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Hatch v. Geovera Specialty Insurance Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

June 18, 2019

BARBARA HATCH and CHARLES HATCH, Plaintiffs,
v.
GEOVERA SPECIALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          CARLOS E. MENDOZA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         THIS CAUSE is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 44) and Plaintiffs' Motion for Final Summary Judgment (Doc. 60). This cause is also before the Court on Plaintiffs' Daubert Motion to Exclude Testimony of Defense Experts, Arthur Baker and Jason Neumann (Doc. 59); Defendant's Daubert Motion to Strike Plaintiffs' Expert Witness, Kathleen Norflus (Doc. 61); Defendant's Daubert Motion to Strike Plaintiffs' Expert Witness, James Purcell (Doc. 62); Defendant's Motion in Limine Regarding Cumulative Expert Testimony (Doc. 63); Defendant's Daubert Motion to Strike or Limit Plaintiffs' Expert Witness, Sonny Gulati (Doc. 64); Defendant's Motion in Limine Regarding Testimony and Evidence Regarding Claims Handling and/or Bad Faith (Doc. 74); Defendant's Motion in Limine Regarding Contract Interpretation (Doc. 75); Defendant's Motion in Limine Regarding Reference to and Improper Statements Regarding the Daubert Standard (Doc. 76); Defendant's Omnibus Motion in Limine (Doc. 77); and Defendant's Motion to Strike Plaintiffs' Objection to Defendant's Summary Judgment Response (Doc. 84). Each motion will be addressed in turn.

         I. Motion to Strike

         As an initial matter, Defendant filed a Motion to Strike Plaintiffs' Objection to Defendant's Summary Judgment Response (Doc. 84). Defendant filed its Response (Doc. 73) to Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment on February 27, 2019. On March 12, 2019, Plaintiffs filed their “Objection to Defendant's Summary Judgment Response Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)” (Doc. 78). Clearly, although titled “Objection, ” this document constitutes Plaintiffs' Reply, which they were permitted to file pursuant to the Case Management and Scheduling Order (“CMSO, ” Doc. 14 at 6). Moreover, the document was timely filed. The CMSO permitted Plaintiffs to file their Reply within fourteen days of Defendant's Response being served, (id.); it was filed within that timeframe.[1] Therefore, the Motion to Strike will be denied.

         II. Background

         On February 7, 2017, Plaintiff Barbara Hatch arrived at her home to discover it was flooded due to a leak that originated from the hot water heater. (Doc. 44 at 4 ¶¶ 3, 5-6; Pls.' Resp., Doc. 48, at 1 ¶¶ 3, 5-6; Doc. 60 at 2 ¶ 3; Doc. 73 at 6 ¶ 3). Later it was determined that approximately 4000 gallons of water had flooded the home. (Doc. 60 at 2 ¶ 5; Doc. 73 at 6 ¶ 5). At the time, the home was insured under an “all-risk policy” issued by Defendant. (Doc. 44 at 4 ¶¶ 1-2; Doc. 48 at 1 ¶¶ 1-2; see also generally “Policy, ” Doc. 44-1). Plaintiffs reported the claim to Defendant, who retained Cindy Jean Bootier to inspect the property. (Doc. 60 at 2 ¶ 7; Doc. 73 at 6 ¶ 7). A company called ServPro was also hired to perform water mitigation. (Doc. 60 at 2 ¶ 6; Doc. 73 at 6 ¶ 6). Defendant issued a payment to Plaintiffs for repairs to the property. (Doc. 60 at 5 ¶ 47; Doc. 73 at 9 ¶ 47).[2]

         When Plaintiffs began demolition and repairs, they discovered a crack in the floor of the master bedroom closet. (Doc. 60 at 3 ¶ 17; Doc. 73 at 6 ¶ 17). Plaintiffs then retained Guardian Inspection & Information Services (“Guardian”) to perform an inspection. (Doc. 60 at 3 ¶ 17; Doc. 73 at 6 ¶ 17). And, Defendant retained Summit Engineering Consulting, Inc. (“Summit”). (See generally Summit Residence Damage Evaluation, Doc. 60-7). Both reported additional damage to the foundation and structure of the home (“structural damage”), and Defendant denied coverage, concluding that it was excluded under the Earth Movement Exclusion of the Policy. (See generally June 14, 2017 Letter, Doc. 60-12, at 76-81).

