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Metropolitan Casualty Insruance Co. v. Goriola

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

December 11, 2013

METROPOLITAN CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff/Counterclaim-Defendant,
v.
GEORGIA GORIOLA, Defendant/Counterclaim-Plaintiff.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

David R. Herndon, Chief Judge United States District Court.

I. Introduction and Background

Before the Court is plaintiff and counterclaim-defendant Metropolitan Casualty Insurance’s (“Metropolitan”) motion for summary judgment (Doc. 47). Metropolitan argues that it is entitled to summary judgment because there are no genuine issues of material fact as to defendant and counterclaim-plaintiff Georgia Goriola’s (“Goriola”) material misrepresentations which defeat her homeowner’s insurance coverage in this instance. Goriola opposes the motion (Doc. 49). For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Metropolitan’s motion for summary judgment.

Metropolitan brought this declaratory judgment action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202 against Goriola seeking declaration by this Court that it does not owe a duty to indemnify Goriola in accordance with a homeowner’s insurance policy issued to Goriola by Metropolitan. Metropolitan further seeks recovery of any advance payments, the amount paid to the mortgage holder, if any, and the amount of expenses incurred in investigation, adjustment, and evaluation of the claim including attorney’s fees. Metropolitan generally argues that the underlying harm to the property, a fire, was intentionally set and that even if Goriola was not responsible for the fire, she has misrepresented the value of the home and her personal property thereby defeating her coverage (Doc. 2).

II. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is proper when “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 and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as to a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A genuine issue of material fact exists when the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could find for the nonmovant. Buscaglia v. United States, 25 F.3d 530, 534 (7th Cir. 1994). The movant in a motion for summary judgment bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact; if the party succeeds in doing so, the burden shifts to the nonmovant to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue of fact for trial. Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56(e); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). In considering motions for summary judgment, a court construes all facts and draws all inferences from the record in favor of the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).

III. Facts

Metropolitan issued a homeowner’s insurance policy, No. 3492236000, to Goriola covering Goriola’s dwelling for $149, 856 and her personal property for $104, 899 (Doc. 47, Ex. A). On September 24, 2010, a fire occurred at Goriola’s residence causing damage to the dwelling and the personal property located within. While the State Fire Marshall’s Office determined the next day that the cause of the fire was undetermined, on September 28, 2010, private firm Pyr-tech, Inc. concluded that the fire was intentionally set (Doc. 49, Ex. 2). At the time of the fire, Goriola was behind on her mortgage payments (Doc. 47, Ex. B at 11:9-12).

On November 4, 2010, Goriola submitted a Sworn Statement in Proof of Loss to Metropolitan, making a formal demand for payment under the policy and claiming an actual cash value of the property of $110, 000 and loss and damage amounting to $89, 000 (Doc. 47, Ex. E). Attached to the proof of loss, Goriola submitted a handwritten list indicating the value of each item of personal property and its approximate age (Doc. 47, Ex. E at 3-7).[1] At issue in Metropolitan’s motion for summary judgment is whether the statements in the proof of loss accurately reflect the value of the home and the personal property contained within.

There is a genuine issue of fact as to whether the proof of loss was accepted or rejected. In his deposition, Roger Faulke, the claims adjuster, indicated that he did not know whether the proof of loss was accepted or rejected by Metropolitan (Doc. 49, Ex. 3 at 58:6-59:10) and, in her deposition, Vickie Nolan, also from Metropolitan, stated that she did not think Goriola had ever submitted a complete proof of loss statement (Doc. 47, Ex. G at 111:22-112:23). On December 30, 2010, Metropolitan sent Goriola a certified letter indicating that Metropolitan had neither accepted nor rejected Goriola’s proof of loss (Doc. 49, Ex. 7). It again contacted Goriola on August 12, 2011 stating it was still investigating the claim (Doc. 49, Ex. 8).

The relevant portion of the applicable policy provision is as follows:

10. Under GENERAL CONDITIONS:

A. Item 2. Concealment or Fraud is deleted and replaced by:
2. Concealment or Fraud. If any person defined as you conceals or misrepresents any material fact or circumstance or makes any material false statement or engages in fraudulent conduct affecting any matter relating to this insurance or any loss for which coverage is sought, whether before or after a ...

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