12W RPO, LLC v. Affiliated FM Ins. Co.

Decision Date18 December 2018
Docket NumberNo. 3:17-cv-00037-HZ,3:17-cv-00037-HZ
Citation353 F.Supp.3d 1039
Parties 12W RPO, LLC, an Oregon Limited Liability Company; and GED Gallery, LLC, an Oregon Limited Liability Company, Plaintiffs, v. AFFILIATED FM INSURANCE COMPANY, a Rhode Island Corporation, and Steadfast Insurance Company, a Delaware Corporation, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Oregon

353 F.Supp.3d 1039

12W RPO, LLC, an Oregon Limited Liability Company; and GED Gallery, LLC, an Oregon Limited Liability Company, Plaintiffs,
v.
AFFILIATED FM INSURANCE COMPANY, a Rhode Island Corporation, and Steadfast Insurance Company, a Delaware Corporation, Defendants.

No. 3:17-cv-00037-HZ

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division.

Signed December 18, 2018


353 F.Supp.3d 1042

Michael E. Farnell, Kristopher L. Kolta, PARSONS FARNELL & GREIN, LLP, 1030 S.W. Morrison Street, Portland, Oregon 97205, Attorneys for Plaintiff

Stuart D. Jones, BULLIVANT HOUSER BAILEY PC, 300 Pioneer Tower, 888 S.W. Fifth Avenue, Portland, Oregon 97204, Attorney for Defendant

OPINION & ORDER

Marco A. Hernandez, United States District Judge

Plaintiffs 12W RPO ("12W") and GED Gallery ("GED") bring this breach of contract action against Defendant Affiliated FM Insurance Company.1 The dispute arises from Defendant's denial of insurance claims made by Plaintiffs related to the failure of plumbing components and certain "spandrel glass" windows used in the construction of a multi-story, mixed-use apartment and office building in Portland.2 Defendant moves for summary judgment on both the plumbing and spandrel glass claims. Plaintiffs move for partial summary judgment on the spandrel glass claim only. Because I conclude that the insurance policy excludes coverage for

353 F.Supp.3d 1043

both claims, I grant Defendant's motion and deny Plaintiffs' motion.

BACKGROUND

GED was the developer of "The Indigo @ Twelve West" ("The Indigo"). First Am. Compl. ¶ 10, ECF 41. 12W is The Indigo's current owner and is landlord to The Indigo's residential and commercial tenants. Id. ¶ 11. Defendant issued a series of first-party property insurance policies to 12W under which GED is also a named insured. Id. ¶ 7.

According to the allegations in the First Amended Complaint, The Indigo's hot and cold water plumbing systems were constructed with various materials composed of or containing ethylene propylene diene monomer rubber ("EPDM"). Id. ¶ 12. The EPDM components, made by Victaulic Company, included valves, pipe couplings, gaskets, and fittings for piping systems. Id.

The EPDM materials failed by decomposing, disintegrating, and in some instances dissolving into sludge. Id. ¶ 13. According to Plaintiffs' investigation, the EPDM materials had an "unanticipated chemical reaction" with Portland's water supply. Id. ¶ 14. Chloramine compounds, which Portland adds to its domestic water, caused the EPDM materials to "decompose, disintegrate, and/or dissolve." Id. This disintegration and dissolution of the EPDM materials resulted in damage to The Indigo's potable water supply, to the domestic water plumbing system, and to other property at The Indigo including damage to both residential and commercial units. Id. ¶ 15. After investigating, Plaintiffs concluded that the only viable repair option was to entirely replace The Indigo's plumbing system. Id. ¶ 20. As a result, Plaintiffs have incurred total repair costs of not less than $4,826,584. Id. ¶ 21. On or about June 18, 2015, Plaintiffs submitted the EPDM claim to Defendant and requested coverage. Id. ¶ 27. On or about December 22, 2016, Defendant denied the claim. Id.

As to the spandrel window glass, Plaintiffs allege that "opacifier film," which was adhered to spandrel glass units installed at The Indigo, is separating and peeling away from the spandrel glass units, resulting in property damage. Id. ¶ 40. At the time the First Amended Complaint was filed in November 2017, the investigation into the spandrel glass issue was ongoing, with estimated repair costs to exceed $6 million. Id. ¶¶ 40-42. On or about June 18, 2015, Plaintiffs submitted a separate claim to Defendant regarding The Indigo's spandrel glass units and opacifier film, requesting coverage. Id. ¶ 38. On or about July 20, 2015, Defendant denied coverage. Id. ¶ 39.

