Certification from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Queen Anne Park Homeowners Ass'n v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., No. 90651–3.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Washington
Writing for the CourtGONZÁLEZ, J.
Citation352 P.3d 790,183 Wash.2d 485
PartiesCertification from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in QUEEN ANNE PARK HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION, a Washington non-profit corporation, Appellant, v. STATE FARM FIRE AND CASUALTY COMPANY, a foreign insurance company, Appellee.
Decision Date18 June 2015
Docket NumberNo. 90651–3.

183 Wash.2d 485
352 P.3d 790

Certification from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in QUEEN ANNE PARK HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION, a Washington non-profit corporation, Appellant
v.
STATE FARM FIRE AND CASUALTY COMPANY, a foreign insurance company, Appellee.

No. 90651–3.

Supreme Court of Washington, En Banc.

Argued Feb. 24, 2015.
Decided June 18, 2015.


352 P.3d 791

Gregory Louis Harper, Todd Christopher Hayes, Harper Hayes PLLC, Seattle, WA, for Appellant.

Joseph D. Hampton, Daniel L. Syhre, Betts, Patterson & Mines, P.S., Pamela A. Okano, Reed McClure, Seattle, WA, for Appellee.

James Thomas Derrig, James T. Derrig Attorney At Law PLLC, Seattle, WA, amicus counsel for American Insurance Association.

Devon M. Thurtle Anderson, Monica Kim Sham, Heffernan Law Group, PLLC, Kirkland, WA, amicus counsel for Bayview Heights Owners Association.

Phillip E. Joseph, Ball Janik LLP, Portland, OR, amicus counsel for Real Estate Service Companies.

Phillip E. Joseph, Kyle A. Sturm, Ball Janik LLP, Portland, OR, amicus counsel for Community Association Partners, LLC.

Phillip E. Joseph, Kyle A. Sturm, Ball Janik LLP, Portland, OR, amicus counsel for Bluestone and Hockley Real Estate Services.

James Thomas Derrig, James T. Derrig Attorney At Law PLLC, Seattle, WA, for Other Parties.

Opinion

GONZÁLEZ, J.

183 Wash.2d 487

¶ 1 The Ninth Circuit has asked this court to answer:

What does “collapse” mean under Washington law in an insurance policy that insures “accidental direct physical loss involving collapse,” subject to the policy's terms, conditions, exclusions, and other provisions, but does not define “collapse,” except to state that “collapse does not include settling, cracking, shrinking, bulging or expansion?”

Queen Anne Park Homeowners Ass'n v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 763 F.3d 1232, 1235 (9th Cir.2014). Rather than adopt a fixed definition of “collapse” for all insurance contracts, we apply Washington law to interpret the ambiguous term “collapse” in the insurance contract before the Ninth Circuit. We conclude that in the insurance contract, “collapse” means “substantial impairment of structural integrity.” “Substantial impairment of structural integrity” means substantial impairment of the structural integrity of a building or part of a building that renders such building or part of a building unfit for its function or unsafe and, under the clear

352 P.3d 792

language of the insurance policy here, must be more than mere settling, cracking, shrinkage, bulging, or expansion.

Facts

¶ 2 Queen Anne Park (QAP) is a two-building condominium in Seattle that was insured under a State Farm Fire and Casualty Company policy (Policy). The Policy was in effect from October 18, 1992 to October 18, 1998.

¶ 3 The Policy covered “accidental direct physical loss” to insured property, unless the loss was excluded or limited. Appellant's Excerpts of Records (ER) at 136, 138–40. An

183 Wash.2d 488

“[e]xtension of [c]overage” covered “any accidental direct physical loss to covered property involving collapse of a building or any part of a building caused only by one or more of the following: ... (2) hidden decay.” Id. at 141–42. The coverage extension also provided that “[c]ollapse does not include settling, cracking, shrinking, bulging or expansion.” Id. at 142. Neither the Policy nor its extensions otherwise defined the term “collapse.”