         The parties have now filed cross motions for summary judgment addressing whether the structural damage should have been excluded, whether the Policy covers loss to the hot water heater system itself, and whether Defendant sufficiently compensated Plaintiffs for the non-structural damage.

         III. Summary Judgment

         A. Legal Standard

         “The court shall grant summary judgment 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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the Court construes the facts and all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000). However, when faced with a “properly supported motion for summary judgment, ” the nonmoving party “must come forward with specific factual evidence, presenting more than mere allegations.” Gargiulo v. G.M. Sales, Inc., 131 F.3d 995, 999 (11th Cir. 1997).

         “[A]t the summary judgment stage the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). “Essentially, the inquiry is ‘whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.'” Sawyer v. Sw. Airlines Co., 243 F.Supp.2d 1257, 1262 (D. Kan. 2003) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52); see also LaRoche v. Denny's, Inc., 62 F.Supp.2d 1366, 1371 (S.D. Fla. 1999) (“The law is clear . . . that suspicion, perception, opinion, and belief cannot be used to defeat a motion for summary judgment.”).

         B. Analysis

         All of the parties' arguments involve interpretation of the Policy. “Where the language in an insurance contract is plain and unambiguous, a court must interpret the policy in accordance with the plain meaning so as to give effect to the policy as written. Washington Nat'l Ins. Corp. v. Ruderman, 117 So.3d 943, 948 (Fla. 2013). “In construing insurance contracts, courts should read each policy as a whole, endeavoring to give every provision its full meaning and operative effect.” Id. (quotation omitted). On the other hand, policy language is ambiguous “if the language is susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation, one providing coverage and the other limiting coverage.” Id. (quotation omitted). “Furthermore, in Florida, when an insurer relies on an exclusion to deny coverage, it has the burden of demonstrating that the allegations of the complaint are cast solely and entirely within the policy exclusion and are subject to no other reasonable interpretation.” Castillo v. State Farm Fla. Ins. Co., 971 So.2d 820, 824 (Fla. 3d DCA 2007) (quotation omitted). “Once the insured establishes a loss apparently within the terms of an all-risk policy, the burden shifts to the insurer to prove that the loss arose from a cause which is excepted.” Id. (quotation omitted).

         1. Structural Damage

         Plaintiffs assert that the structural damage is covered by the Policy-specifically pointing to the Policy provision addressing accidental discharge or overflow of water or steam. Defendant asserts that the structural damage is excluded under the Earth Movement Exclusion.

         The Policy is broken up into sections. The first section describes the property that is covered. As relevant here, “[t]he dwelling on the ‘[R]esidence [P]remises'”-i.e., Plaintiffs' home-“including structures attached to the dwelling” are covered, but “land, including land on which the dwelling is located” is not covered. (Doc. 44-1 at 9).

         The second relevant section addresses the “perils insured against, ” and states that the Residence Premises is insured against “direct physical loss” subject to a list of exceptions. (Id. at 15). As relevant here, the Policy provides:

We do not insure . . . for loss . . . [c]aused by . . . [s]ettling, shrinking, bulging or expansion, including resultant cracking, of bulkheads, pavements, patios, footings, foundations, walls, floors, roofs or ceilings . . . .

(Id. at 15-16 (Exception c. (6)(f)). The next paragraph is titled “Exception [t]o c. (6)” and contains exceptions to all of the exceptions listed in Exception c. (6), including c. (6)(f). The Exception to c. (6) provision states:

Unless the loss is otherwise excluded, we cover loss to [the Residence Premises] resulting from an accidental discharge or overflow of water or steam from within a . . . [p]lumbing, heating, air conditioning or automatic fire protective sprinkler system or household appliance on the “[R]esidence [P]remises.”

(Id. at 16).

         The last relevant portion of the Policy is the exclusions section. As ...


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