STANDARDS

I. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The moving party bears the initial responsibility of informing the court of the basis of its motion, and identifying those portions of " ‘the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any,’ which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986) (quoting former Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) ).

Once the moving party meets its initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to present "specific facts" showing a "genuine issue for trial." Fed. Trade Comm'n v. Stefanchik , 559 F.3d 924, 927-28 (9th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation

353 F.Supp.3d 1044

marks omitted). The nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and designate facts showing an issue for trial. Bias v. Moynihan , 508 F.3d 1212, 1218 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Celotex , 477 U.S. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548 ).

The substantive law governing a claim determines whether a fact is material. Suever v. Connell , 579 F.3d 1047, 1056 (9th Cir. 2009). The court draws inferences from the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Earl v. Nielsen Media Research, Inc. , 658 F.3d 1108, 1112 (9th Cir. 2011).

If the factual context makes the nonmoving party's claim as to the existence of a material issue of fact implausible, that party must come forward with more persuasive evidence to support his claim than would otherwise be necessary. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp. , 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986).

II. Insurance Contract Interpretation

In this diversity action, Oregon law governs the construction of the policies at issue. Allstate Ins. Co. v. Morgan , 123 F.Supp.3d 1266, 1272-73 (D. Or. 2015). The burden of proving coverage is on the insured, while the insurer bears the burden of proving exclusion from coverage. Id. at 1273 (citing ZRZ Realty Co. v. Beneficial Fire & Cas. Ins. Co. , 349 Or. 117, 127, 241 P.3d 710 (2010) ).

The "question of [insurance] policy interpretation is one of law, and [the court's] task is to determine the intent of the parties[.]" Groshong v. Mut. of Enumclaw Ins. Co. , 329 Or. 303, 307, 985 P.2d 1284, 1287 (1999) (citation omitted); see also Hoffman Constr. Co. of Alaska v. Fred S. James & Co. of Or. , 313 Or. 464, 469, 836 P.2d 703, 706 (1992) ("[T]he primary and governing rule of the construction of insurance contracts is to ascertain the intention of the parties.") (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted). The court determines the parties' intent "from the terms and conditions of the policy." Groshong , 329 Or. at 307, 985 P.2d at 1287.

Courts first examine the wording of the policy, "applying any definitions supplied by the policy itself and otherwise presuming that words have their plain, ordinary meanings." Tualatin Valley Hous. Partners v. Truck Ins. Exch. , 208 Or. App. 155, 159-60, 144 P.3d 991, 993 (2006) (citing Hoffman , 313 Or. at 469-70, 836 P.2d 703 ). When the policy does not define the terms at issue, the court "resort[s] to various aids of interpretation to discern the parties' intended meaning." Groshong , 329 Or. at 307-08, 985 P.2d at 1287. The court first examines the plain meaning of the term at issue. Id. at 308, 985 P.2d at 1287. If at that point the court determines there is only one plausible interpretation of the disputed terms, the analysis ends there. Id.

If the meaning of the term or phrase at issue "is not, on its face, plain, [the court] proceed[s] to [its] second aid to interpretation[-] ... examin[ing] the phrase in light of the particular context in which [it] is used in the policy and the broader context of the policy as a whole." Id. at 312, 985 P.2d at 1289 (internal quotation marks omitted). A term is ambiguous if "two or more plausible interpretations of that term withstand scrutiny, i.e. , continues to be reasonable, after the interpretations are examined in the light of, among other things, the particular context in which that term is used in the policy and the broader context of the policy as a whole." Hoffman Constr. , 313 Or. at 470, 836 P.2d at 706. If, after the court analyzes the terms in the broader context of the policy, the court determines that the term remains ambiguous, the term is to be construed against the insurer, the party which

353 F.Supp.3d 1045

drafted the policy. Hoffman , 313 Or. at 470-71, 836 P.2d at 706-07. The Hoffman court explained:

[W]hen two or more competing, plausible interpretations prove to be reasonable after all other methods for resolving the dispute over the meaning of particular words fail, then the rule of interpretation against the drafter of the language becomes applicable, because the ambiguity cannot be permitted to survive. It must be resolved.

Id.

On the other hand, where the contract unambiguously expresses the intent to provide coverage or to not provide coverage, the contract language...

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