¶ 4 The QAP Homeowners Association (HOA) filed a claim with State Farm in 2010, claiming that QAP had collapsed, which the HOA interpreted to mean “a substantial impairment of the structural integrity of any portion or component of the building.” Appellee's Suppl. Excerpts of Records (SER) at 5. The HOA claimed that QAP had “several areas of hidden decay” and that the HOA “believe [d] that these and other areas suffered a substantial impairment of structural integrity during [the] policy periods.”Id. The HOA's claim was based on an HOA engineer finding hidden decay in some shear walls (plywood/gypsum sheathings), which he opined had substantially impaired the walls' ability to resist lateral loads. ER at 119–22. After conducting its own inspections, in 2011, State Farm denied the HOA's claim and concluded that “[a] loss involving collapse” had “not commence[d] in any policy term” and that various exclusions to coverage applied. Id. at 218 (emphasis omitted).

¶ 5 The HOA filed suit in the Western District of Washington, seeking declaratory relief and damages for breach of contract. The Western District of Washington granted summary judgment in favor of State Farm. The HOA appealed to the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit certified a question of state law to this court. Queen Anne Park Homeowners Ass'n, 763 F.3d at 1235.

Analysis

¶ 6 RCW 2.60.020 authorizes this court to accept certified questions from federal courts. “Certified questions

183 Wash.2d 489

from federal court are questions of law that we review de novo.” Bradburn v. N. Cent. Reg'l Library Dist., 168 Wash.2d 789, 799, 231 P.3d 166 (2010) (citing In re F5 Networks, Inc., 166 Wash.2d 229, 236, 207 P.3d 433 (2009) ). “We do not consider the legal issues in the abstract but instead consider them based on the certified record that the federal court provides.” Id. (citing RCW 2.60.030(2) ; St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Onvia, Inc., 165 Wash.2d 122, 126, 196 P.3d 664 (2008) ). “Construction of an insurance policy is a question of law for the courts, the policy is construed as a whole, and the policy ‘should be given a fair, reasonable, and sensible construction as would be given to the contract by the average person purchasing insurance,’ ” Queen City Farms, Inc. v. Cent. Nat'l Ins. Co. of Omaha, 126 Wash.2d 50, 65, 882 P.2d 703 (1994) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Grange Ins. Co. v. Brosseau, 113 Wash.2d 91, 95, 776 P.2d 123 (1989) ).

¶ 7 “ ‘[C]ontractual terms are ambiguous if they are subject to more than one reasonable interpretation when applied to a particular set of facts.’ ” Quadrant Corp. v. Am. States Ins. Co., 154 Wash.2d 165, 181, 110 P.3d 733 (2005) (quoting Madison Constr. Co. v. Harleysville Mut. Ins. Co., 557 Pa. 595, 606, 735 A.2d 100 (1999) ). We find that the term “collapse” in the Policy is ambiguous because it is susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation.

¶ 8 Illustrative of this is our opinion in Sprague v. Safeco Insurance Co. of America, 174 Wash.2d 524, 276 P.3d 1270 (2012), where we were asked to define the term “collapse” in Washington insurance policies. While the court decided the case on different

352 P.3d 793

grounds, both the dissent and the concurrence proposed different definitions of “collapse.” Id. This alone demonstrates that “collapse” is an ambiguous term. The division of our court is reflected in courts across the country that have adopted different but reasonable definitions of “collapse” in insurance policies. See, e.g., Olmstead v. Lumbermens Mut. Ins. Co., 22 Ohio St.2d 212, 259 N.E.2d 123, 126 (1970) (defining “collapse” as “a falling

183 Wash.2d 490

down, falling together, or caving into an unorganized mass”); Am. Concept Ins. Co. v. Jones, 935 F.Supp. 1220, 1227 (D.Utah 1996) (defining “collapse” as substantial impairment of structural integrity); Buczek v. Cont'l Cas. Ins. Co., 378 F.3d 284, 290 (3d Cir.2004) (defining “collapse” as substantial impairment of structural integrity that “ ‘connotes imminent collapse threatening the preservation of the building as a structure or ... health and safety’ ” (quoting Fantis Foods, Inc. v. N. River Ins. Co., 332 N.J.Super. 250, 260, 753 A.2d 176 (App.Div.2000) )). An undefined term “collapse” in an insurance policy is an ambiguous term because it is susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation, demonstrated by the range of reasonable definitions of “collapse” adopted by various courts.1

¶ 9 Undefined terms in an insurance policy “are to be interpreted in accord with the understanding of the average purchaser of insurance, and the terms are to be

