Slaubaugh Farm, Inc.
Farm Family Cas. Ins. Co.
Submitted: June 26, 2018
Francis J. Jones, Jr., Esquire Morris James, LLP
Malatesta, Jr., Esquire Kent & McBride, P.C.
D. Schultz, Esquire
Counsel, This is my decision on the Motion for Partial
Summary Judgment filed by Plaintiffs Slaubaugh Farm, Inc.,
and Sarah and Lambert Slaubaugh (collectively, "the
Plaintiffs") in this breach of contract and negligence
action arising out of the construction and subsequent
collapse of one of the Plaintiffs' poultry houses. The
Plaintiffs' poultry houses were covered under an
insurance policy (the "Policy") issued by Defendant
Farm Family Casualty Insurance Company ("Farm
Family"). During the weekend of January 23 and 24 of
2016, a blizzard swept through Sussex County, Delaware. On
January 24, 2017, one of the Plaintiffs'
recently-constructed poultry houses ("the Poultry
House") collapsed. The Plaintiffs sought coverage from
Farm Family for their loss. An engineer retained by Farm
Family attributed the loss to snow accumulation on the roof.
A second engineer retained by Farm Family concluded the roof
trusses in the Poultry House failed due to insufficient
strength of the truss connector plates used in the Poultry
House's construction. Farm Family initially denied the
Plaintiffs' claim because the Policy did not cover
damages caused by snow. Farm Family subsequently denied the
Plaintiffs' claim because the Policy also excluded
damages caused by the defective design and construction of
the Poultry House.
Plaintiffs filed a complaint alleging Farm Family breached
the terms of the Policy in denying their claim, acted in bad
faith in doing so, and was negligent in assisting the
Plaintiffs with the procurement of insurance. The Plaintiffs
also sued the Farm Family agent who sold them the Policy as
well as Kingston Construction Equipment Company, Inc., which
constructed the Poultry House. The Plaintiffs have now filed
a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment against Farm Family.
Farm Family argues that it is actually the party entitled to
summary judgment as a matter of law.
denied the Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary
Judgment and found that Farm Family is entitled to summary
judgment as a matter of law. Farm Family denied the
Plaintiffs' claim because the Policy does not cover
losses attributable to snow accumulation and excludes losses
attributable to the defective design and construction of the
Poultry House. The Plaintiffs are unable to show that Farm
Family acted without reasonable justification in reaching
those conclusions at the time they were reached.
Court will grant summary judgment only when no material
issues of fact exist, and the moving party bears the burden
of establishing the non-existence of material issues of
fact. Once the moving party has met its burden,
the burden shifts to the non-moving party to establish the
existence of material issues of fact. Where the moving party
produces an affidavit or other evidence sufficient under
Superior Court Civil Rule 56 in support of its motion and the
burden shifts, the non-moving party may not rest on its own
pleadings, but must provide evidence showing a genuine issue
of material fact for trial. If, after discovery, the
non-moving party cannot make a sufficient showing of the
existence of an essential element of his or her case, summary
judgment must be granted. If, however, material issues of fact
exist, or if the Court determines that it does not have
sufficient facts to enable it to apply the law to the facts
before it, summary judgment is inappropriate. In the event that
parties file cross-motions for summary judgment, "the
parties implicitly concede the absence of material factual
disputes and acknowledge the sufficiency of the record to
support their respective motions."
A. The Policy
The Policy provides:
DIVISION II - BUILDINGS AND BUILDING CONTENTS
Section A Buildings
If a limit of liability is shown for Section A on the
coverage selection page, this Division covers BUILDINGS and
structures only as specifically shown on the Schedule of
Buildings and Building Contents and only for direct loss
caused by one or as a result of the Peril Group shown on the
Schedule of Buildings and Building Contents indicates that
the Poultry House was insured under Peril Group 4. Peril
Group 4 covers perils identified in the Policy by letters
A-K: A) Fire and/or Lightning; B) Windstorm or Hail; C)
Explosion; D) Riot and Civil Commotion; E) Aircraft; F)
Vehicles; G) Smoke; H) Vandalism and Malicious Mischief; I)
Theft; J) Breakage of Glass or Safety Glazing Material; and
K) Collision, Upset or Overturn of a Vehicle.
Policy also identifies a number of exclusions. The pertinent
one excludes any loss resulting directly or indirectly from:
Error, Omissions and Defects, which result from one or ...