MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This matter comes before the Court on defendant's motion for summary judgement and plaintiff's cross motion for partial summary judgment. Plaintiff (JAC) seek collapse loss coverage for five parking garages in the District of Columbia under an insurance contract with the defendant. This Court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. There is complete diversity of citizenship between the parties and the amount in controversy is greater than $ 50,000.
The first issue before the Court is how to interpret the language of the policy's collapse loss provision. The construction of terms in an insurance contract like the one before this Court are matters of law to be determined by the Court. See American Red Cross v. Travelers Indem. Co., 816 F. Supp. 755, 758 (D.D.C. 1993). There are no decisions in either the District of Columbia courts or in this Circuit that have addressed this question of construction.
The insurance policy between plaintiff and defendant states:
We will pay for loss or damage caused by or resulting from risks of direct physical loss involving collapse of a building or any part of a building caused only by one or more of the following:
Plaintiffs have made clear that they are alleging only that parts of the garages have suffered collapse, not the whole buildings. Plaintiffs argue that collapse in this contract should be interpreted to mean "any serious impairment of structural integrity." In contrast, defendants urge that the Court define collapse as "fall[ing] together or into an irregular mass or flattened form."
The Court finds that the collapse provision is ambiguous. While the plain meaning of the verb "to collapse" is to fall into rubble, the word in the contract is a noun. One definition of the noun in Webster's New Third International Dictionary is "a breakdown in vital energy, strength or stamina." According to this definition, a collapse need not connote a complete change in form or falling into rubble.
When a provision is ambiguous, the Court must interpret the ambiguity against the insurance company that drafted the contract. See Meade v. Prudential Ins. Co. of America, 477 A.2d 726, 728 (D.C. 1984), Potomac Elec. Power v. California Union Ins. Co., 777 F. Supp. 980, 988 (D.D.C. 1991). The Court therefore rejects the defendant's argument that collapse must be interpreted to mean a falling into rubble.
Although there is no applicable District of Columbia precedent on this issue, the Maryland courts have interpreted a nearly identical contract provision. In Government Employers Insurance Co. v. DeJames, the court held that "any serious impairment of structural integrity is a collapse within the policy coverage." 256 Md. 717, 261 A.2d 747, 751 (Md. 1970). The District of Columbia Courts have held that Maryland's law should be the most authoritative source when there are no applicable District precedents. See, e.g., In re C.A.P., 633 A.2d 787, 790 (D.C. 1993). With this in mind, the Court can find no reason not to adopt the sound reasoning of the DeJames opinion.
The defendant has argued that even if the Court adopts the Maryland definition of collapse, DeJames also requires that a collapse be sudden and render the building in question, or parts thereof, unsuitable for intended use. In DeJames, the collapse was sudden and did render the insured house unsafe for use. The DeJames Court did not, however, hold that these two factors were necessary to a finding of collapse in a similar policy.
The second question facing this Court is whether any or all of the garages have suffered partial collapse under the standard set forth above. Both plaintiff and defendant have moved the Court to decide the issue of liability on summary judgment.
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleadings are not enough to prevent issuance of summary judgment. The adverse party's response to the summary judgment motion must "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial," Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 56(e).
The Supreme Court set forth the governing standards for issuance of summary judgment in Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). In Celotex, the Supreme Court recognized the vital need for summary judgment motions to the fair and efficient functioning of the justice system:
Summary judgment procedure is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural shortcut, but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole, which are designed "to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action." Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 1. . . .