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Sidiq v. Tower Hill Select Insurance Co.

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

July 31, 2019

MOHAMMAD SIDIQ and JOSEFINA SIDIQ, Appellants,
v.
TOWER HILL SELECT INSURANCE COMPANY, a Florida corporation, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit, St. Lucie County; Janet C. Croom, Judge; L.T. Case No. 2017-CA-000982.

          Timothy H. Crutchfield of Mintz Truppman, P.A., North Miami, for appellants.

          Kara Berard Rockenbach and Daniel M. Schwarz of Link & Rockenbach, P.A., West Palm Beach, and Jeffrey M. Thompson of Alvarez, Winthrop, Thompson & Storey, P.A., Orlando, for appellee.

          Conner, J.

         The appellants, Mohammad Sidiq and Josefina Sidiq (collectively, "the Insureds"), appeal the final summary judgment entered in favor of the appellee, Tower Hill Select Insurance Co. ("Tower Hill"). The dispute focuses on the scope of language in a contract assigning rights under a property insurance policy. Because we determine the trial court erred in construing the assignment contract, we reverse for further proceedings.

         Background

         The underlying facts of the case are not disputed. Tower Hill issued a property insurance policy to the Insureds. While the policy was in effect, the Insureds alleged that they sustained "extensive water damage . . . throughout" their insured home. Upon discovering the water leak, the Insureds contacted United Water Restoration Group, Inc. ("United") to perform emergency water mitigation services. The Insureds entered into a "Contract for Services, Assignment of Benefits, Direct Payment Authorization, and Hold Harmless Agreement" with United ("the AOB Contract"). The proper construction of the AOB Contract is at issue on appeal. The relevant paragraph of the AOB Contract is:

ASSIGNMENT OF INSURANCE BENEFITS
I, hereby, assign any and all insurance rights, benefits, proceeds and any causes of action under any applicable insurance policies to [United], for services rendered or to be rendered by [United]. In this regard, I waive my privacy rights. I make this assignment in consideration of [United's] agreement to perform services and supply materials and otherwise perform its obligations under this contract, including not requiring full payment at the time of service. I also herby [sic] direct my insurance carrier(s) to release any and all information requested by [United], its representative, and/or its Attorney for the direct purpose of obtaining actual benefits to be paid by my insurance carrier(s) for services rendered or to be rendered.

         The first sentence of the paragraph was the primary language in dispute below.

         United submitted an invoice directly to Tower Hill for the water mitigation services it rendered. Subsequently, the Insureds filed a claim with Tower Hill for the entirety of the water damage caused to their home. Tower Hill denied coverage, stating that its investigation revealed that "the leaking ha[d] been occurring over an extended period of time and [was] not a one-time or sudden occurrence but rather from constant and repeated seepage and leakage, nor [was] the damage hidden from view." The Insureds filed a claim for declaratory relief, seeking a judgment determining their rights under the policy. After the action began, United executed a release of all claims against Tower Hill, after Tower Hill paid it a sum of money less than what United initially billed.

         Tower Hill filed its answer and affirmative defenses, one of which was the defense of standing. Tower Hill then filed a motion for summary judgment on its affirmative defense of standing, arguing that the Insureds assigned all of their rights and benefits to United, and therefore, did not have standing to maintain an action for declaratory relief. In opposition, the Insureds each filed mirroring affidavits, stating that each "did not intend to assign all of [their] rights for this Loss to United" and "intended only to assign [their] right[s] to seek payment for the water mitigation services rendered by United" in executing the AOB Contract.

         During the hearing on Tower Hill's motion for summary judgment, the parties focused mainly on the first sentence of the assignment paragraph of the AOB Contract. More specifically, the parties focused on the language of the first sentence: "for services rendered or to be rendered by Company." (emphasis added). Tower Hill argued that the clause was a statement of consideration - that the AOB Contract was executed in consideration for all of the Insureds' rights under the policy. In opposition, ...


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