United States District Court, D. Maryland
B1ERMAN FAMILY FARM, LLC/ KING MULCH/KING FARMS, Plaintiff.
UNITED FARM FAMILY INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.
David Copperthite, United States Magistrate Judge
Bierman Family Farm, LLC/King Mulch/King Farms, moves this
Court for summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff and against
Defendant United Farm Family Insurance Company
("Defendant") ("Plaintiffs Motion'*) (ECF
No. 40). Plaintiff seeks a ruling from the Court that
Defendant pay the remaining half of its insurance
policy's limit of liability. Defendant filed an
opposition to Plaintiffs Motion and cross-motion for summary
judgment in favor of Defendant and against Plaintiff
("Defendant's Cross-Motion) (ECF No. 43).
considering the motions and responses thereto (ECF Nos.
44-45), the Court finds that no hearing is necessary.
See Loc.R. 105.6 (D.Md. 2016). In addition, having
reviewed the pleadings of record and all competent and
admissible evidence submitted by the parties, the Court finds
that there is a genuine issue of material fact as to the
claims asserted. Accordingly, the Court will DENY Plaintiffs
Motion (ECF No. 40) and DENY Defendant's Cross-Motion
(ECF No. 43).
lawsuit arises out of Defendant's partial denial of
Plaintiffs insurance claim for the alleged damage to a
storage building on the property located at 33819 Market
Street, Pokomoke City, Maryland 21851 ("the
Property"). On or about October 13. 2015, Plaintiff and
Defendant executed an insurance contract (Policy No.
1913G1126) ("the Policy") to provide coverage on
the Property for the time period from November 17, 2015
through November 17, 2016. ECF No. 40-2. The Policy lists
fire as one of the "PERILS INSURED AGAINST." The
Policy includes a "VACANCY and UNOCCUPANCY Clause"
(the "Vacancy and Unoccupancy Clause"), which
states, in pertinent part:
If a RESIDENCE or BUILDING'' covered under this policy is
VACANT or UNOCCUPIED beyond a period of sixty
(60) consecutive days, the applicable Limit of Liability for
the RESIDENCE or BUILDING and the contents contained therein
will be automatically reduced by 50%. BUILDINGS which are in
a seasonal state of VACANCY or UNOCCUPANCY due to normal
practices of FARMING operations are not considered VACANT or
Id. at 29. The Policy provides for a maximum
coverage of $200, 000 for the storage building located on the
Property. Id. at 8. In addition to the maximum
coverage amount, the Policy provides for up to 5% of the
$200, 000, or $ 10.000. for debris removal. Id. at
Property, Plaintiff provided King Pallet, Inc. with a place
to store, maintain, and stage pallets used in the farming
industry. ECF No. 43-3 at 2. Accordingly, any pallets at the
Property during the sixty days preceding April 10, 2016
belonged to and were used in the business of King Pallet.
Inc. Id. at 3.
April 10, 2016, the Property sustained a fire loss. ECF No.
40-7 at 17-18. Plaintiff made a claim with Defendant for the
resulting property damage by way of Claim Number 19-G-3A9171,
claiming costs in excess of the $200, 000 policy limit for
replacement of the Property as well as estimates in excess of
$10, 000 for debris removal. See ECF No. 40-2 at 3.
After an inspection and evaluation of the Property, a claims
representative for Defendant determined that the building was
a total loss and was unoccupied. ECF No. 40-7 at 18-19.
Therefore, on April 18, 2016, relying on the first sentence
of the Vacancy and Unoccupancy Clause contained in the
Policy, Defendant partially denied Plaintiffs claim, paying
$105, 000, or one half of the total coverage for damages plus
5% for debris removal at the Property. ECF No. 40-3 at 2.
January 3, 2017, Plaintiff filed suit in the Circuit Court
for Harford County against Defendant alleging a single count
of breach of contract for failure to fully pay the amount due
under the Policy. ECF No. 2 ("the
Complaint"). Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that
Defendant "improperly applied a 50% vacancy penalty,
even though the storage building was not vacant under the
definitions of the policy." Id. at 3. The
Complaint sought $220, 000 in damages with interests and
costs for the alleged breach. Id. at 6.
September 22, 2017, Plaintiff filed Plaintiffs Motion (ECF
No. 40) seeking summary judgment against Defendant for
imposing a fifty percent reduction in the amount of
Plaintiffs recoverable policy benefits based on
Defendant's allegedly incorrect conclusion that an
insured building was vacant at the time of the fire
loss. On October 11, 2017, Defendant filed
Defendant's Cross-Motion (ECF No. 43) seeking summary
judgment in its favor. Plaintiff filed a reply and opposition
(ECF No. 44) on October 27, 2017, and Defendant filed a reply
(ECF No. 45) on November 8, 2017. This matter is now fully
briefed and the Court has reviewed each party's
cross-motion for summary judgment. For the foregoing reasons
and pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d).
Plaintiffs Motion (ECF No. 40) is denied and Defendant's
Cross-Motion (ECF No. 43) is denied.
to Rule 56, a movant is entitled to summary judgment where
the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and
admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,
show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Celolex Corp. v. Catrett,477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The Supreme Court has clarified
that not every factual dispute will defeat a motion for
summary judgment but rather, there must be a genuine issue of
material fact. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 247-248 (1986) ("[T]he mere existence of
some alleged factual dispute between the parties
will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for
summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no
genuine issue of material fact."
(emphases in original)). An issue of fact is material if,
under the substantive law of the case, resolution of the