183 Wash.2d 491

given their plain, ordinary and popular meaning.” Queen City Farms, Inc., 126 Wash.2d at 77. Importantly,

It is Hornbook law that where a clause in an insurance policy is ambiguous, the meaning and construction most favorable to the insured must be applied, even though the insurer may have intended another meaning. Jeffries v. General Casualty Co. of America, 46 Wash.2d 543, 283 P.2d 128 (1955) ; Kane v. Order of United Commercial Travelers of America, 3 Wash.2d 355, 100 P.2d 1036 (1940). Ambiguous exclusionary clauses, particularly, should be construed in the manner most favorable to the insured. Brown v. Underwriters at Lloyd's, 53 Wash.2d 142, 332 P.2d 228 (1958) ; Murray v. Western Pacific Ins. Co., 2 Wash.App. 985, 472 P.2d 611 (1970).

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  • Roberts v. Liberty Mut. Fire Ins. Co., No. 3:13–cv–00435 (SRU)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
    • August 28, 2017
    ...Cf. KAAPA Ethanol , 660 F.3d at 306. It points for support to Queen Anne Park Homeowners Ass'n v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. , 183 Wash.2d 485, 352 P.3d 790 (2015) (" Queen Anne "), in which the Washington Supreme Court (on certification from the Ninth Circuit) held that " ‘substantial ......
  • Karas v. Liberty Ins. Corp., SC 20149
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • November 12, 2019
    ...of the standard set forth by the Washington Supreme Court in Queen Anne Park Homeowners Assn. v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. , 183 Wash. 2d 485, 352 P.3d 790 (2015) : "Of the definitions [of collapse] offered ... substantial impairment of structural integrity is both reasonable and the m......
  • JZK, Inc. v. Virginia Coverdale, 46465-9-II
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • January 19, 2016
    ...when applied to a particular set of facts.'" Queen Anne Park Homeowners Ass'n v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 183 Wn.2d 485, 489, 352 P.3d 790 (2015) (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Quadrant Corp. v. Am. States Ins. Co., 154 Wn.2d 165, 181, 110 P.3d 733 (......
  • JZK, Inc. v. Coverdale, No. 46465-9-II
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • January 19, 2016
    ...when applied to a particular set of facts.'" Queen Anne Park Homeowners Ass'n v.Page 16 State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 183 Wn.2d 485, 489, 352 P.3d 790 (2015) (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Quadrant Corp. v. Am. States Ins. Co., 154 Wn.2d 165, 181, 110 P.3......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
27 cases
  • Roberts v. Liberty Mut. Fire Ins. Co., No. 3:13–cv–00435 (SRU)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
    • August 28, 2017
    ...Cf. KAAPA Ethanol , 660 F.3d at 306. It points for support to Queen Anne Park Homeowners Ass'n v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. , 183 Wash.2d 485, 352 P.3d 790 (2015) (" Queen Anne "), in which the Washington Supreme Court (on certification from the Ninth Circuit) held that " ‘substantial ......
  • Karas v. Liberty Ins. Corp., SC 20149
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • November 12, 2019
    ...of the standard set forth by the Washington Supreme Court in Queen Anne Park Homeowners Assn. v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. , 183 Wash. 2d 485, 352 P.3d 790 (2015) : "Of the definitions [of collapse] offered ... substantial impairment of structural integrity is both reasonable and the m......
  • JZK, Inc. v. Virginia Coverdale, 46465-9-II
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • January 19, 2016
    ...when applied to a particular set of facts.'" Queen Anne Park Homeowners Ass'n v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 183 Wn.2d 485, 489, 352 P.3d 790 (2015) (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Quadrant Corp. v. Am. States Ins. Co., 154 Wn.2d 165, 181, 110 P.3d 733 (......
  • JZK, Inc. v. Coverdale, No. 46465-9-II
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Washington
    • January 19, 2016
    ...when applied to a particular set of facts.'" Queen Anne Park Homeowners Ass'n v.Page 16 State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 183 Wn.2d 485, 489, 352 P.3d 790 (2015) (alteration in original) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Quadrant Corp. v. Am. States Ins. Co., 154 Wn.2d 165, 181, 110 P.3......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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