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Pager v. Metropolitan Edison

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 27, 2019

WILLIAM PAGER, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
METROPOLITAN EDISON, a/k/a MET-ED FIRSTENERGYCORP., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          JOSEPH F. SAPORITO, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This is a diversity action brought by New York residents William and Jenna Pager, a married couple, against several corporate defendants: (a) FirstEnergy Corp. (“FirstEnergy”), an Ohio corporation with its principal office in Akron, Ohio; (b) Metropolitan Edison a/k/a Met-Ed (“Met-Ed”), a Pennsylvania corporation and wholly owned subsidiary of FirstEnergy with its principal office in Reading, Pennsylvania; (c) the Federal National Mortgage Association a/k/a Fannie Mae (“Fannie Mae”), a District of Columbia corporation with its principal office in Washington, D.C.;[1] and (d) Allstate Insurance Company (“Allstate”), an Illinois corporation with its principal office in North Brook, Illinois. The Pagers have asserted negligence claims against all four defendants, breach of contract claims against Met-Ed and Allstate, and a bad faith claim against Allstate. They seek an award of damages in excess of $75, 000. In addition, Fannie Mae and Allstate have asserted cross-claims for contribution and indemnity against each of the other defendants.

         I. Background

         The Pagers own a vacation home in the Birchwood Lakes subdivision of Delaware Township, Pennsylvania, with a street address of 131 East Lake View Drive, Dingman’s Ferry, Pennsylvania 18328. Met-Ed provides electric service to the property.

         In November 2014, Fannie Mae contacted Met-Ed and advised that it had recently acquired a property through foreclosure, requesting that electric service for the property be transferred to a new account to be paid by Fannie Mae. The property Fannie Mae had foreclosed upon was located in Wild Acres, an entirely different subdivision of Delaware Township, with a street address of 131 Fall Court, Dingman’s Ferry, Pennsylvania 18328. But it had at one time been known by the very same street address as the Pagers’ home-131 East Lake View Drive, Dingman’s Ferry, Pennsylvania 18328. At some point, it was changed due to 9-1-1 emergency communications requirements, but the sheriff’s deed conveying the property to Fannie Mae contained only the outdated, duplicative street address, which Fannie Mae then provided to Met-Ed in requesting that electric service be transferred into its name.

         Met-Ed terminated the Pagers’ electric service account. Because of prior instances in which Met-Ed bills were not delivered to the proper mailing address in New York, they had enrolled in electronic billing and automatic bill payment by credit card. As a result, the Pagers did not notice when billing for electric service to their Pennsylvania vacation home ceased in November 2014.

         After Fannie Mae learned of the address discrepancy, it updated the property’s street address in its own records and, on January 28, 2015, it requested that Met-Ed have electric service to 131 East Lake View Drive removed from its account. Met-Ed complied with the request, terminating electric service altogether for the Pagers’ property at 131 East Lake View Drive.

         In June 2015, the Pagers visited their Pennsylvania vacation home for the first time since December 2014.[2] They found that the property was without electricity, and that, at some point after the power was turned off, water pipes and toilet tanks throughout the home had ruptured due to freezing, causing extensive water damage. They contacted Met-Ed and, only after several days of telephone inquiries, they learned that electricity services had been transferred to Fannie Mae in November 2014 due to foreclosure, and that Fannie Mae later terminated electric service to the property. The Pagers were advised that no further information could be disclosed about another customer’s account. The Pagers were able, however, to arrange for electric service to be reinstated a few days later, to be billed to them under a newly established account.

         The Pagers attempted to contact Fannie Mae to determine what happened, but despite several calls they were unable to obtain any substantive response from Fannie Mae staff. Other than reestablishing electric service and correspondence regarding their newly created account, the Pagers were unable to learn anything from Met-Ed either. They were only able to learn the details of what occurred through discovery in this litigation.

         On June 26, 2015-the day after they discovered the damage to their property-the Pagers notified their property insurer, Allstate, of the loss. On July 7, 2015, an Allstate adjuster conducted an inspection of the property, determining that water damage to the property stemmed from frozen and ruptured plumbing caused by an extended loss of electric power. The adjuster advised the Pagers that they were responsible for maintaining heat in the property, and he requested proof that they did so during their six-month absence. The Pagers, of course, were only able to provide utility bills through November 2014. By letter dated July 19, 2015, Allstate denied coverage for the property loss based on a policy exclusion. That policy exclusion provided that the policy did not cover loss to covered property caused by freezing of plumbing, or discharge from systems caused by freezing, when the structure is vacant or unoccupied, unless the insured has used reasonable care to maintain heat in the structure, or to shut off the water supply and drain the system.

         On September 16, 2016, the Pagers commenced this action by filing their complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. The case was subsequently transferred to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404.

         Now before the Court are several cross-motions for summary judgment.

         Allstate has moved for summary judgment with respect to the plaintiffs’ contract, bad faith, and negligence claims and with respect to Fannie Mae’s cross-claims for contribution and indemnity. (Doc. 78; see also Doc. 78-1; Doc. 87; Doc. 90; Doc. 125; Doc. 132.)

         Met-Ed and FirstEnergy have jointly moved for summary judgment with respect to the plaintiffs’ contract and negligence claims. (Doc. 82; see also Doc. 153; Doc. 168.) William Pager has also moved for summary judgment with respect to these same claims against Met-Ed and FirstEnergy. (Doc. 145; see also Doc. 148; Doc. 160; Doc. 169.)

