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Brodzinski v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

August 25, 2017



          R. BARCLAY SURRICK, J.

         Presently before the Court is the Motion for Partial Summary Judgment of Defendant State Farm Fire and Casualty Company. (ECF No. 13.) For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion will be granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This lawsuit arises from an insurance coverage dispute. Plaintiff Darryl Brodzinski seeks damages from Defendant State Farm Fire and Casualty Company for Defendant's failure to pay benefits to Plaintiff under a homeowner's insurance policy. Plaintiff asserts claims against Defendant for breach of contract and bad faith. In this Motion, Defendant seeks summary judgment with respect to the bad faith claim.

         A. Factual Background

         Plaintiff resides at 59 Berrywood Lane, Dresher, Pennsylvania. Plaintiff alleges that on March 9, 2016, water escaped from a condensation line on an air conditioning unit, and caused damage to his basement. (Compl. ¶ 5.) Plaintiffs home was insured under a homeowner's insurance policy issued by Defendant State Farm (the "Policy"). (Id. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff retained Hillis Adjustment Agency to investigate his claim. (Pl.'s Resp. Ex. A., ECF No. 15.) Ralph Palaia, a public insurance adjuster from Hillis, was assigned to handle the investigation and to submit Plaintiffs claim to State Farm. (Id.) Palaia prepared an estimate of the costs of repairs totaling $38, 307.97. (Estimate, Def's Mot. Ex. A.) Palaia submitted the estimate to State Farm on March 30, 2016. (Id; Def's Mot. ¶ 4.)

         On April 26, 2016, State Farm's claims adjuster, Rob Henry, inspected Plaintiffs property. (State Farm Denial, Def's Mot. Ex. B.) Palaia was present during the inspection. (Id.) Henry discussed with Palaia his conclusion that the damage was not covered by the Policy. After his inspection, Henry sent Plaintiff a claim denial letter from State Farm. In the denial, Henry stated that "the basement water damage is not covered under the Homeowners Policy." (Id.) He explained that he "observed evidence of mold, rot, and deterioration damage to the building materials." (Id.) Henry stated that "Mr. Palaia explained the air conditioning condensation line was likely [the] cause of the damage, and that bleach was sprayed onto the carpet and walls in an attempt to remove the mold." (Id.) Henry sited sections of the policy that supported his conclusion that the damage was not covered by the Policy. Specifically, he cited the provision of the Policy that excludes coverage for: (1) damage caused by "continuous or repeated seepage or leakage of water" from an air conditioning system, "which occurs over a period of time"; (2) water damage, caused by flood, surface water, or water below the surface of the ground, if concurrently caused by another excludable event; and (3) damage caused by the use of improper materials in the construction or repair of the property, or improper maintenance. (Id.)

         On June 10, 2016, Palaia sent a letter to State Farm, requesting that it reconsider the denial of Plaintiff s claim. (June 10, 2016 Hillis Ltr., Def's Mot. Ex. D.) Palaia stated in the letter that "[t]he insured's policy covers accidental discharge from a plumbing system and this loss was caused by an air conditioning condensate line that leaked and caused damage to his dwelling." (Id.) Palaia also stated in the letter that this was a "one time occurrence and not due to repeated seepage." (Id.) According to Palaia, the air conditioner condensate line leaked and caused water to be discharged into the furnace. (Id.) He stated that the water damage that is seen throughout the furnace and air filter supports his conclusion. Palaia further stated that the water traveled from the heater throughout the basement and caused damage to the walls, the carpet, and to the contents in the rooms. (Id)

         Claims adjusters at State Farm reviewed Palaia's request to reconsider the denial, and determined that Plaintiff submitted no additional information that would alter their decision to deny coverage. (Claims Notes SF019-SF020, Def's Mot. Ex. B.) On July 27, 2016, State Farm advised Palaia that there would be no change in their coverage decision with regard to Plaintiffs claim. (Id.)

         B. Procedural History

         On October 26, 2016, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. (Compl., Notice of Removal Ex. A.) On November 11, 2016, State Farm removed the case to this Court. The Complaint asserts two counts: (1) breach of contract; and (2) bad faith. On March 5, 2017, State Farm filed the instant Partial Motion for Summary Judgment. On March 26, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Response to the Motion.


         Under 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." A dispute is "genuine" if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Kaucher v. Cty. of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., Ml U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). "[A] factual dispute is material only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law." Id. The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Galena v. Leone, 638 F.3d 186, 196 (3d Cir. 2011). However, "unsupported assertions, conclusory allegations, or mere suspicions" are insufficient to overcome a motion for summary judgment. Schaar v. Lehigh Valley Health Servs., Inc., 732 F.Supp.2d 490, 493 (E.D. Pa. 2010) (citing Williams v. Borough of W. Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir. 1989)).

         Where the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may identify an absence of a genuine issue of material fact by showing the court that there is no evidence in the record supporting the nonmoving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); UPMC Health Sys. v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 391 F.3d 497, 502 (3d Cir. 2004). If the moving party carries this initial burden, the nonmoving party must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) ("A party asserting that a fact... is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by . . . citing to particular parts of materials in the record . . . ."); see also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd., v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986) (noting that the nonmoving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts" (citation omitted)). "Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no 'genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (citation omitted).

         III. ...

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