Homeowners Insurance Claims

This is a 2022, homeowners claim from the Eastern District of Texas, Tyler Division.  The opinion is styled, Meridian Security Insurance Company v. Curtis Murphy.

In this case, Meridian seeks a declaratory judgment that it is not liable for damage caused by by a fire at Murphy’s home.  Murphy asserted counter claims.  Meridian now moves for summary judgment.

Murphy’s counter claims were dismissed by the Court.

Meridian issued Homeowners Policy No. 1000677728 (the Policy) listing Murphy as the named insured.  The Policy covered the “dwelling on the ‘residence premises’ shown in the Declarations.  The Policy defined “residence premises” as “the onefamily dwelling where you reside . . . on the inception date of the policy period shown in the Declarations and which is
shown as the ‘residence premises’ in the Declarations.”  The Declarations in turn identified the “residence premises” as the dwelling and structures at 401 Davis St., Longview, Texas, 75602 (the “Property”).  The policy period was November 26, 2019, to November 26, 2020.

On January 23, 2020, a fire severely damaged the Property, resulting in a total loss.  The Longview Fire Marshal listed the cause of the fire as undetermined.

Murphy reported the claim four days after the fire.  Following an investigation, Meridian denied the claim in March 2021 on three grounds.  First, Meridian contended that Murphy did not “reside” at the Property on the Policy’s inception date.  Second, Meridian claimed that Murphy failed to properly substantiate his interest in the Property at the time of the fire.  Third, Meridian asserted that Murphy failed to adequately cooperate with its investigation, which “has been prejudicial to Meridian.”

As to the first the assertion that Murphy did not reside at the property – Meridian first argues that it is not liable under the Policy because the evidence conclusively establishes that Murphy did not reside at the Property on November 26, 2019, the Policy’s inception date.  For his part, Murphy does not dispute that the Policy required him to reside at the Property on November 26, but cites evidence he did reside there on that date.  Murphy thus argues that a material fact dispute precludes summary judgment on this basis.  The Court agrees.

To be sure, Meridian cites substantial evidence that Murphy was not residing at the Property on November 26e.g.: (1) Murphy told the deputy fire marshal in January 2020 that he lived in Mississippi and would relocate to Texas later, (2) Murphy stated in an examination under oath (EUO) that he did not stay overnight at the Property until it had electricity, which occurred in December 2019, and (3) Murphy’s “errata” following the EUO confirmed that he did not move anything into the Property or stay there overnight until December 2019.

But there is also evidence going the other way.  For example, Murphy represented to Meridian in applying for coverage that the Property was his “primary home and he lived there full time” as early as September 2019.  He also stated in his EUO that he moved a bedroom set to the
Property in October 2019, moved various personal items and furniture in November, and was traveling for work but slept at the Property “every other weekend” in November.  Murphy then
confirmed in his deposition that he moved furniture, clothing, and other items to the Property “from a period of October to December” and that I lived there in October.  I lived there in November.  I lived there in December.”  Murphy also testified that in November, he supervised floor repairs in the home and that, although his visits may have been periodic, he is a truck driver who spends weekdays hauling cargo out of state.  “I’m a truck driver, so basically I’m gone all the time.”

These discrepancies create material fact issues for a jury to decide.  Summary judgment on this ground is thus improper.


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