”), wherein Souder seeks damages under
Pennsylvania's bad faith provisions (Doc. 1-1, at 11),
should be dismissed. (Doc. 46). For the reasons stated below,
Defendant's motion is GRANTED. Count IV of the complaint
(Doc. 1-1) is DISMISSED.
Background and Procedural History
9, 2014, agents of the Defendants inspected the home of the
Plaintiff, Pamela Souder, to investigate damage that Souder
alleges occurred as a result of snow buildup during February
of 2014. (Doc. 56, ¶¶ 8-9). Souder, who filed a
notice of claim with the Defendants on June 5, 2014, states
that she noticed bowing in her roof as a result of the weight
of the snow, with damage first materializing in bubbling and
cracking of the paint and drywall. This led her to call in a
contractor shortly after the snowfall, who assessed the
weight of the snow as the cause of the cracking. (Doc. 56-23,
at 4). Souder conveyed this to Travelers in her notice of
claim. (Doc. 56-3, at 9). Accordingly, Travelers classified
the type of loss as “Weight of Ice and Snow.”
(Doc. 45-2, ¶ 6).
inspection, claim professional Katherine Prudhoe observed
water damages to the drywall in the home's
ceiling. (Doc. 45-5, at 4). The same day, the type
of loss was amended from “Weight of Ice and Snow”
to water damage to the drywall from an ice damming event,
although the parties dispute whether this change occurred
prior or subsequent to Prudhoe's investigation. (Doc.
45-2, ¶ 11; Doc. 56-23, ¶ 11). As a result of the
inspection, Travelers wrote a check to Souder for $1, 287.07,
reflecting the estimate for the damage, less Souder's
$500 deductible. (Doc. 45-2, ¶ 14). Repairs were
completed the same month. (Doc. 45-2, ¶ 16).
October 2014, Souder noticed further damage to the ceiling
and contacted Travelers again. (Doc. 45-2, ¶ 16).
Travelers again conducted an inspection, this time with
independent structural engineering consultant Dave Stakem.
(Doc. 45-2, ¶ 17). During the inspection, Stakem, with
permission, cut a hole in Souder's roof to inspect the
supports and photographed their condition. (Doc. 45-2, ¶
19). Following the inspection, Stakem issued an opinion
stating the roof is lightly framed, normal for the age of the
home; the attic is not properly vented, causing
heat and moisture buildup contributing to bowing; and that
the sag in the roof is not attributable to recent structural
movements caused by the weight of snow and ice. (Doc. 45-9,
at 4). Stakem further took note of the cracking drywall,
attributing the cracks to seasonal shifts in the climate.
(Doc. 45-9, at 3).
reviewed Stakem's findings with Souder. (Doc. 45-2,
¶ 22). In early December, Souder expressed disagreement
with the factual findings, as well as indicated
dissatisfaction with the June investigation by Travelers,
which Souder claims was insufficient and contributed to the
damage uncovered later. (Doc. 45-2, ¶ 23; Doc. 56-23,
¶ 23). The parties arranged for a second inspection to
take place, again conducted by Stakem and in the presence of
Souder's unit manager, Thomas Palmer.
December 11, 2014, the second inspection occurred with Souder
joined by Palmer, Stakem, Prudhoe, and Travelers'
adjuster Richard Scimeca. (Doc. 45-2, ¶ 27).
Travelers' notes state that Stakem explained that the
damage was not attributable to ice and snow, nor was the home
unsafe for habitation. (Doc. 45-5, at 10). Travelers again
cut a hole in the roof in order to allow for closer
inspection, writing a check to Souder for repairs to the
roof. (Doc. 45-2, ¶ 29). Stakem renewed his findings
from the November inspection. (Doc. 45-10).
January 27, 2015, Travelers sent a letter to Souder
explaining their decision to deny her claim, referencing the
second Stakem investigation. (Doc. 45-11). The denial letter
also included factual findings that: Souder's home was
114 years old; interior finishes and roofing were completed
prior to moving in, and Souder did not make repairs to the
drywall or roofing structure; the two inspections revealed
bowing in the roof, causing a sag in the ceiling, resulting
from ice damming during February of 2014; cracks in the
drywall were caused by seasonable temperature changes; and
improper ventilation caused excessive heat and moisture
buildup, causing the sag. (Doc. 45-11). Souder challenges
nearly all of these conclusions, including: the age of the
home; pointing out that she had the roof
supports, drywall, and wiring in that area of the home redone
after purchasing the home; the presence of water damage in the
drywall; seasonal changes as the cause for cracking in the
drywall; the lack of ventilation in the attic; and the cause
of the sag and dip in the roof. (Doc. 56, at 9-10). Citing
the conclusions that the roof was lightly framed improperly
ventilated, Travelers denied coverage as they do not insure
against loss “caused by wear and tear, marring,
deterioration, mechanical breakdown, latent defect, inherent
vice, or any quality in property that causes it to damage or
destroy itself.” (Doc. 45-11). The letter also states
that the contract further denies coverage for loss due to
“faulty, inadequate or defective . . . design,
specifications, workmanship, repair, construction,
renovation, remodeling, grading, [or] compaction.”
February 2015, Souder hired an engineer to inspect the
property. (Doc. 45-2, ¶ 33). She also appears to have
retained counsel between February and March, who reached out
to Travelers inviting them to revisit their denial of
coverage based on the findings. Travelers requested the
reports and estimates for review. (Doc. 45-2, ¶¶
35-36). Counsel provided the information as requested, and
the parties arranged for a third inspection to take place on
May 20, 2015. (Doc. 45-2, ¶ 37). On the date of the
inspection, a dispute arose over the use of video to document
the investigation. As a result, the inspection did not take
place. (Doc. 45-2, ¶ 38).
29, 2015, Souder sued Travelers and Travelers H&M in the
Schuylkill County Court of Common Pleas, filing her complaint
on November 5, 2015. (Doc. 1-1). The Defendants removed to
this Court on November 19, 2015. (Doc. 1). Following
discovery, the Defendants filed the instant motion for
partial summary judgment, alleging that Souder cannot
establish the existence of bad faith in their decision to
deny coverage. (Doc. 45). While the motion was pending, the
parties consented to proceed before the undersigned on
January 31, 2017. (Doc. 52). The parties filed their
respective brief in opposition (Doc. 56-23) and reply (Doc.
67) on February 10 and April 28, 2017 respectively, rendering
the motion ripe for review. II. Standard of Review
Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,
summary judgment should be granted only if “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” only if it might
affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute of
material fact is “genuine” only if the evidence
“is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict
for the non-moving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S.
at 248. In deciding a summary judgment motion, all inferences
“should be drawn in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party, and where the non-moving party's
evidence contradicts the movant's, then the
non-movant's must be taken as true.” Pastore v.
Bell Tel. Co. of Pa., 24 F.3d 508, 512 (3d Cir. 1994).
federal court should grant summary judgment “if the
pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and
admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,
show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact
and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a
matter of law.” Farrell v. Planters Lifesavers
Co., 206 F.3d 271, 278 (3d Cir. 2000). In making this
determination, “a court must view the facts in the
light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all
inferences in that party's favor.” Armbruster
v. Unisys Corp., 32 F.3d 768, 777 (3d Cir. 1994). The
Court need not accept mere conclusory allegations, whether
they are made in the complaint or a sworn statement.
Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871,
888 (1990). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the
court's function is not to make credibility
determinations, weigh evidence, or draw inferences from the
facts. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. Rather, the court
must simply “determine whether there is a genuine issue
for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.
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