United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division
DONALD E. CLARK; and STACY L. CLARK, Plaintiffs,
ROCKHILL INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.
DALTON JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
insurance coverage dispute, Defendant Rockhill Insurance
Company moves for summary judgment. (Doc. 104
(“Motion”).) Plaintiffs Donald E. Clark and Stacy
L. Clark responded. (Doc. 117.) On review, the Motion is
operate and reside at the Sandman Motel (“Motel”)
in Mims, Florida. (Doc. 96-1, p. 120; Doc . 108 -1,
¶¶ 2, 3.) Defendant insured the Motel from June 30,
2016 to June 30, 2017. (Doc. 96-1, p. 120.) Around June 29,
2017, there was a water backup and overflow at the Motel,
resulting in water damage to Plaintiffs' personal bedroom
and two guest rooms. (Doc. 108-1, ¶¶ 4, 5 .) That
same day, Plaintiffs reported a claim for this water damage
to Defendant, and Ashley Manning, Defendant's employee,
called Plaintiffs to discuss the claim. (Id.
¶ 6; Doc. 100-1, ¶¶ 1, 6.) Ms. Manning and
Plaintiffs disagree on the content of this call. Ms. Manning
says Plaintiffs told her “they had experienced a number
of issues from collapsed iron pipes causing water backups,
which had been ongoing for seven (7) to eight (8) months or
probably closer to ten (10) months.” (Doc. 100-1,
¶ 6; see also Doc. 98-1, p. 21:10-16.)
Plaintiff Donald Clark denies saying this to either Ms.
Manning or any representative of Defendant. (Doc. 108-1,
¶ 14.) Rather, during the call, Mr. Clark acknowledged
he had been experiencing plumbing issues at the Motel in the
previous seven or ten months, such as “slow drains,
smells, and an occasional toilet clog.” (Id.
¶ 15.) He alleges that these issues were not what caused
the June 2017 water damage. (Id.)
this call, Ms. Manning hired an independent adjuster to
address Plaintiffs' claim. (Doc. 98-1, p. 12:2-4.) Worley
Claim Services sent John Prescod to inspect the claim on July
7, 2017. (Id. at 31:7-10; Doc. 108-1, ¶ 10.)
Mr. Clark show ed Mr. Prescod the areas where water came up,
the damage, the drain system, and the corroded pipes. (Doc.
97-1, pp. 20:13-21:11.) He told Mr. Prescod that he had
“tried to clear the blocks, and repeatedly over a
period of time he'd tried to clear it and it
persisted.” (Id. at 20:11-13.) Mr. Prescod
couldn't determine the exact duration of Plaintiffs'
water backup issues but based on what Mr. Clark said, he
thought backups were an ongoing situation, maybe a year or
two, at least longer than three weeks. (Id. at
39:4-40:5.) Following the inspection, Mr. Prescod prepared a
report with photographs for Defendant. (Id. at
denied Plaintiffs' claim on October 3, 2017. (Doc. 96-4,
p. 198.) According to the letter denying the claim,
Plaintiffs' policy “covers damage due to direct,
physical loss unless specifically excluded or limited”
and Plaintiffs' loss was “a combination of
collapsed cast iron pipes, corroded pipes, and blocked pipes
that caused water to back-up into the building over the
course of numerous months.” (Id.) Defendant
stated this damage was “due to a combination of wear,
tear, age, and deterioration and lack of proper maintenance,
” which is not covered by the policy. (Id.)
The letter also included a portion of Plaintiffs'
insurance policy which requires that the insured give
“prompt notice of the loss or damage.”
(Id. at 199.)
their claim was denied, Plaintiffs sued Defendant in state
court for breach of contract, alleging that Defendant failed
to pay for damages to the Motel under the insurance policy.
