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Allstate Insurance Co. v. Blue

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 18, 2019

SHAKIA BLUE, et at., Defendants.



         In this Declaratory Judgment action. Plaintiff has filed a motion for summary judgment ("Plaintiffs Motion") (ECF No. 38). Defendant has filed a response (ECF No. 44), and Plaintiff has filed a reply (ECF No. 47). All filings are timely and the motions are ripe for review. After considering Plaintiffs Motion and the responses thereto, the Court finds that no hearing is necessary. See Loc.R. 105.6 (D.Md. 2018). For the reasons stated herein, the Court GRANTS Plaintiffs Motion for Summary Judgment.

         Factual Background

         This declaratory judgment action arises out of lead paint litigation in Baltimore City Circuit Court filed against Defendant Stanley Rochkind and others ("Defendants" or "Rochkind Insureds"). ECF No. 1 at 3, ¶ 2 (Shakia Blue v. Best Investments. Inc., et al., No. 24-C-17-003191 LP (the "Underlying Suit")). Rochkind and Defendants were landowners who managed, owned, and supervised certain rental properties where the injured plaintiff alleged she suffered lead poisoning over a period of time. Id. ¶¶ 14-18. Plaintiff seeks a declaration regarding its contractual obligations to Defendants related to claims filed against Defendants by the injured plaintiff. Id. ¶¶ 18-21.

         Allstate issued a policy which provided excess personal liability coverage for the Rochkind Insureds between June 13, 1988 until the date of cancellation, June 13, 2000. Id. ¶ 18. An addendum excluding lead paint injuries was executed June 13, 1999. Id. In this action. Plaintiff argues that if there is coverage for the injuries, the Rochkind Insureds are responsible for a pro rata share of any award of damages. ECF No. 38-1 at 3. Defendants argue that there is in fact coverage and that Allstate is responsible for damages up to and including the policy limits. ECF No. 44 at 7. The crux of this motion is whether Pennsylvania National Mutual Casualty Insurance Co. v. Roberts, 668 F.3d 106 (4th Cir. 2012), applies to the language of the contract. If Plaintiff is correct and Roberts does apply, the Rochkind Insureds will be responsible for a portion of the damages. If Defendants are successful in convincing the Court Roberts is inapplicable. Plaintiff will be responsible for any damages up to the policy limits.

         Standard of Review

         Pursuant 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 Celotex 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- 48 (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." (emphasis in original)). An issue of fact is material if, under the substantive law of the case, resolution of the factual dispute could affect the outcome. Id. at 248. There is a genuine issue as to material fact "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id; see Dulaney v. Packaging Corp. of Am., 673 F.3d 323, 330 (4th Cir. 2012). On the other hand, if after the court has drawn all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, "the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (internal citations omitted).

         The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of either establishing that no genuine issue of material fact exists or that a material fact essential to the non-movant"s claim is absent. Celotex Corp., All U.S. at 322-24. Once the movant has met its burden, the onus is on the non-movant to establish that there is a genuine issue of material fact. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In order to meet this burden, the non-movant "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [its] pleadings." but must instead "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323 n.3 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         In evaluating a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; see also United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962) ("On summary judgment the inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts contained in such materials must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion."). At the same time, the court also must abide by the "affirmative obligation of the trial judge to prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to trial." Bouchat v. Balt. Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 526 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774. 778-79 (4th Cir. 1993)).


         A federal court exercising diversity jurisdiction must apply the choice of law rules of the state in which it sits. See Seabulk Offshore, Ltd. v. Am. Home Assurance Co., 377 F.3d 408, 418-19 (4th Cir. 2004). The parties agree that Maryland law applies.

         In Maryland, when interpreting a contract, courts '"seek to ascertain and effectuate the intention of the contracting parties." Phoenix Servs. Ltd. P'ship v. Johns Hopkins Hosp., 167 Md.App. 327, 391 (2006) (citation omitted). In ascertaining the parties' intent. Maryland adheres to the objective theory of contract interpretation. See Dumbarton Improvement Ass'n. Inc. v. Druid Ridge Cemetery Co., 434 Md. 37, 51 (2013). The objective theory of contract interpretation requires that a court

must first determine from the language of the agreement itself what a reasonable person in the position of the parties would have meant at the time it was effectuated. In addition, when the language of the contract is plain and unambiguous there is no room for construction, and a court must presume that the parties meant what they expressed. In these circumstances, the true test of what is meant is not what the parties to the contract intended it to mean, but what a reasonable person in the position of the parties would have thought it meant.

Myers v. Kayhoe, 391 Md. 188, 198 (2006) (quoting Dennis v. Fire & Police Emps. Ret. Sys., 390 Md. 639, 656-57 (2006)) (internal ...

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