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Harris v. Keystone Insurance Co.

United States District Court, District of Maryland

March 10, 2015

RONALD HARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
KEYSTONE INSURANCE CO., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Stephanie A. Gallagher, United States Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Ronald Harris (“Plaintiff”) filed this action against Keystone Insurance Company (“Keystone”) for breach of contract after Keystone denied Plaintiff’s claim for the loss of his vehicle. [ECF No. 1].[1] Presently pending before the Court is Keystone’s Motion for Summary Judgment. [ECF No. 27]. The Court has also reviewed Plaintiff’s Opposition and Keystone’s Reply. [ECF Nos. 28, 30]. No hearing is deemed necessary. See Local R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). For the reasons stated herein, Keystone’s Motion is DENIED.

I. FACTS

On the night of September 28, 2012, Plaintiff’s vehicle, a Dodge Charger, was allegedly stolen from Plaintiff’s home in Owings Mills, Maryland, and subsequently set on fire at the 100 block of Gorman Avenue in Baltimore, Maryland. Compl. ¶¶ 5, 7; Def. Mot., Exh. 3. At the scene, police interviewed a witness who stated that at approximately 7:00 p.m., he/she saw a flatbed tow truck pull onto Gorman Avenue and unload a Dodge Charger. Id. at 19. The witness observed an individual get out of a silver compact vehicle and remove items from the Charger, then place them in the silver vehicle and drive away. Id. About two hours later, the witness heard sirens, and saw the Charger engulfed in flames. Id. at 28.

Plaintiff was at the movies with a friend in Jersey City, New Jersey when his roommate notified him that a police officer left a note in their door regarding his car. Pl. Opp. 2. Plaintiff was able to get in touch with the officer the following Sunday, September 30, 2012. Id. at 3. When he spoke to the officer, Plaintiff reported the vehicle stolen. Def. Mot., Exh. 3. He told the police that he last saw his vehicle outside his home on the night of September 28, 2012, between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Id. at 24. A friend then picked him up from his home to bring him to Enterprise Rent-A-Car at BWI airport, where he rented a car to drive to New Jersey for the weekend. Id. Plaintiff explained to the police that he rented a car because it was cheaper than driving his own car. Id. Plaintiff also told the police that his car had 100, 000 miles on it and no mechanical issues. Id. Plaintiff was subsequently interviewed by the Arson Unit. Id. at 26.

On October 2, 2012, Plaintiff filed a claim for the loss of his vehicle with his automobile insurance carrier, Keystone Insurance Company. Pl. Opp. 3. Plaintiff’s insurance policy with Keystone (“the Policy”) provides that “[Keystone] will pay for direct and accidental loss to ‘your covered auto’ . . . caused by . . . theft or larceny.” Def. Mot., Exh. 1 (Keystone Auto Insurance Policy, p. 7). On October 24, 2012, a Keystone representative took a recorded statement from Plaintiff. Def. Mot., Exh. 4. When asked whether there were any mechanical problems with his vehicle prior to the loss, Plaintiff replied that it had been overheating, but he had gotten it fixed. Id. at 5. When asked whether there were any other problems with his vehicle, Plaintiff replied “Um, the engine (Inaudible) the left side lately but um, I have a warranty and I was about to get it uh, looked at.” Id. Plaintiff claimed that everything was still covered under warranty. Id. Plaintiff also told Keystone that he rented a car instead of driving his own because he was trying to save his miles. Id. at 7. Plaintiff explained that he rented a car after he got off work, about 7:00 p.m., and that he carpooled with his roommate to work and then got a ride to BWI. Id. at 8.

On November 21, 2012, counsel for Keystone wrote to Plaintiff to request the contact information of the woman he was at the movies with in New Jersey the night of the alleged theft, along with any and all written communications between them, among other things. Def. Reply, Exh. 5. In a series of e-mail exchanges, Plaintiff explained to Keystone’s counsel that he did not know the woman’s real last name, nor did he have her contact information, as he met and communicated with the woman through a Facebook group that no longer existed, and so he was unable to currently contact her. Id.

On January 31, 2013, Plaintiff provided additional testimony to Keystone during an examination under oath (EUO). Def. Mot., Exh. 5. In his EUO, Plaintiff testified that his vehicle did not start for about a week before it was stolen. Id. at 32, 36. Plaintiff explained that AAA towed his car from his job to a nearby Dodge dealer that estimated repairs at $8, 000, and that he wanted to look for a cheaper option, so he got his car towed to his home by a tow company the Dodge dealer recommended. Id. at 33–34, 37–38. Plaintiff also explained that about one or two days before his car was stolen, he found his warranty paperwork, and that the repairs would have been covered under warranty. Id. at 34–35, 39. Plaintiff testified that on the night his car was stolen, he rented a car to drive to New Jersey because his car was not working. Id. at 45–46. Keystone later determined that the warranty was no longer in effect at the time of the loss. Def. Mot., Exh. 6.

After Plaintiff’s EUO, counsel for Keystone e-mailed Plaintiff to request information on the tow company that towed Plaintiff’s vehicle from the Dodge dealer to his home, including a receipt for the tow, among other things. Def. Reply, Exh. 5. In another series of e-mail exchanges, Plaintiff provided Keystone with the name and number of the tow company, Norwood Towing, but explained that the company only took cash and so he did not have a receipt for the tow. Id.

Based on its investigation, Keystone concluded that Plaintiff was not entitled to coverage under the Policy, and denied his claim. Def. Mot. 4–5. The instant litigation ensued. Keystone now moves for summary judgment, arguing that it was under no contractual duty to cover the loss of Plaintiff’s vehicle because Plaintiff failed to comply with the terms of the Policy. Specifically, Keystone claims there is “substantial evidence” that Plaintiff: (1) made fraudulent statements to Keystone, and (2) failed to cooperate during Keystone’s investigation of the alleged theft, in violation of the Policy. Thus, Keystone argues, it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

A motion for summary judgment is granted “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). A fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law . . . .” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. A party seeking summary judgment bears the burden of showing “that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party’s case.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). In response, the nonmoving party must show that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324.

When considering a motion for summary judgment, a court “must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmovant.” McLean v. Ray, 488 F. App’x 677, 682 (4th Cir. 2012) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). A court must “not . . . weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, ” ...


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