(Doc. 12.) Defendant removed the case here (Doc. 1) and moved
for summary judgment (Doc. 104). With Plaintiff's
response (Doc. 117), the Motion is ripe.
judgment is appropriate only “if the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that
[it] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477
U.S. 317, 323 (1986). As to issues for which the movant would
bear the burden of proof at trial, it must affirmatively show
the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and support
its motion with credible evidence demonstrating that no
reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party on all of
the essential elements of its case . Fitzpatrick v. City
of Atlanta, 2 F.3d 1112, 1115 (11th Cir. 1993) (citing
United States v. Four Parcels of Real Prop. in Greene
& Tuscaloosa Ctys. in State of Ala., 941 F.2d 1428,
1438 (11th Cir. 1991)).
issues for which the nonmovant would bear the burden of proof
at trial, the movant has two options: (1) it may simply point
out an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving
party's case; or (2) it may provide “affirmative
evidence demonstrating that the nonmoving party will be
unable to prove its case at trial.” Four
Parcels, 941 F.2d at 1438 (citing Celotex
Corp., 477 U.S. at 331). “The burden then shifts
to the non-moving party, who must go beyond the pleadings,
and present affirmative evidence to show that a genuine issue
of material fact exists.” Porter v. Ray, 461
F.3d 1315, 1320 (11th Cir. 2006) (citing
Fitzpatrick, 2 F.3d at 1115-17).
factual dispute is genuine ‘if the evidence is such
that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the
nonmoving party.'” Four Parcels, 941 F.2d
at 1437 (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 248, 251-52 (1986)). A court must view the
evidence and all reasonable inferences drawn from the
evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant,
Battle v. Board of Regents for Georgia, 468 F.3d
755, 759 (11th Cir. 2006), such that “when conflicts
arise between the facts evidenced by the parties, [the court]
credit[s] the nonmoving party's version, ”
Evans v. Stephens, 407 F.3d 1272, 1278 (11th Cir.
2005). However, the “court need not permit a case to go
to a jury . . . when the inferences that are drawn from the
evidence, and upon which the non-movant relies, are
implausible.” Mize v. Jefferson City Bd. of
Educ., 93 F.3d 739, 743 (11th Cir. 1996) (citations and
internal quotations omitted). “[M]ere conclusions and
unsupported factual allegations are legally insufficient to
defeat a summary judgment motion.” Ellis v.
England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1326 (11th Cir. 2005) (citation
omitted). “When opposing parties tell two different
stories, one of which is blatantly contradicted by the
record, so that no reasonable jury could believe it, a court
should not adopt that version of the facts for purposes of
ruling on a motion for summary judgment.” Scott v.
Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380 (2007).
argues it is entitled to summary judgment because: (1)
Plaintiffs did not provide prompt notice of their claim as
the policy requires; and (2) Plaintiffs cannot rebut the
presumption of prejudice that arises from untimely notice.
(Doc. 104.) Plaintiffs respond: (1) these are factual issues
that preclude summary judgment; (2) they did provide prompt
notice; and (3) even if they did not provide prompt notice,
Defendant was not prejudiced. (Doc. 117.) On review, the
Court agrees with Plaintiffs that there are factual issues
precluding summary judgment.
Florida law, “[t]he failure of an insured to give a
timely notice of loss in contravention of a policy provision
is a legal basis for the denial of recovery under the
policy.” Ideal Mut. Ins. Co. v. Waldrep, 400
So.2d 782, 785 (Fla. 3d DCA 1981). In some instances, when
the record is undisputed, notice can be deemed untimely as a
matter of law. See, e.g., Ideal Mut. Ins. Co. v.
Waldrep, 400 So.2d 782, 785 -86 (Fla. 3d DCA 1981);
1500 Coral Towers Condo. Ass'n, Inc. v. Citizens
Prop. Ins. Corp., 112 So.3d 541, 543 (Fla . 3d DCA
2013). But prompt notice is typically a question of fact for
the jury as it requires determining reasonableness given the
facts and circumstances. See Yacht ...