Metro. Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. v. Sarris

Decision Date28 July 2017
Docket Number1:15-CV-0780 (LEK/DJS)
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of New York

Plaintiff Metropolitan Property and Casualty Insurance Company ("Met P&C") commenced this action against defendants George and Joy Sarris, Theresa Schillaci, and Robert Newell, seeking a declaration that it is not obligated to defend or indemnify the Sarrises in connection with an ongoing lawsuit between the Sarrises and Schillaci and Newell. Dkt. No. 1 ("Complaint"). The Sarrises likewise seek, among other things, a declaration that Met P&C has a duty to defend and indemnify them in connection with the lawsuit. Dkt. No. 8 ("Joy Sarris Answer") ¶¶ 129, 132; Dkt. No. 16 ("George Sarris Answer") ¶¶ 129, 134. Presently before the Court are Met P&C's motion for summary judgment and judgment on the pleadings, Dkt. No. 65 ("Met P&C Motion"); see also Dkt. No. 65-33 ("Met P&C Statement of Material Facts"); Dkt. No. 65-34 ("Met P&C Memorandum"); Dkt. No. 82 ("Met P&C Responsive Statement of Material Facts"); Dkt. No. 83 ("Met P&C Response"), Joy Sarris's cross-motion for summary judgment, Dkt. No. 74 ("Joy Sarris Motion"); see also Dkt. No. 74-1 ("Joy Sarris Responsive Statement of Material Facts"); Dkt. No. 74-2 ("Joy Sarris Statement of Material Facts"); Dkt. No. 77 ("Joy Sarris Memorandum"); Dkt. No. 90 ("Joy Sarris Reply"), and George Sarris's cross-motion for summary judgment, Dkt. No. 78 ("George Sarris Motion"); Dkt. No. 91 ("George Sarris Reply"). For the reasons that follow, Met P&C's Motion is granted in part and denied in part, and George and Joy Sarris's Motions are granted in part and denied in part.

A. Factual Background
1. The Policies

In December 1999, the Sarrises bought a piece of real property located at 11 Woodside Drive in Clifton Park, New York. Met P&C SMF ¶ 1; Joy Sarris Responsive SMF ¶ 1.1 Four years later, Met P&C issued the Sarrises a homeowners insurance policy; the policy was renewed a year later, and it covered the period from December 2004 to December 2005. Met P&C SMF ¶¶ 79-80; Joy Sarris Responsive SMF ¶¶ 79-80. The policy stated that Met P&C would "pay all sums for bodily injury and property damage to others for which the law holds you responsible because of an occurrence to which this coverage applies." Dkt. No. 65-23 ("Homeowners Policy") at 28 (emphasis omitted). The policy defined "you" as "the person or persons named in the Declarations[,] and if a resident of the same household[,] the spouse of such person or persons," and it provided that "the responsibilities, acts and failures to act of a person defined as you will be binding upon another person defined as you." Id. at 7-8 (emphasis omitted). It alsodefined "occurrence" as "an accident, including continuous or repeated exposure to substantially the same general harmful conditions during the term of the policy." Id. at 8. Several types of losses were excluded from coverage under the policy. For example, the policy did not cover "bodily injury or property damage which is reasonably expected or intended by [the policyholder] or which is the result of [the policyholder's] intentional and criminal acts or omissions." Id. at 28 (emphasis omitted).2

Under the policy, Met P&C was not required to provide coverage for an occurrence if the Sarrises failed to "[p]romptly notify [Met P&C] or [its] representative, in writing, stating: 1. [the policyholder's] name and policy number; 2. the date, place and circumstances of the accident; 3. the name and address of anyone who might have a claim against [the policyholder]; and 4. the names and addresses of any witnesses." Id. at 34. Coverage for an occurrence was also contingent on the Sarrises immediately sending Met P&C "any legal papers relating to the accident." Id. at 35.

The Sarrises purchased a personal excess liability policy ("PELP") from Met P&C as well. Met P&C SMF ¶¶ 91-92; Joy Sarris Responsive SMF ¶¶ 91-92. This policy "provide[d] liability coverage in excess of the 'retained limit' for damages to others caused by an 'occurrence' and to which the policy applies." Met P&C SMF ¶ 93; Joy Sarris Responsive SMF ¶ 93; see also Dkt. No. 65-25 ("PELP") at 6. Like the Homeowners Policy, the PELP defined "occurrence" as "an accident, including continuous or repeated exposure to the same condition that results during the policy period in personal injury or property damage," and it imposed "jointobligations on all persons defined as you." PELP at 6, 10 (emphasis omitted). The PELP excluded coverage for "personal injury or property damage" caused by "any intentional act committed by an insured or at the direction of any insured." Id. at 7 (emphasis omitted). And the PELP required the Sarrises to "notify [Met P&C] or any authorized agent as soon as practicable of an occurrence that may be covered by th[e] policy." Id. at 8 (emphasis omitted).

