United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION
FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DEFENDANT CHURCH MUTUAL INSURANCE
COMPANY'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Dkt. Nos. 18 and
KATHERINE A. ROBERTSON United States Magistrate Judge
April 25, 2016, the ceiling in the Fellowship Hall of the
Easthampton Congregational Church (“the Church”
or “Plaintiff”) fell to the floor. This is a
dispute about whether the Church's property insurance
policy issued by Church Mutual Insurance Company
(“Church Mutual” or “Defendant”)
provides coverage for the loss. The parties have cross-moved
for summary judgment on the issue of coverage. For the
reasons discussed below, Plaintiff's motion is allowed,
and Defendant's motion is denied.
Applicable Legal Standard
judgment is proper where ‘the pleadings, depositions,
answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together
with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue
as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled
to judgment as a matter of law.'” Carroll v.
Xerox Corp., 294 F.3d 231, 236 (1st Cir. 2002) (quoting
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). “For this purpose, an issue is
‘genuine' if it ‘may reasonably be resolved
in favor of either party.'” Vineberg v.
Bissonnette, 548 F.3d 50, 56 (1st Cir. 2008) (quoting
Garside v. Osco Drug, Inc., 895 F.2d 46, 48 (1st
Cir. 1990)). “A fact is ‘material' only if it
‘possess[es] “the capacity to sway the outcome of
the litigation under the applicable law.”'”
Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Cadle Co.
v. Hayes, 116 F.3d 957, 960 (1st Cir. 1997)). In
determining whether genuine disputes of material fact exist,
all reasonable inferences must be drawn in the
non-movant's favor. Id. “Cross-motions for
summary judgment do not alter the basic Rule 56 standard, but
rather simply require [the court] to determine whether either
of the parties deserves judgment as a matter of law on facts
that are not disputed.” Adria Int'l Grp., Inc.
v. Ferré Dev., Inc., 241 F.3d 103, 107 (1st Cir.
2001) (citing Wightman v. Springfield Terminal Ry.
Co., 100 F.3d 228, 230 (1st Cir. 1996)).
Massachusetts law,  the interpretation of an insurance policy
and the application of policy language to known facts pose
questions of law for the court to decide.”
Nascimento v. Preferred Mut. Ins. Co., 513 F.3d 273,
276 (1st Cir. 2008) (citing Herbert A. Sullivan, Inc. v.
Utica Mut. Ins. Co., 788 N.E.2d 522, 530 (Mass. 2003)).
An insurance policy is construed under general rules of
contract interpretation Brazas Sporting Arms, Inc. v. Am.
Empire Surplus Lines Ins. Co., 220 F.3d 1, 4 (1st Cir.
2000) (citing Merchants Ins. Co. of N.H., Inc., v. U.S.
Fidelity & Guar. Co., 143 F.3d 5, 8 (1st Cir.
1998)). The court “begin[s] with the actual language of
the policies, given its plain and ordinary meaning.”
Id. (citing GRE Ins. Grp. v. Metro. Boston Hous.
P'ship, Inc., 61 F.3d 79, 81 (1st Cir. 1995)). Where
a term is undefined, it is appropriate for the court to look
to the dictionary definition for assistance in determining
its ordinary meaning. Fed. Ins. Co. v. Raytheon Co.,
426 F.3d 491, 498-99 (1st Cir. 2005) (citing Ellery v.
Merchs.' Ins. Co., 20 Mass. (3 Pick.) 46, 48
a term is ‘susceptible of more than one meaning and
reasonably intelligent persons would differ as to which
meaning is the proper one, ' the term is
ambiguous.” U.S. Liability Ins. Co. v. Benchmark
Constr. Servs., Inc., 797 F.3d 116, 119-20 (1st Cir.
2015) (quoting Citation Ins. Co. v. Gomez, 688
N.E.2d 951, 953 (Mass. 1998)). “[A]n ambiguity does not
exist simply because the parties disagree about how to
interpret the policy.” Id. at 120 (citing
Citation Ins. Co., 688 N.E.2d at 953).
“‘Nor does the mere existence of multiple
dictionary definitions of a word, without more, suffice to
create an ambiguity, for most words have multiple
definitions.'” Cty. of Barnstable v. Am. Fin.
Corp., 744 N.E.2d 1107, 1109 (Mass. App. Ct. 2001)
(quoting Citation Ins. Co., 688 N.E.2d at 953).
“To the extent the policy language is ambiguous, any
ambiguities must be construed in favor of the insured.”
