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Williams v. Foremost Insurance Company Grand Rapids Michigan

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

October 3, 2017

TABITHA WILLIAMS, a person, Plaintiff,
v.
FOREMOST INSURANCE COMPANY GRAND RAPIDS MICHIGAN, an insurance company, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          RICARDO S. MARTINEZ, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Tabitha Williams' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. Dkt. #9. Defendant Foremost Insurance Company Grand Rapids Michigan (“Foremost”) opposes this Motion. The Court has determined that oral argument is unnecessary. For the reasons below, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion.

         II. BACKGROUND

         On March 3, 2017, Ms. Williams purchased a house located at 18820 AP Tubbs Road E. in Carbonado, Washington. Dkt. #9 at 9; Dkt. #13-2 at 2. Around the same time, Ms. Williams purchased a homeowner's insurance policy from Farmers Insurance to cover this house. Dkt. #9 at 9. Prior to purchase, Ms. Williams knew that the house was “occupied, ” although the former owner had passed away, but “did not know if the occupants were squatters illegally occupying the house or if they were actual tenants.” Id. at 9-10. Ms. Williams subsequently visited the house and learned that the occupants were not paying rent. Id. at 10. Ms. Williams hired an attorney to send a letter to the occupants asking for documentation showing they had a written rental agreement or had paid rent. The occupants did not provide any such evidence, so Ms. Williams commenced eviction proceedings in Pierce County Superior Court. Id.; Dkt. #13-2. In the eviction proceedings, the occupants stated via declaration that they “are legal tenants, ” while at the same time referring to being tenants of the prior owner. Dkt. #13-3 at 4. The occupants presented no evidence that they had a rental agreement with Ms. Williams.

         The occupants were ordered to leave by May 2, 2017 after filing a stipulation. Dkt. #9 at 10; Dkt. #13-5. On May 3, 2017, Ms. Williams inspected the house and found that “someone had left the upstairs bath faucet running and clogged the drain, which caused water to flood the entire house.” Dkt. #9 at 10. Someone had also damaged the HVAC system “by dumping cat litter and sawdust into the vents.” Id. None of this damage was noticeable in Ms. Williams' prior visit to the house. Ms. Williams notified Farmers Insurance that day, making a claim of vandalism. Id. At no time did the occupants pay rent or enter into a rental agreement with Ms. Williams. Id.

         Defendant Foremost Insurance Company, on behalf of Farmers Insurance, handled the claim. On May 17, 2017, Foremost informed Ms. Williams via letter that “there is no coverage for your claim based on the facts known to us at the present time as tenant who vandalism [sic] a home is specifically excluded by your policy.” Id. at 15. Foremost then stated “[i]f you have any other evidence that clearly shows these tenant [sic] where [sic] only living in the home a short peroid [sic] of time and knew they had no legal right to live in the home then please send that information in so it can be reviewed.” Id.

         Ms. Williams' insurance policy covers “[v]andalism or malicious mischief, meaning the intentional and willful damage or destruction of property by anyone other than the owner of the property, ” but explicitly excludes “[a]ny loss caused by, resulting from, contributed to or aggravated by intentional acts of any tenant or any roomers and boarders of your premises…” Dkt. #13-2 at 14.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate where “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.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). Material facts are those which might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In ruling on summary judgment, a court does not weigh evidence to determine the truth of the matter, but “only determine[s] whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Crane v. Conoco, Inc., 41 F.3d 547, 549 (9th Cir. 1994) (citing Federal Deposit Ins. Corp. v. O'Melveny & Meyers, 969 F.2d 744, 747 (9th Cir. 1992)).

         On a motion for summary judgment, the court views the evidence and draws inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255; Sullivan v. U.S. Dep't of the Navy, 365 F.3d 827, 832 (9th Cir. 2004). The Court must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See O'Melveny & Meyers, 969 F.2d at 747, rev'd on other grounds, 512 U.S. 79 (1994). However, the nonmoving party must make a “sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof” to survive summary judgment. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Further, “[t]he mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251.

         B. Analysis

         Ms. Williams brings this Motion for the Court to rule as a matter of law that she was covered for the vandalism damage above and that Foremost breached the insurance contract when it denied coverage. Dkt. #9 at 1. Ms. Williams argues that she has clearly met her burden of establishing that vandalism, a covered loss, occurred. Id. at 6. She argues that Foremost is unable to meet its burden of establishing that an exclusion applies because ‚Äúthere is no evidence that the ...


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