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Rosenthal v. Allstate Property & Casualty Insurance Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

April 19, 2017

HENRY ROSENTHAL
v.
ALLSTATE PROPERTY AND CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY

         SECTION: “J” (1)

          ORDER AND REASONS

          CARL J. BARBIER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 10) filed by Defendant Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Company (“Allstate”), an opposition thereto filed by Plaintiff Henry Rosenthal (“Rosenthal”) (Rec. Doc. 15), and a reply filed by Allstate (Rec. Doc. 21). Having considered the motion and legal memoranda, the record, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the motion should be GRANTED.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         This case arises from an insurance claim Rosenthal made on his motor home policy. On June 20, 2013, Rosenthal purchased a 1991 Bluebird RV in Virginia. He drove the RV off the lot, across the country, and to his home in Mandeville, Louisiana. From July 23, 2013 until June 8, 2015, Rosenthal never once drove the RV on the road. However, Rosenthal avers that he would occasionally run the engine and drive the RV on the driveway of his property to ensure that it remained in good working order.

         Rosenthal alleges that an unusually heavy rainstorm occurred at his home on or about May 27, 2015. Rosenthal avers that following this severe weather, he attempted to run the RV. He contends that that the engine would not initially turn over. When the engine did eventually run, water dripped from it and spewed out of the exhaust. Believing that the engine may have been damaged from rain water that entered the RV's vertical exhaust pipe during the May 27, 2015 storm, Rosenthal made a claim with Allstate on June 8, 2015.

         On June 10, 2015, Allstate sent an adjuster to assess the extent and the cause of the damage. The adjuster drew no conclusions about what caused Rosenthal's engine trouble and instead requested that Rosenthal have a mechanic of his choice evaluate the RV and provide a repair estimate. (Rec. Doc. 10-2 at 3.) Rosenthal did not have a mechanic inspect the RV at that time. Instead, he submitted an estimate for repairing the engine from Clarke Power Services (“Clarke”) after discussing the situation over the phone with someone from the company. Id. at 4-5. An Allstate representative informed Rosenthal that the estimate from Clarke would be insufficient and that Rosenthal would need to obtain an estimate from a mechanic who actually inspected the RV.

         After more phone conversations with Rosenthal, Allstate referred the claim to a mechanical engineer in its Special Investigation Unit named Jeff Stark. Id. at 5. Stark determined that the engine damage was most likely caused by the RV being left idle for two years, but advised that a conclusive determination of the engine's condition would require it to be disassembled. Allstate once again informed Rosenthal that he needed to have a mechanic inspect the RV's engine. Rosenthal asserts that Allstate refused to pay to have the RV's engine disassembled or transported to a mechanic even though he alleges that the insurance policy covers this service. (Rec. Doc. 15 at 3.) Because Rosenthal did not obtain an inspection, Allstate took the position that he did not cooperate with the investigation and denied the claim for failure to provide sufficient proof of loss.

         On May 25, 2016, Rosenthal filed suit against Allstate in Louisiana state court, alleging breach of contract, negligent and bad faith claims handling in violation of Louisiana Revised Statutes § 22:1973 and § 22:1892, violations of Louisiana Civil Code Articles 2315, 2316, and 2320, and negligent misrepresentation. Allstate removed the case to this Court on August 9, 2016. On March 14, 2017, Allstate filed the instant motion for summary judgment.

         At issue in this motion for summary judgment is whether the damage to the engine of Rosenthal's RV is covered by the vehicle's insurance policy. There is no dispute that rusty water escaped from exhaust pipes when Rosenthal attempted to run the engine. Allstate's expert, Jeff Stark, [1] has seen a video of this discharge and acknowledges as much. However, the parties disagree about how the water entered the engine. Rosenthal contends that when strong rains fell on May 27, 2015, a large amount of rain water landed on the roof of his home. Rosenthal's theory is that this water ran off the roof and into the vertical exhaust pipe of the RV, which was parked along the side of his home. From there, Rosenthal avers that the water ran down the vertical exhaust pipe and into the exhaust manifold where it sat until he attempted to run the engine. At that point, Rosenthal contends, the water entered the engine and damaged it. Rosenthal has an expert who supports this theory and suggests that it is possible for rain to fall with such intensity that it would result in a collection of water through the vertical exhaust pipe of an RV.

         Allstate argues that Rosenthal's theory is not realistic and not supported by enough evidence to withstand a motion for summary judgment. Allstate contends that the damage to the RV's engine is much more likely to have been caused from inactivity and from not running the engine for extended periods of time. Because damage resulting from improper maintenance is not covered by the insurance policy, Allstate argues that the damage to the RV's engine falls outside the policy's scope of coverage. Allstate also argues that it did not violate Louisiana's statutory scheme for insurer bad faith and asks the Court to grant summary judgment on this claim.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate when “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.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)); Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994). When assessing whether a dispute as to any material fact exists, a court considers “all of the evidence in the record but refrains from making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence.” Delta & Pine Land Co. v. Nationwide Agribusiness Ins. Co., 530 F.3d 395, 398-99 (5th Cir. 2008). All reasonable inferences are drawn in favor of the nonmoving party, but a party cannot defeat summary judgment with conclusory allegations or unsubstantiated assertions. Little, 37 F.3d at 1075. A court ultimately must be satisfied that “a reasonable jury could not return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Delta, 530 F.3d at 399.

         If the dispositive issue is one on which the moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party “must come forward with evidence which would ‘entitle it to a directed verdict if the evidence went uncontroverted at trial.'” Int'l Shortstop, Inc. v. Rally's, Inc., 939 F.2d 1257, 1264-65 (5th Cir. 1991). The nonmoving party can then defeat the motion by either countering with sufficient evidence of its own, or “showing that the moving party's evidence ...


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