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Khoshmukhamedov v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co.

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

May 28, 2013

IZATULLO KHOSHMUKHAMEDOV, Plaintiffs,
v.
STATE FARM FIRE AND CASUALTY COMPANY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Alexander Williams, Jr.

Plaintiffs Izatullo Khoshmukhamedov and Zoulfia Issaeva filed this case against State Farm Fire and Casualty Company (State Farm) on March 15th, 2012, based on State Farm’s refusal to pay Plaintiffs under a homeowner’s insurance policy for losses sustained when water pipes burst and Plaintiffs’ home was flooded. Pending before the Court is Plaintiffs’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on Count 1 (Declaratory Judgment) and Summary Judgment on Count 2 (Breach of Contract).[1] Doc. No. 27. Also pending before the Court is State Farm’s Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment on both counts. Doc. No. 32. The Court has reviewed the motion papers and exhibits and concludes that no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2011). For the reasons articulated below, Plaintiffs’ motion will be DENIED and Defendant’s motion will be GRANTED.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The following facts are drawn from the parties’ briefs and attached exhibits and are undisputed, unless otherwise noted. In 2005, Plaintiffs purchased a home located at 12909 Brushwood Terrace in Potomac, Maryland. Plaintiffs eventually moved into the home in January or February of 2006. Doc. No. 27-3, Khoshmukhamedov Dep. at 59:12-14, 65:8-12. Plaintiffs moved their personal property to the Potomac house from their previous home in Rockville, Maryland. Id. at 65:8-12. They insured the Potomac house with State Farm. Doc. No. 27-2, State Farm Policy.

Plaintiff Khoshmukhamedov manages a business that supplies raw materials for the aluminum industry. His company primarily provides materials to an aluminum factory in Tajikistan. Doc. No. 27-3, at 37:1-11. Khoshmukhamedov’s business requires that he frequently travel; the company is headquartered in Switzerland and has employees in Switzerland and Russia. Doc. No. 27-3, at 38:1-39:19. Plaintiffs are Russian citizens, and Khoshmukhamedov’s visa prevents him from staying in the United States for more than 180 consecutive days. Doc. No. 27-3, at 54:16-19.

In 2008, Plaintiffs resided at the Potomac house in the first quarter of the year, and then again for a period beginning in September or October and concluding at the end of October. Doc. No. 27-3, at 109:7-110:21. When Plaintiffs left at the end of October, they intended to return to Maryland in February 2009, when Khoshmukhamedov planned to attend a conference in the United States. Doc. No. 27-3, at 111:2-8. Additionally, Plaintiffs intended to bring their grandson to live at the Potomac home and attend a local school. Doc. No. 27-3, at 165:21-166:2. Plaintiffs planned for their son and grandson to eventually live in a second home on the same property, or alternatively, on a nearby property. Doc. No. 27-4, Issaeva Dep. at 24:21-26:11. Because they planned to return, Plaintiffs left many of their personal effects at the Potomac House; the house was furnished, and a car was left in the garage. Doc. No. 27-9, Immerman Dep. at 78:1-12; 171:14-18.

When Plaintiffs left in October 2008, they arranged for Mikhail Immerman, their friend and translator, and Khushi Kalotra, [2] their neighbor, to monitor and care for the Potomac house. Doc. No. 27-8, Immerman Dep. at 41:13-21; Doc. No. 27-10, Kalotra Dep. at 36:1-39:17. Kalotra and Immerman were both given keys to the residence. Doc. No. 27-8, at 41:19-21; Doc. No. 27-10, at 36:1-39:17. Once a week, Kalotra would gather the mail and deposit it in the house. Doc. No. 27-10, at 36:1-39:17. Occasionally, Kalotra would perform additional tasks, like fixing a broken screen and installing a dehumidifier. Id. at 39:14-41:8; 47:15-18. Immerman visited the residence two or three times per month while the Plaintiffs were gone, inspecting both the inside and the outside of the home. Doc. No. 27-8, at 36:1-37:14, 57:2-17. Immerman would check the mail, pay their bills, inspect the outside of the house for damage or intrusion, inspect the inside of the house for leaks, and shovel snow from the driveway. Id. at 36:14-38:8.

