Submitted: March 31, 2017
"J" Jackson Shrum, Esquire Werb & Sullivan
Artemio C. Aranilla, II, Esquire Marshall Dennehey Warner
Coleman & Goggin
plaintiff, a homeowner whose residence and personal property
were damaged in a fire, seeks coverage under a
homeowner's policy on which his ex-wife was the sole
named insured. At the beginning of the policy period, the
plaintiff and the named insured were married and residing
together. On the date of the fire, however, the plaintiff was
divorced from the named insured and she no longer resided in
the home. The insurance company covered the damage to the
residence, but denied coverage for damage to the plaintiffs
personal property because he was neither a named insured nor
a relative of the named insured on the date of loss. The
insurance company maintained its denial of coverage after the
plaintiff submitted a policy amendment adding himself as a
named insured. This case presents two core issues. First,
what is the relevant date for determining coverage under an
insurance policy: the effective date of the policy or the
date of loss? Second, if the date of loss is the
determinative date, is the policy amendment retroactive to
the date of loss? I conclude the date of loss is the relevant
date for coverage purposes and the policy amendment was not
retroactive. I therefore grant summary judgment for the
insurance company. My reasoning follows. Background
following facts are undisputed or drawn from the uncontested
documents attached to the parties' briefs. The parties
filed cross-motions for summary judgment and neither party
contends material disputed facts preclude entry of judgment
as a matter of law.
December 17, 2009, the plaintiff, John Vaughn, jointly
purchased 1803 Belfield Avenue, Wilmington, Delaware (the
"Property") with non-party Samantha Brocklesby
("Ms. Brocklesby"). Both the plaintiff and Ms.
Brocklesby were named on the deed and in the mortgage
documents associated with the purchase of the
Property. For unknown reasons, however, only Ms.
Brocklesby, who at the time was unmarried, filled out an
application for homeowner's insurance. Ms.
Brocklesby was the only named insured under the
homeowner's insurance policy issued for the Properly (the
Policy initially was issued by a predecessor-in-interest to
the defendant, Stillwater Property & Casualty Insurance
Company ("Stillwater"), and the Policy annually was
renewed. The Policy in effect on the date of the fire covered
the period from December 17, 2013 to December 17, 2014. The
premium payments for the Policy were escrowed through the
mortgage company and paid by Vaughn or Ms. Brocklesby as part
of their mortgage. The bills for the Policy identified only
Ms. Brocklesby as the named insured, but it is unclear
whether bills were mailed to the Property since the premium
payments were escrowed.
Ms. Brocklesby was the only named insured on the Policy until
August 29, 2014, the Policy covered certain others who
resided with her. Specifically, the Policy defined
(a) You and residents of your household who are:
(1) Your relatives; or
(2) Other persons under the age of 21 and in your care or the
care of a resident of your household who is your relative;
(b) A student enrolled in school full-time . . . provided the
student is under the age of:
(1) 24 and your relative; or
(2) 21 and in your care or the care of a resident of your
household who is your relative.
Policy also defined "You" and "Your" as
"the 'named insured' shown in the
and: (1) The spouse; or (2) a Party who, with the 'named
insured', has entered into a civil union recognized under
Delaware law; If a resident of the same
they were not married at the time the Policy initially was
issued, Vaughn and Ms. Brocklesby married on December 28,
2012. They separated less than a year later, on
or about July 22, 2013, and formally divorced on March 6,
2014. Two months later, Vaughn and Ms.
Brocklesby's agreement regarding the division of assets
was entered by the Family Court as an order of that Court
(the "Ancillary Order"). It appears Ms. Brocklesby
still was residing in the Property with Vaughn at the time
the Family Court entered the Ancillary Order. As to the
Property, the Ancillary Order provided:
The parties are joint owners of [the Property]. The parties
agree that [the Property] shall be [Vaughn's] property.
[Vaughn] does not have to pay any monies to [Ms. Brocklesby]
for her interest in the [P]roperty, but [Vaughn] must
refinance the mortgage into his sole name within sixty (60)
days of the date of this agreement. [Vaughn] shall also
remove [Ms. Brocklesby's] name from all other debts and
liabilities associated with the [P]roperty within sixty (60)
days of the date of this agreement. At the time [Vaughn]
removes [Ms. Brocklesby's] name from the mortgage, [Ms.
Brocklesby] shall sign the deed to the home into
[Vaughn's] sole name. Until [Ms. Brocklesby's] name
is removed from the mortgage on the home, she shall be
entitled to reside in the home.
If [Vaughn] cannot refinance the mortgage into his sole name
within sixty (60) days, then [the Property] shall immediately
be placed on the market for sale. ... As long as [Ms.
Brocklesby] is residing in the [P]roperty, [Vaughn] shall pay
the mortgage and [Ms. Brocklesby] shall pay the other
ordinary monthly expenses for the home .... Once [Ms.
Brocklesby] moves from the home[, ] [Vaughn] shall be solely
responsible for all expenses for the home.
appears Vaughn was unable to refinance the mortgage into his
sole name within the 60-day time period established in the
Ancillary Order, but Vaughn and Ms. Brocklesby agreed to
extend that period. Shortly thereafter, on August 3, 2014
(the "Date of Loss"), a fire occurred on the
Property, damaging both the residence and Vaughn's
personal property. On ...