         Fannie Mae has moved for summary judgment with respect to the plaintiffs’ negligence claim, and with respect to the amount of damages sought by the plaintiffs. (Doc. 79; Doc. 140; see also Doc. 141; Doc. 147; Doc. 155; Doc. 159; Doc. 163; Doc. 165; Doc. 166.) William Pager has also moved for summary judgment with respect to the same claim against Fannie Mae. (Doc. 142; see also Doc. 147; Doc. 155; Doc. 159; Doc. 163; Doc. 165; Doc. 166.)

         These motions are fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

         II. Legal Standard

         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).

         The party seeking summary judgment “bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, ” and demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the movant makes such a showing, the non-movant must set forth specific facts, supported by the record, demonstrating that “the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury.” Anderson, 477 U.S. At 251–52.

         “The rule is no different where there are cross-motions for summary judgment.” Lawrence v. City of Philadelphia, 527 F.3d 299, 310 (3d Cir. 2008).

Cross-motions are no more than a claim by each side that it alone is entitled to summary judgment, and the making of such inherently contradictory claims does not constitute an agreement that if one is rejected the other is necessarily justified or that the losing party waives judicial consideration and determination whether genuine issues of material fact exist.

Rains v. Cascade Indus., Inc., 402 F.2d 241, 245 (3d Cir. 1968). Thus, “when presented with cross motions for summary judgment, the Court must consider the motions separately, and view the evidence presented for each motion in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Borrell v. Bloomsburg Univ., 63 F.Supp. 3d. 418, 433 (M.D. Pa. 2014) (citation omitted). “[E]ach movant must demonstrate that no genuine issue of material fact exists; if both parties fail to carry their respective burdens, the court must deny [both] motions. Quarles v. Palakovich, 736 F.Supp.2d 941, 946 (M.D. Pa. 2010) (citing Facenda v. N.F.L. Films, Inc., 542 F.3d 1007, 1023 (3d Cir. 2008)).

         III. Discussion

         A. William Pager’s Status as a Pro Se Litigant

         As a preliminary matter, the Court notes that both plaintiffs are currently proceeding pro se in this matter. Although a federal court is generally obligated to liberally construe the filings of pro se litigants, see generally Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 244–46 (3d Cir. 2013), neither the original complaint nor the motion papers subsequently filed by William Pager alone are entitled to liberal construction in this case.

         The original complaint was prepared and filed in a New York federal district court by William Pager, a licensed attorney admitted to the bar of that court, in his role as counsel of record appearing on behalf of both himself and his wife, Jenna Pager. The case was subsequently transferred to this Court, however, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404. (Doc. 33.) The plaintiffs did not retain local counsel to represent them, but instead opted to proceed pro se in this Court. See Pager v. Metro. Edison, Civil Action No. 3:17-cv-00934, 2018 WL 491014, at *3 n.1 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 19, 2018) (noting that William Pager is a lawyer admitted to practice in New York, but not in Pennsylvania, and thus he and his wife were appearing pro se in proceedings before this Court).

         William’s subsequently filed summary judgment motion papers were prepared and filed by him in his role as a pro se litigant after the transfer, [3] but, as a trained attorney at law-albeit one not admitted to practice in Pennsylvania or before this Court-William is not entitled to have his filings liberally construed. See McNamara v. Brauchler, 570 Fed. App’x 741, 743 & n.2 (10th Cir. 2014) (per curiam) (“[T]he purpose behind affording liberal construction to pro se filings-which is to assure adequate review of claims brought by non-legally trained individuals- would not be furthered by construing [a pro se attorney’s] filings liberally.”); Feingold v. Unitrin Direct, Civil Action No. 12-1250, 2012 WL 3866945, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 6, 2012); Allegrino v. Conway E & S, Inc., Civil Action No. 09-1507, 2010 WL 3943939, at *5 (W.D. Pa. Oct. 6, 2010).

         B. Allstate’s Motion for Summary Judgment

         Allstate has moved for summary judgment with respect to the plaintiffs’ contract, bad faith, and negligence claims and with respect to Fannie Mae’s cross-claims for contribution and indemnity.

         Allstate issued two successive homeowners insurance policies providing coverage for the Pagers’ vacation home. The first policy, bearing policy number 908443562, provided coverage for the period of January 28, 2014, through January 28, 2015. A second policy, bearing the same policy number, provided coverage for the period of January 28, 2015, through January 28, 2016. The two policies were otherwise identical in all material terms.

         The policies provided insurance coverage for property damage to the dwelling itself and to personal property, with coverage limits that exceeded the total amount of damages sought by the plaintiffs in this case. The policies included the following exclusion from coverage for property damage to the dwelling itself:

We do not cover loss to [your dwelling] consisting of or caused by: . . .
14. Freezing of plumbing . . . or discharge, leakage or overflow from within the systems . . . caused by freezing, while the building structure is vacant, unoccupied or being constructed unless you have used reasonable care to:
a) maintain heat in the building structure; or b) shut off the water supply and drain the system . . . .

(Doc. 78-3, at 27, 29; Doc. 78-4, at 37, 39.) The policies contained a similar exclusion from coverage for property damage to personal property:

We do not cover loss at the residence premises under perils . . . (13) [(water that escapes from a plumbing system)], and (14) [(freezing of a plumbing system)] caused by or resulting from freezing while the building structure is vacant, unoccupied or under construction unless you have used reasonable care to:
a) maintain heat in the building structure; or
b) shut off the water supply and drain the water from the systems and appliances.

(Doc. 78-3, at 32; Doc. 78-4, at 42.)

         Finally, the policies contained an identical suit-limitations clause:

No suit or action may be brought against us unless there has been full compliance with all policy terms. Any suit or action must be brought within one year after the inception of loss or damage.

(Doc. 78-3, at 40; Doc. 78-4, at 50.)

         1. The Pagers’ ...


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