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Martha Akers v. Liberty Mutual Group

March 9, 2012

MARTHA AKERS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LIBERTY MUTUAL GROUP, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

: Re Document No.: 92

MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING THE DEFENDANT'S SECOND MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

I. INTRODUCTION

In this matter, the pro se plaintiff had a homeowner's insurance policy with the defendant, Liberty Mutual Group. After a fire damaged the plaintiff's insured property, the plaintiff filed an insurance claim, which the defendant subsequently denied. The plaintiff commenced this action, alleging that the defendant breached the insurance contract. The matter is now before the court on the defendant's second motion for summary judgment. Because the defendant provides uncontroverted evidence that the plaintiff breached the insurance contract, thus rendering it void, the court grants the defendant's motion for summary judgment.

II. FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The plaintiff owned a house located at 8165 East Beach Drive N.W., Washington D.C. ("the property"). Compl. ¶ 4. The defendant insured the property pursuant to a homeowner's insurance policy in effect from November 24, 2006 to November 24, 2007 ("the policy"). See generally Def.'s Second Mot. for Summ. J. ("Def's Mot.").

According to the policy, in the event of a loss, the plaintiff was required to (1) provide the defendant with prompt notice of the loss, (2) protect the property from further damage, (3) prepare an inventory of damaged personal property and (4) make the property, pertinent records and the plaintiff available to the defendant as often as reasonably requested. Def.'s Mot., Ex. 1 ("Homeowner's Policy") at 8-9. Under the policy, the plaintiff specifically authorized the defendant to make copies of any documents that it requested. Id. She also agreed to submit to an examination under oath, certifying the same with her signature. Id. Finally, the policy specified that it became void if the insured party "[i]ntentionally concealed or misrepresented any material fact or circumstance; [e]ngaged in fraudulent conduct; or [m]ade false statements." Id. at 15.

On or about July 5, 2007, the property sustained fire damage and shortly thereafter, the plaintiff submitted an insurance claim. Compl. ¶ 5; Def.'s Mot. at 4. As a result, the defendant commenced an investigation into the cause and circumstances surrounding the fire. Def.'s Mot. at 4. After initial verbal communication with the plaintiff, the defendant scheduled a meeting with the plaintiff at the property to assess the damage but failed to gain entry inside the premises because the plaintiff did not bring the key to the meeting. Def.'s Mot., Ex. 7 at 21. At this point, the defendant initiated formal inquiries regarding the circumstances of the fire, the plaintiff's whereabouts at the time of the fire and her financial status. Def.'s Mot. at 4. As part of this investigation, the plaintiff participated in a recorded interview approximately two weeks after the fire. Id. at 4-5.

During that interview, the plaintiff affirmed the accuracy of information that she had given on her insurance application, namely, that she had been employed by a brokerage firm, Francis & Associates, as an administrator for twelve years and that she earned an annual income of approximately $100,000 to $120,000. Id., Ex. 3. She declined, however, to provide her employer's contact information. Id. She also stated that she owned two other apartment buildings in the District of Columbia, one for personal use and the other for commercial use. Id. The plaintiff refused to state the purchase price on the insured property when asked, and she gave vague answers as to her whereabouts at the time of the fire. Id. In response to the defendant's request for all documentation relevant to the fire and the plaintiff's status as a resident of the property (for instance, utility bills), the plaintiff produced four utility bills and one lease agreement. Id., Ex. 4.

According to the defendant, it tried but was unable to corroborate the plaintiff's professional relationship with Francis & Associates. Id. at 6. The defendant did, however, discover that the plaintiff had stated in a 2003 bankruptcy proceeding that she had been unemployed since 1998. Id. at 6-7; id. Ex. 5.

As a result of the ambiguities surrounding the plaintiff's interview, the defendant requested that the plaintiff submit to a formal Examination Under Oath ("EUO") and produce certain documents, including her tax returns. See generally Def.'s Mot., Ex. 7 (EUO). At the EUO in August 2007, the plaintiff allegedly produced two utility bills, tore up other bills that she had brought with her to the EUO and refused to produce additional documents. Id. at 56-57. According to the defendant, the plaintiff again stated that her employer was Francis & Associates but refused to corroborate that statement. Id. at 5. Furthermore, she asserted that she had no outstanding mortgages on her properties, although she had listed her mortgage obligations in the 2003 bankruptcy proceedings. Id. at 52-53.

On September 19, 2007, the defendant denied the plaintiff's insurance claim based on her alleged failure to fulfill her duties as the insured party. Def.'s Mot. at 1, 15. More specifically, the defendant explained that the plaintiff had rendered the policy void because she engaged "in concealment, fraud, material misrepresentation, false statements and non-cooperation." Id. at 3, 15. According to the defendant, it based its decision on the "totality of the circumstances," including the plaintiff's "refusal to produce requested documents, her false statements regarding her income, finances and debt, and her apparent obstruction of the Defendant's inquiry into her alleged employment, income, debt and financial motivations for the subject loss." Id. at 15.

In July 2008, the plaintiff commenced this action against the defendant, alleging breach of contract and demanding specific performance. See generally Compl. The defendant moved for summary judgment, but the court denied the motion without prejudice in light of a technical error committed by the defendant. See generally Mem. Op. (Sept. 28, 2010). The defendant has since filed a second motion for summary judgment. See generally Def.'s Mot. When the plaintiff failed to respond in a timely fashion, the defendant filed a request to treat the second motion for summary judgment as conceded. See Def.'s Request to Treat Second Mot. for Summ. J. as Conceded, and for Ruling. After seeking leave to late-file, the plaintiff filed her opposition to the defendant's motion.*fn1

The court has reviewed and considered her response in evaluating the defendant's motion for summary judgment. With the defendant's motion now ripe for consideration, the court turns to the ...


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