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Neidenbach v. Amica Mutual Ins. Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

March 10, 2015

DALE NEIDENBACH, et al., Plaintiffs,

For Dale Neidenbach, Kim Neidenbach, Plaintiffs: David C. Knieriem, LEAD ATTORNEY, DAVID C. KNIERIEM, St. Louis, MO.

For Amica Mutual Insurance Company, Defendant, Counter Claimant: Robert W. Cockerham, LEAD ATTORNEY, COCKERHAM & ASSOCIATES, L.L.C., St. Louis, MO.

For Dale Neidenbach, Kim Neidenbach, Counter Defendants: David C. Knieriem, LEAD ATTORNEY, DAVID C. KNIERIEM, St. Louis, MO.

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This matter is before the Court on defendant's motion for summary judgment. The motion is fully briefed and ready for disposition. For the following reasons, defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted.

I. Background

Plaintiffs Dale and Kim Neidenbach allege in their first amended complaint that on or about October 10, 2012, a fire started on their property, and they sustained damage amounting to the total loss of their home and personal belongings. They claim that defendant Amica Mutual Insurance Company (" Amica" ) had issued them an insurance policy covering this damage, which was in full force and effect at the time. They also claim that they satisfied all conditions precedent under the policy. Plaintiffs contend they made a demand for coverage under the policy, which defendant failed to pay. Plaintiffs allege that they have been damaged in excess of $612,000.00, and without specifying what type of claim they are bringing, they request in their amended complaint that the Court enter judgment in their favor against defendant Amica in excess of $25,000.00.

Defendant Amica filed an answer in response to the amended complaint, in which it asserted a number of affirmative defenses and a counterclaim against plaintiffs. Defendant alleges in its affirmative defenses, among other things, that plaintiffs are barred from recovery and there is no coverage under the policy at issue because the loss arose out of an intentional act by the insured, and that plaintiffs intentionally concealed and/or misrepresented material facts about the circumstances of the fire and the extent of the loss. Amica asserts a counterclaim for declaratory judgment. Amica requests, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2201 and Rule 57 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, that the Court declare the Neidenbachs are barred from recovery and there is no coverage under the policy at issue.

In the motion presently before the Court, defendant Amica moves that the Court enter judgment in its favor as to

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plaintiffs' claims against the company.[1] Amica argues that the Neidenbachs are barred from recovering under the policy due to a number of material misrepresentations they made during the claims process. More specifically, Amica argues that the amount plaintiffs claimed in their proof of loss differs dramatically from the amount they valued their personal property in connection with a bankruptcy petition they filed just one year prior to the fire. Amica also argues that the Neidenbachs failed to inform Amica about the existence of financial documents and other property items that they had moved to two storage units following the fire. Amica further argues that the Neidenbachs concealed their involvement in the demolition of their home and the removal of their underground swimming pool before Amica had completed its investigation. Finally, the company argues that the Neidenbachs failed to cooperate in Amica's investigation and filed suit prematurely, before Amica had made any coverage decision. Plaintiffs oppose the motion for summary judgment, which is fully briefed.

II. Summary Judgment Standard

The Eighth Circuit has recently articulated the appropriate standard for consideration of motions for summary judgment, as follows:

Summary judgment is proper if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The movant bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and must identify those portions of the record which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. If the movant does so, the nonmovant must respond by submitting evidentiary materials that set out specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. On a motion for summary judgment, facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party only if there is a genuine dispute as to those facts. Credibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge. The nonmovant must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, and must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.

Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1043 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). " Although the burden of demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue of material fact rests on the movant, a nonmovant may not rest upon mere denials or allegations, but must instead set forth specific facts sufficient to raise a genuine issue for trial." Wingate v. Gage Cnty. Sch. Dist., No. 34, 528 F.3d 1074, 1078--79 (8th Cir. 2008) (cited case omitted).

With this standard in mind, the Court accepts the following facts as true for purposes of resolving the parties' motions for summary judgment.

III. Facts

Dale and Kim Neidenbach were named insureds on a homeowners insurance policy issued by Amica, Policy number 630524-20HX

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(" the Policy" ), with effective dates May 8, 2012, through May 8, 2013. On October 10, 2012, a fire occurred at the Neidenbachs' residence, located at 991 Decker Road, Labadie, Missouri 63055. [2] After the fire was extinguished, portions of the home remained standing, but there was considerable damage. The parties dispute whether the fire resulted in a total loss of the dwelling and personal property.

Following the fire loss, the Neidenbachs made a claim under the Policy. They submitted a Sworn Statement Proof of Loss (" Proof of Loss" ) claiming their dwelling and garage suffered a total loss, and seeking $375,000.00 in alleged damage to the dwelling and garage. They also sought $262,500.00 for fire damaged personal property items, such as household goods, furnishings, clothing, tools, firearms, and other hobby equipment. In the record submitted to the Court, there is an inventory of the Neidenbach's personal property attached to the Proof of loss.[3] Doc. 50, Ex. U at 2-36.

Approximately one year prior to the fire loss, the Neidenbachs had filed for bankruptcy in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, Eastern Division, Case No. 11-46383-399. In signing and filing their 2011 Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Petition, the Neidenbachs attested that the value of their house was $300,000.00. They further declared under penalty of perjury that they jointly owned only $7,000.00 worth of household goods, furnishings, clothing, furs, jewelry, firearms, other hobby equipment, and other such personal property contents items. It is undisputed that the Neidenbachs did not accumulate over $255,500.00 worth of household contents in the year between the 2011 filing of the couple's bankruptcy petition and the 2012 fire loss.

During the claims process, Amica examined the plaintiffs under oath. At their examinations, Dale and Kim Neidenbach each denied removing any personal property items from the house, other than a bag containing dog food, an urn containing a late pet's ashes, a few blankets and their dogs. Both claimed that all other content items were destroyed in the fire. A month after their examinations, the Neidenbachs informed Amica of the existence of a rented storage unit where the couple had stored personal property items removed from their home following the fire. Several months after learning about the existence of the Neidenbachs' first storage unit, Amica learned that the Neidenbachs had rented a second storage unit at the same facility where they had also stored items removed from the fire. The Neidenbachs did not volunteer the existence of the second unit when Amica's investigator visited the facility to inspect the first storage unit. The Neidenbachs sought recovery from Amica for personal property that was removed from the dwelling and placed in the two storage units. It is disputed, however, as to whether these items were salvageable.

As part of its claim investigation, Amica requested certain financial information

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from the Neidenbachs, such as bank records and income tax documentation, as well as receipts related to the Neidenbachs' purchases of various personal property items. The Neidenbachs did not produce all the financial information Amica requested. They claimed that the financial information had been destroyed in the fire. Upon inspecting the storage units that were rented by the Neidenbachs, Amica's investigator discovered that there were boxes of financial documents that were not destroyed in the fire. Neither party provided the Court with an inventory of these documents. It is disputed ...

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