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Allstate Insurance Co. v. Pitts

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 3, 2019

KY'WON PITTS, et al, Defendants.



         In this insurance coverage dispute, plaintiff Allstate Insurance Company (“Allstate”) has filed a declaratory judgment action against defendants Ky'Won Pitts, Stanley Rochkind individually and on behalf of corporate defendant KGB #6, Inc., and Charles Runkles individually and on behalf of corporate defendant Dear Management and Construction Company.[1] (See ECF No. 1). The case is rooted in a suit filed by Pitts in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City against the other defendants alleging injury from lead paint exposure in connection with a property owned, maintained, or managed by Rochkind. (ECF 1-2). Allstate, in turn, seeks a determination of its coverage obligations for that lawsuit from this Court.

         The case is before me for all proceedings by the consent of the parties pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (ECF No. 15). Now pending before this Court are three motions. First, is Plaintiff's fully briefed Motion for Summary Judgment, (ECF Nos. 22, 24, and 29). Second, is Defendant Ky'Won Pitt's Motion for Certification, (ECF No. 23), which Allstate opposed. (ECF No. 26). And third, is Defendant Ky'Won Pitts' Motion to Stay, (ECF No. 25), which Allstate also opposed. (ECF No. 31). No. hearing is necessary to resolve the issues presented. Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the following reasons, Defendant Ky'Won Pitts' motions for certification and to stay, (ECF No. 23 and 25), are DENIED, and Allstate's motion for summary judgment, (ECF No. 22), is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part without prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This action arises out of a lead paint poisoning lawsuit filed by Pitts against the other defendants in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 9). Pitts alleged that he was exposed to lead paint while residing at and visiting 1701 Darley Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland.[2]In particular, this case involves a Personal Umbrella Policy issued by Allstate to Mr. Rochkind beginning on June 13, 1988. Allstate seeks a declaration that it has no duty to defend or indemnify Mr. Rochkind for any alleged lead paint injuries that occurred on or after June 13, 1999, when the policy excluded coverage for claims arising from lead paint exposure. (Id. at ¶¶ 18 and 19). Allstate argues that the pro rata method of damages allocation proscribed by the Fourth Circuit in Pennsylvania Nat. Mut. Cas. Ins. Co. v. Roberts, 668 F.3d 106 (4th Cir. 2012) controls and results in Allstate being liable for 24.01% of the total judgment for Pitts, and Mr. Rochkind being liable for the remainder. (Id. at ¶ 20).

         Mr. Pitts, on the other hand, argues that the pro rata method is improper. (See ECF Nos. 23, 24, and 25). He asserts that this area of Maryland law is unsettled and thus this Court should either certify a question to the Court of Appeals of Maryland or stay the proceeding pending a decision by the Court of Special Appeals in Daquantay Robinson v. CX Reinsurance Company limited, et al. No. 01888, Sept. Term 2016. Alternatively, Pitts argues that if the pro rata method is proper, Allstate utilizes the incorrect exposure “start date” to calculate its pro rata share of the damages. In light of these arguments, the Court, before proceeding to the motion for summary judgment, will first determine whether certification or a stay are proper.


         A. Motion for Certification

         Under the Maryland Uniform Certification of Questions of Law Act (“Certification Act”), Md. Code (2013 Repl. Vol., 2017 Supp.), § 12-601 et seq. of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, this Court may certify to the Maryland Court of Appeals a question of law “if the answer may be determinative of an issue in pending litigation in the certifying court and there is no controlling [Maryland] appellate decision, constitutional provision, or statute . . . .” The role of a federal court when considering an issue of state law is to “interpret the law as it believes that state's highest court of appeals would rule.” Abadian v. Lee, 117 F.Supp.2d 481, 485 (D. Md. 2000) (citing Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Triangle Indus., Inc., 957 F.2d 1153, 1156 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 824 (1992)).

         Notably, opinions of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals are not controlling appellate decisions. Proctor v. WMATA, 412 Md. 691, 704 (2010). But, if the Court of Appeals has yet to address an issue, a federal court may turn to a decision of the Court of Special Appeals to ascertain state law “unless it is convinced by other persuasive data that the highest court of the state would decide otherwise.” Allstate Ins. Co. v. Rochkind, CV ELH-17-3400, 2019 WL 1440647, at *7 (D. Md. Mar. 31, 2019) (quoting Proctor, 412 Md. at 704) (other quotations and citations omitted). Such “‘[p]ersuasive data' exists only if the ‘decision of a state's intermediate court cannot be reconciled with state statutes, or decisions of the state's highest court, or both . . . .'” Id. (quoting Assicurazioni Generali, S.p.A. v. Neil, 160 F.3d 997, 1003 (4th Cir. 1998)). Otherwise, a federal court must follow an intermediate appellate court's decision. Id.

         B. Summary Judgment

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) requires the Court to “grant summary judgment 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.” The moving party can do so by demonstrating the absence of any genuine dispute of material fact or by showing an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-25 (1986). A dispute as to a material fact “is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” J.E. Dunn Const. Co. v. S.R.P. Dev. Ltd. P'ship, 115 F.Supp.35 593, 600 (D. Md. 2015) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)).

         A nonmoving party “opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment ‘may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [his] pleadings,' but rather must ‘set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'” Bouchat v. Baltimore Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th Cir. 2003) (citations omitted). The court is “required to view the facts and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to” the nonmoving party. Iko v. Shreve, 535 F.3d 225, 230 (4th Cir. 2008) (citing Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 377 (2007)). However, the Court must also “abide by the ‘affirmative obligation of the trial judge to prevent factually unsupported claims and defenses from proceeding to trial.'” Heckman v. Ryder Truck Rental, Inc., 962 F.Supp.2d 792, 799-800 (D. Md. 2013) (quoting Drewitt v. Pratt, 999 F.2d 774, 778-79 (4th Cir. 1993)). Consequently, a party cannot create a genuine dispute of material fact through mere speculation or compilation of inferences. See Deans v. CSX Transp., Inc., 152 F.3d 326, 330-31 (4th Cir. 1998).

         III. ...

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