Upon leaving in October 2008, Plaintiffs had their cable television and telephone services shut off. Doc. No. 27-3, at 125:16-126:17. Khoshmukhamedov also instructed Immerman to have the electricity shut off. Id. at 120:7-22. Khoshmukhamedov believed that upon turning the electricity off, the house would not have heat. Doc. No. 32-2 Ex. 1 at 116:1-3. Immerman contacted Potomac Electric Power Company (PEPCO) to disconnect power to the residence, and he received a confirmation number for the request. Doc. No. 27-8, at 110:4-10. Immerman passed the confirmation number along to Khoshmukhamedov. Doc. No. 27-3, at 120:11-18. The pump that supplied water to the Potomac house ran on electricity, leading Khoshmukhamedov to believe that water would not flow through the piping in the house in the absence of electricity. Id. at 111:9-112:3.

Despite these efforts, the water pump continued to receive electricity throughout the winter. Doc. No. 27-11, State Farm Denial of Coverage Letter, at 2. At some point prior to February 6th, 2009, water pipes in the house froze and burst. See Id . at 1. The electric water pump continued to pump water into the house, causing significant damage to both the home and Plaintiffs’ personal effects. Doc. No. 27-8, at 70:1-84:1. Kalotra discovered the damage on February 6th, and upon entering, shut off the electricity and the water. Doc. No. 27-10, at 70:4-21. Kalotra then hired workers to remove the Plaintiffs’ personal effects from the house. Id. at 73:14-80:4.

Immerman, acting as the Plaintiffs’ representative, contacted State Farm to file a claim soon after the damage was discovered. Doc. No. 27-8, at 89:3-13. State Farm sent an agent, James McDade, and an engineer, Robert G. Bryant, Jr., to the house to perform an inspection. Doc. No. 27-11, at 1-2. Upon discovering that the Plaintiffs had not been at the Potomac house since October, State Farm denied the Plaintiffs’ claim on grounds that the home was “vacant/unoccupied” at the time of the damage. Id. at 2. The relevant portions of the insurance policy, cited by State Farm as the reason for its denial of coverage, state as follows:

SECTION I - LOSSES INSURED

COVERAGE A - DWELLING

We insure for accidental direct physical loss to property described in Coverage A, except as provided in SECTION I - LOSSES NOT INSURED.

COVERAGE B - PERSONAL PROPERTY

We insure for accidental direct physical loss to property described in Coverage B, except as provided in SECTION I - LOSSES NOT INSURED.

SECTION I - LOSSES NOT INSURED

1. We do not insure for any loss to the property described in Coverage A which consists of, or is directly and immediately caused by, one or more of the perils in items a. through n. below, regardless of whether the loss occurs suddenly or gradually, involves isolated or widespread damage, arises from natural or external forces, or occurs as a result of any combination of these:

* * * *

b. freezing of a plumbing, heating, air conditioning or automatic fire protective sprinkler system, or of a household appliance, or by discharge, leakage or overflow from within the system or appliance caused by freezing. This exclusion only applies while the dwelling is vacant, unoccupied or being constructed. This exclusion does not apply if you have used reasonable care to:

(1) maintain heat in the building; or

(2) shut off the water supply and drain the system and appliances of water;

* * * *

f. continuous or repeated seepage or leakage of water or steam from a:

(3) plumbing system, including from, within or around any shower stall, shower bath, tub installation, or other plumbing fixture, including their walls, ceilings or floors; which occurs over a period of time...

Doc. No. 32 Ex. 4, at 12, 14 (emphasis added).

Following State Farm’s denial of coverage, Plaintiffs filed this action. The parties agree that the dispositive issue for the purposes of the pending motions is whether the home was ...


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