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Williams v. Hartford Insurance Company of Midwest

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

October 2, 2019

LA WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
HARTFORD INSURANCE COMPANY OF THE MIDWEST, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN ROBERT BLAKEY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff La Williams sued Defendant Hartford Insurance Company of the Midwest for breach of contract and for bad faith under the Illinois Insurance Code. [1] (Ex. A). Defendant moved for summary judgment. [36]. For the reasons explained below, this Court grants Defendant's motion.

         I. Background

         A. Local Rule 56.1 and Evidentiary Rules

         The facts in this discussion come from Defendant's Local Rule 56.1 statement of material facts [38]. Plaintiff failed to provide an additional statement of material fact, but instead only responded to portions of Defendant's statement of facts. Based upon the inadequacy of those many of those responses, Defendant asks this Court to admit several of its facts. [41] at 3-6.

         This Court has broad discretion to enforce the local rules governing summary judgment. See, e.g., Petty v. City of Chi., 754 F.3d 416, 420 (7th Cir. 2014); Benuzzi v. Bd. of Educ. of Chi., 647 F.3d 652, 655 (7th Cir. 2011). Under the local rules, a party's responses to the opposing party's statements of fact must contain “specific references” to record evidence to justify any denial. Local R. 56.1(b)(3); see also Malec v. Sanford, 191 F.R.D. 581, 584 (N.D. Ill. 2000). Thus, purely argumentative denials, legal conclusions, and unsupported general denials are inadequate. See Phillips v. Quality Terminal Servs., LLC, 855 F.Supp.2d 764, 771 (N.D. Ill. 2012); Malec, 191 F.R.D. at 584. District courts may disregard any improper denials and deem the opponent's corresponding fact statements admitted. See Aberman v. Bd. of Educ. of Chi., 242 F.Supp.3d 672, 677 (N.D. Ill. 2017).

         Accordingly, this Court disregards Plaintiff's denials to the following paragraphs of Defendant's statement of facts: 19, 36, 41, 50, 52-53, 59-63. Those denials fail to cite record evidence that refutes Defendant's statements, and merely denying a fact that has evidentiary support “does not transform it into a disputed issue of fact sufficient to survive a motion for summary judgment.” Roberts v. Advocate Health Care, 119 F.Supp.3d 852, 854 (N.D. Ill. 2015). Additionally, this Court disregards Plaintiff's denials based upon her inability to admit or deny the statement as contained in paragraphs: 24-29.

         This Court also disregards Plaintiff's unsubstantiated arguments and characterizations that omit citations to the record. See De v. City of Chi., 912 F.Supp.2d 709, 712 (N.D. Ill. 2012) (internal punctuation omitted) (quoting Smith v. Lamz, 312 F.3d 680, 683 (7th Cir. 2003)) (“A mere disagreement with the movant's asserted facts is inadequate if made without reference to specific supporting material.”). Accordingly, this Court deems admitted the following paragraphs of Defendant's statement of facts: 21, 23, 31-33, 40, 44, 55, 56.

         Plaintiff also disputes several of Defendant's facts by citing to her deposition generally. See, e.g., [39] ¶¶ 10-14, 16-18. But Plaintiff's generic deposition citations lack specificity, as they do not provide a docket entry number, exhibit number, or line citations. Id. As such, they remain difficult to locate and review, and may be stricken on this ground alone. Ammons v. Aramark Unif. Servs., Inc., 368 F.3d 809, 817-18 (7th Cir. 2004). This Court nevertheless reviewed Plaintiff's deposition. Her denials regarding Mr. Slack's January 2015 inspection, [39] ¶¶ 10-13, however, fail to create a genuine factual dispute because her testimony concerns his March 2015 inspection while Defendant's facts regard Mr. Slack's January 2015 inspection. For this reason, this Court disregards Plaintiff's response to the following paragraphs of Defendant's statement of fact: 10-13.

         B. Factual Background

         In March or April 2015, Plaintiff purchased a condo located at 2215 East 68thStreet. [38] ¶ 4. In January 2015, prior to purchasing the condo, Plaintiff hired Leon Slack of GS&TJ Services to perform an inspection. Id. ¶ 8. At this inspection, Mr. Slack noticed “signs of past water damage.” Id. ¶¶ 9-11. Following the inspection, Mr. Slack prepared a written home inspection report, which included his observations about longstanding water damage. Id. ¶ 14.

