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Slaubaugh Farm, Inc. v. Farm Family Cas. Ins. Co.

Superior Court of Delaware

July 23, 2018

Slaubaugh Farm, Inc.
v.
Farm Family Cas. Ins. Co.

          Date Submitted: June 26, 2018

          Francis J. Jones, Jr., Esquire Morris James, LLP

          David Malatesta, Jr., Esquire Kent & McBride, P.C.

          Robert D. Schultz, Esquire

         Dear 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.

         The 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.

         I have 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.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         This 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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[5] 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."[6]

         DISCUSSION 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.[7]

         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.

         The Policy also identifies a number of exclusions. The pertinent one excludes any loss resulting directly or indirectly from:

         12. Error, Omissions and Defects, which result from one or ...


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