2. Schillaci v. Sarris

On April 28, 2005, Schillaci and Newell, neighbors of the Sarrises, commenced litigation against the Sarrises in New York State Supreme Court, Saratoga County. Met P&C SMF ¶ 29; Joy Sarris Responsive SMF ¶ 29. The complaint in this case alleged that Schillaci and Newell had lived in their home on Woodside Drive for fourteen years. Dkt. No. 74-4 ("Schillaci Complaint") ¶ 1. Before the Sarrises moved into an adjacent property in 1999, Schillaci and Newell had "enjoyed the use and quiet enjoyment of their property." Id. ¶¶ 2, 6. Unfortunately, that changed soon after the Sarrises arrived. The Sarrises' property contained a pond that George relocated and expanded. Id. ¶¶ 8, 10-11. George's pond modifications, to which Schillaci and Newell did not consent, id. ¶¶ 14-15, "altered the water flow and run-off such that" the pond was "diverted onto Schillaci and Newell's property," id. ¶ 12. This in turn led to flooding in Schillaci and Newell's basement. Id. ¶ 7.

The Schillaci Complaint further alleged that George "began raising ducks and geese in the family room of the [Sarrises'] dwelling." Id. ¶ 18. He also "began to entice both native and domesticated ducks and geese onto his property by putting out feed for these fowl." Id. ¶ 19. As a result of George's efforts, the number of waterfowl on the Sarrises' property "increased exponentially," and this "escalat[ion]" in the "fowl population" "began to interfere increasinglywith Schillaci and Newell's quiet enjoyment of their property." Id. ¶¶ 20-21. Specifically, the large population of waterfowl on the Sarrises' property "increased the noise which began at dawn or before . . . to the point [that] it disturbed both Schillaci and Newell's sleep and the use of their property." Id. ¶ 22. Another unfortunate consequence of George's "intentional actions" in raising waterfowl on his property was an "increase[ in] the amount of guano from the birds which was naturally deposited on [Schillaci and Newell's] house, lawn, cars and other possessions." Id. ¶¶ 23, 25. Eventually, "the noxious odor and manure" coming from the waterfowl prevented Schillaci and Newell from "us[ing] the exterior of their home or their yard during the warmer weather." Id. ¶ 26.

According to the Schillaci Complaint, Schillaci and Newell tried to work things out with George, but he "did nothing to abate the continuing nuisance." Id. ¶¶ 28-29. The Schillaci Complaint detailed George's efforts to seek a variance from the Clifton Park zoning code so that he could raise waterfowl on the residential portion of his property. Id. ¶ 32. In August 2003, George applied for the variance, id., and a public hearing was held on the application around September 2, 2003, id. ¶ 33. Schillaci and Newell spoke at the hearing and "presented the Zoning Board of Appeals with a Petition signed by over fifty of Sarris'[s] neighbors opposing the . . . [a]pplication for a variance." Id. The next month, the Zoning Board of Appeals denied George's application for a variance and gave him "sixty . . . days . . . to remove the domestic ducks and geese." Id. ¶ 34. The Schillaci Complaint went on to describe George's refusal to obey this order, noting that he was fined in 2004 for his noncompliance. Id. ¶¶ 35-37. According to Schillaci and Newell, George's defiance showed that he "fully intend[ed] to continue to maintainhis private nuisance and thereby interfere with Schillaci and Newell's right to the quiet enjoyment of their property." Id. ¶ 43.

The Schillaci Complaint contained three causes of action: private nuisance resulting from the "rais[ing] and feed[ing] of both domestic and wild fowl on [the Sarrises'] property," trespass caused by the noise and guano coming from the waterfowl, and trespass "in the form of water appearing in [Schillaci and Newell's] basement for the first time in . . . fifteen years." Id. ¶¶ 44-54. Schillaci and Newell requested an injunction ordering the Sarrises to "cease operating a feeding station and raising both domestic and wild ducks and geese," $250,000 in damages, and attorney's fees. Id. at 8.3

Though it began over a decade ago, the Schillaci litigation appears to be ongoing. See Dkt. No. 75 ("George Sarris Declaration") ¶ 86 ("Of utmost importance to me as a defendant is that the underlying Schillaci matter is still ongoing and unadjudicated."). The parties have engaged in extensive pretrial motion practice. The details are irrelevant to the pending motions, but in March 2009, Justice Stephen A. Ferradino denied the parties' motions for summary judgment, see Dkt. No. 65-12 ("May 2009 Hearing Transcript") at 1:1-4 ("This case has been sitting for an awfully long time, and I recently in March issued a decision denying both parties['] motions for summary judgment."), and in October 2012, Justice Thomas D. Nolan, Jr. (to whom the case had been reassigned) dismissed the trespass claim relating to the flooding of thebasement, Dkt. No. 65-14 ("October 2012 Decision") at...

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