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Adkins v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co.

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

January 23, 2015

BRITTANY ADKINS, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE FARM FIRE AND CASUALTY COMPANY, Defendant.

ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

TIM A. BAKER, Magistrate Judge.

I. Introduction

Defendant State Farm Fire and Casualty Company filed a motion for summary judgment against Plaintiff Brittany Adkins in her lawsuit for insurance benefits. Adkins[1] seeks a declaratory judgment that she is entitled to the proceeds of a home fire insurance policy obtained by her spouse Tim Adkins prior to his death. State Farm argues that Adkins was not a named insured on the policy, was not a resident of the home at the time or otherwise covered under the policy and thus is not entitled to any proceeds. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants State Farm's motion for summary judgment [Filing No. 25].

II. Facts

Tim Adkins and Brittany Adkins, married in 1999, purchased a home at 629 N. Lincoln Street, Greensburg, Indiana.[2] The deed to the home included both Tim Adkins' and Adkins' names. [Filing No. 27-2, at ECF p.4.] On December 30, 2008, Tim Adkins completed a Netquote Application and submitted it online to obtain a quote for a State Farm homeowner's insurance policy for the 629 Lincoln Street home.[3] After a State Farm representative contacted him, Tim Adkins submitted a homeowner's application to State Farm. The State Farm homeowner's application and Netquote application indicated that Tim Adkins owned the home. No co-owner was listed on the applications. [Filing No. 27-5, at ECF p. 5; Filing No. 27-5, at ECF p. 7.]

On February 15, 2013, Tim Adkins filed for divorce from Adkins in Decatur, Indiana. Four days later, Adkins applied for a State Farm renter's policy for an apartment she leased. The renter's policy named only Adkins as the insured and became effective February 19, 2013. [Filing No. 27-5, at ECF p. 2.] In February 2013, Adkins moved out of the 629 Lincoln Street residence and into her apartment located at 906 W. Gaston Dr., Apt. B, Greensburg, Indiana. [Filing No. 27-5, at ECF p. 2.] She notified State Farm of her new apartment address on February 19, 2013. Adkins also notified State Farm that the insurance billing on her auto policy should be separated from Tim Adkins' auto policy. In addition, Adkins requested the bills for her vehicle be sent to her new address. [Filing No. 27-5, at ECF p. 3; Filing No. 27-5, at ECF p. 9.]

In moving to her new address, Adkins moved some of her personal property, leaving her large exercise equipment and a few other large items at the 629 Lincoln Street home. Adkins also removed her name from all utility services associated with the Lincoln Street home and formally changed her address through the Postal Service to 906 W. Gaston Dr., Apt. B, Greensburg, Indiana. [Filing No. 26, at ECF p. 4.] She further changed the address for her credit card from 629 Lincoln Street to 906 W. Gaston Dr., though she still received some mail at 629 Lincoln Street. After she moved out, Adkins would occasionally stop by the Lincoln Street home to retrieve some of her or her children's personal property to bring to her apartment. At the time, Tim Adkins had not changed the locks to the home and kept the back door unlocked. Even so, Adkins never entered the premises to collect her things without Tim Adkins' knowledge. [Filing No. 29-2, at ECF p. 9.]

After separating, Tim Adkins and Adkins shared custody of their children. Tim Adkins and Adkins were to attend a court hearing on June 17, 2013, to address child support and financial issues in the divorce proceeding. However, on June 3, 2013, Tim Adkins set the 629 Lincoln Street home on fire by pouring ignitable liquid in the home, and intentionally lighting it. He then committed suicide. [Filing No. 27-5, at ECF p. 2.] Adkins asserts that the night before the fire, she and Tim Adkins discussed over a phone call and text messages potentially reconciling their marriage. [Filing No. 27-5, at ECF p. 39.] However, Adkins indicates that she was not ready to reconcile at the time, but hoped that in the future she and Tim Adkins could do so. [Filing No. 29-2, at ECF p. 2.]

State Farm made payments to interested parties after the fire. On August 29, 2013, State Farm paid Wells Fargo, which was the mortgagee listed on the homeowner's policy at the time, $26, 921 for the remaining balance of the mortgage. [Filing No. 27-1, at ECF p. 7.] Adkins presented a claim to State Farm under her renter's policy for personal property stored at the 629 Lincoln Street home that was destroyed by the fire.[4] [Filing No. 27-1, at ECF p. 3.] State Farm paid Adkins and her attorney $20, 120 under Adkins' rental policy for the actual cash value of her interest in personal property damaged by the fire on September 24, 2013. [Filing No. 27-1, at ECF p. 3, 9.] State Farm issued two more payments to Adkins and her attorney for her personal property in the amount of $14, 267.32 and $7, 864.68. [Filing No. 27-1, at ECF p. 3, 11, 13.] Adkins subsequently filed a claim under Tim Adkins' homeowner's insurance policy for the loss of the residence and for personal property on the premises, which State Farm denied.

III. Discussion

A. Declaratory relief

State Farm argues that there is no genuine issue of material fact as to Adkins' lack of coverage under the policy. Indiana law governs this insurance dispute, and an insurance policy is subject to the same rules of construction as other contracts. Morris v. Economy Fire & Cas. Co., 848 N.E.2d 663, 666 (Ind. 2006). State Farm asserts that the policy cannot be interpreted to cover Adkins because she was not a named insured under Tim Adkins' homeowner's policy, she was not a party to the policy as a resident of the insured home, and Adkins did not otherwise qualify as an insured under the policy.

State Farm's homeowner's insurance policy expressly named Tim Adkins as the policyholder and did not name Adkins anywhere in the policy. [Filing No. 27-4, at ECF p. 4.] According to State Farm, the policy clearly and unambiguously limits its obligations to named insureds and thus, it is undisputed that Adkins is not entitled to coverage. Such unambiguous language in a policy should be interpreted under its plain and ordinary meaning and enforced according to its terms. Morris, 848 N.E.2d at 666; Short v. North Pointe Ins. Co., No. 1:11-cv-00545-SEB-MJD, 2013 WL 1828024, at *6 (S.D. Ind. Apr. 29, 2013). Adkins contends that she should be considered a named insured under the policy because it is undisputed that she was Tim Adkins' spouse. Moreover, she asserts that there is a genuine dispute as to whether she was a resident of his household, which would extend coverage to her under the policy. Adkins points to the policy's definition provision, which clearly states a spouse is included as a named insured if she is a resident of the policyholder's household. [Filing No. 27-4, at ECF p. 8.]

Material facts establish Adkins did not reside in the Lincoln Street home. Most notably, Adkins admitted in her interrogatory response that she was not a resident of 629 Lincoln Street at the time of the fire. [Filing No. 30, at ECF p. 4.] Adkins also did not permanently or continuously dwell at 629 Lincoln Street. See Armstrong v. Federated Mut. Ins. Co., 785 N.E.2d 284, 288 (Ind.Ct.App. 2003) ("[T]he average juror would understand the term [resident'] to mean, to dwell permanently or continuously: occupy a place as one's legal domicile.'"). Adkins testified that she moved out of the residence on February 19, 2013, she obtained a State Farm renter's insurance policy for her new apartment, and she was the only named insured in this renter's policy. Adkins formally changed her mailing address from 629 N. Lincoln Street to 906 W. Gaston Drive, changed her address for her credit card to her apartment, and removed her name from the utilities at the 629 Lincoln Street residence. [Filing No. 26, at ECF p. 4; Filing No. 28, at ECF p. 9; Filing No. 29-2, at ECF p. 6.] Likewise, she contacted State Farm to separate her ...


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