         In March, Mr. Slack undertook a second home inspection, id. ¶ 15, where he again noticed issues with the building's roof and possible water leakage, id. ¶¶ 16-17 (noting the roof was old with deep cracks, meaning it was not waterproof). Mr. Slack did not, however, create a written report of this inspection until three or four years later. Id. ¶ 18. He testified that he eventually created a written report at Plaintiff's request because “she was suing someone.” Id. ¶ 19. Mr. Slack also testified that Plaintiff called him following the inception of this case in order to dissuade him from complying with Defendant's discovery requests. Id. ¶¶ 50-53.

         Shortly after Plaintiff purchased her condo, she emailed the home owners association seeking an “immediate roof repair” for a gaping hole “due to a deteriorated pipe cap” and other leaks. Id. ¶ 21. A month later in May 2015, Plaintiff again contacted the HOA to request that it prioritize repairing the roof. Id. ¶ 23. Eventually, in November 2015, the HOA hired Rogers Roofing to tarp the building's roof. Id. ¶ 25. The HOA viewed this action as a temporary solution to prevent further leakage until the entire roof could be replaced. Id. Rogers Roofing tarped the roof on December 3 or 4, 2015. Id. ¶ 26. Plaintiff claims the sole cause of the water damage to her condo was the result of nailing the tarp to the roof. Id. ¶ 46; see also [40] at 3, 9 (explaining “the leak was caused by the nail punctures to hold down the tarp”); [39] ¶¶ 27, 46.

         As relevant here, Defendant issued Plaintiff an insurance policy for her condo, effective from December 29, 2015 through December 29, 2016. [38] ¶ 30. The policy was not meant to protect Plaintiff from all possible damage but to protect her condo from unexpected losses, such as fire, lightening, or vandalism. See id. ¶ 31. For that reason, the policy protected Plaintiff's condo from several identified “perils, ” but also excluded coverage in a variety of scenarios. Id. Among other things, the policy excluded coverage for losses caused by the acts, errors, or omissions of the insured or third-parties as well damage resulting from wear and tear and/or constant seepage known by the insured. Id.

         Around July 14, 2016, Plaintiff first reported a claim to Defendant for water damage to her condo due to roof leakage. Id. ¶ 32. She also told Defendant that water began leaking into her unit in April 2015. Id. In response to Plaintiff's claim, Defendant inspected Plaintiff's condo in July 2016. Id. ¶ 34. After the inspection, Defendant denied Plaintiff coverage because it concluded that the water leakage was longstanding and predated the policy. Id. ¶¶ 36-37. Defendant, however, reopened Plaintiff's claim in March 2017, so that Plaintiff could proffer additional documents and submit to an Examination Under Oath. Id. ¶ 38. On January 22, 2018, Defendant again denied Plaintiff coverage. Id. ¶ 43.

         II. Legal Standard

         Courts should grant summary judgment when the moving party shows that no genuine dispute exists as to any material fact and the evidence weighs so heavily in the moving party's favor that the moving party “must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-52 (1986); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. A genuine dispute as to a material fact exists when, based upon the evidence, a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. To show a genuine dispute as to a material fact, the non-moving party must point to “particular materials in the record” and cannot rely upon the pleadings or speculation. Olendzki v. Rossi, 765 F.3d 742, 746 (7th Cir. 2014) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3)).

         At summary judgment, courts must evaluate evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and refrain from making credibility determinations or weighing evidence. See Rasho v. Elyea, 856 F.3d 469, 477 (7th Cir. 2017) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255). The moving party bears the initial burden of establishing the lack of genuine disputes as to any material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Even so, the non-moving party must then provide more than a mere "scintilla of evidence" to create a genuine issue of material fact. Zaragon Holdings, Inc. v. Indian Harbor Ins. Co., No. 08-CV-111, 2011 WL 1374980, at *2 (N.D. Ill. April 12, 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248) (noting there must be more than some "metaphysical doubt" as to the material facts).

         III. ...


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