Clark Sch. for Creative Learning, Inc. v. Philadelphia
Indem. Ins. Co., 734 F.3d 51, 55 (1st Cir. 2013) (citing
Allmerica Fin. Corp. v. Certain Underwriters at
Lloyd's, London, 871 N.E.2d 418, 425 (Mass. 2007)).
“‘This rule of construction applies with
particular force to exclusionary provisions.'”
U.S. Liability Ins. Co., 797 F.3d at 120 (quoting
Boazova v. Safety Ins. Co., 968 N.E.2d 385, 390
insured bears the initial burden of showing that the case
involves a generally covered risk under the policy.
Stor/Gard, Inc. v. Strathmore Ins. Co., 717 F.3d
242, 247 (1st Cir. 2013) (citing Boazova, 968 N.E.2d
at 390). If the insured makes this showing, the burden shifts
to the insurer to show that an exclusion applies.
Id. (citing Boazova, 968 N.E.2d at 390).
And if the insurer satisfies that burden, the burden shifts
back to the insured to show that an exception to the
exclusion applies. Id. (citing Boazova, 968
N.E.2d at 390).
April 25, 2016, the ceiling in the Fellowship Hall section of
the Church failed and fell to the floor. The ceiling was not
under construction, remodeling, or renovation at the time.
The Church had in effect a property insurance policy issued
by Church Mutual (“the Policy”), and the Church
promptly reported the ceiling failure to Church Mutual.
Policy, Church Mutual agreed to “pay for direct
physical loss of or damage to Covered Property at the
premises described in the Declarations Page caused by or
resulting from any Covered Cause of Loss.” The
Fellowship Hall section of the Church is part of the premises
described in the Declarations Page. Church Mutual does not
contest that the damage to the Fellowship Hall ceiling
constituted direct physical loss of or damage to Covered
Property at the premises insured by the Policy.
Causes of Loss” are defined as “Risks of Direct
Physical Loss unless the loss is” excluded or limited.
Exclusion 2.j. excludes “loss or damage caused by or
resulting from . . . Collapse, except as provided below in
the Additional Coverage - Collapse.” The Additional
Coverage - Collapse coverage part provides that “[t]he
term Covered Cause of Loss includes the Additional Coverage -
Collapse as described and limited in D.1. through D.5.
below.” Paragraph D.1.a. defines “Collapse”
as “an abrupt falling down or caving in of a building
or any part of a building with the result that the building
or part of the building cannot be occupied for its intended
purpose.” The parties agree that the failure of the
ceiling in the Fellowship Hall constitutes a collapse within
the meaning of the Policy. Paragraph D.2. provides, in
[Church Mutual] will pay for direct physical loss or damage
to Covered Property, caused by collapse of a building or any
part of a building that is insured under this Coverage Form .
. ., if the collapse is caused by one or more of the
. . .
b. Decay that is hidden from view, unless the presence of
such decay is known to any insured prior to collapse;
. . .
f. Use of defective material or methods of construction,
remodeling, or renovation if the collapse occurs during the
course of construction, remodeling, or renovation. However,
if the collapse occurs after construction, remodeling, or
renovation is complete and is caused in part by a cause of
loss listed in a. through e.; we will pay for the loss or
damage even if use of defective material or methods, in
construction, remodeling, or renovation, contributes to the
Policy does not define the term “decay.”
addition to the general exclusion for collapse, Exclusion
3.c. excludes loss or damage caused by or resulting from
“[f]aulty, inadequate, or defective . . . [d]esign, . .
.[or] construction . . . of part or all of any property on or
off the described premises.” However, a preamble to
Exclusion 3.c. provides that “if an excluded cause of
loss that is listed in . . . 3.c. results in a Covered Cause
of Loss, we will pay for the loss or damage caused by that
Covered Cause of Loss.” Exclusion 2.d. excludes loss or
damage resulting from “[w]ear and tear, ” and
“[r]ust, or other corrosion, decay, deterioration,
hidden or latent defect, or any quality in property that
causes it to damage or destroy itself.”
The Expert Report
3, 2016, Joseph Malo, a Forensic Engineer with Donan
Engineering, inspected the church and the ceiling failure at
the request of Church Mutual. Mr. Malo reported his findings
and conclusions by letter dated May 11, 2016 (“the
Report” or “Malo's Report”). The
parties accept the contents of Malo's Report as agreed
material facts. In the Report, Malo confirmed that a major
section of ...