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Guideone Elite Insurance Co. v. Mt. Carmel Ministries

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Eastern Division

January 6, 2015

GUIDEONE ELITE INSURANCE COMPANY, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
MT. CARMEL MINISTRIES, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

KEITH STARRETT, District Judge.

For the reasons stated below, the Court grants in part and denies in part GuideOne's Motion for Summary Judgment [101], grants in part and denies in part Seaway's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [105], grants Mount Carmel's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [107], and grants GuideOne's Motion to Exclude [103] the testimony of Mount Carmel's expert.

I. BACKGROUND

This is an insurance dispute arising from tornado damage to a church building belonging to Defendants, Mount Carmel Ministries and Alpha Christian School ("Mount Carmel"). Plaintiff, GuideOne Elite Insurance Company ("GuideOne"), issued a commercial property insurance policy [101-1] to Mount Carmel with effective dates of July 7, 2012, to July 7, 2013.

In August 2012, Mount Carmel defaulted on its mortgage loan. Its mortgagee, Defendant Seaway Bank and Trust Company ("Seaway"), accelerated the loan on August 13, 2012, demanding that Mount Carmel pay the full balance of $5, 366, 042.77 within five days [101-4]. Mount Carmel failed to satisfy the obligation, and Seaway served it with a notice of foreclosure on October 2, 2012 [101-6], scheduling a foreclosure sale for November 7, 2012.

On October 29, 2012, GuideOne sent Mount Carmel a cancellation notice [101-7] with an effective date of November 20, 2012, and it refunded Mount Carmel's unearned premium. Guideone sent a copy of the notice to Seaway [101-8].

On November 7, 2012, Mount Carmel and Seaway entered into a forbearance agreement [101-11, 101-12], avoiding the foreclosure sale. In late November, Seaway discovered that GuideOne had cancelled Mount Carmel's commercial property policy. It bound $2, 000, 000.00 of force-placed coverage through its blanket insurance policy and another $5, 312, 228.00 of coverage through two excess force-placed policies with effective dates of January 7, 2013, through February 7, 2013.

On January 29, 2012, Mount Carmel provided notice [101-13] to GuideOne that the foreclosure did not occur and requested reinstatement of the policy.

Seaway did not renew the excess force-placed policies, and they expired on February 7, 2013. On February 10, 2013, a tornado struck the church, causing approximately $2.6 million worth of damage [101-23, 101-24]. On April 22, 2013, Seaway sent a letter to GuideOne, arguing that the cancellation was ineffective, and that the policy remained in force at the time of the tornado [101-25]. On April 23, 2013, Mount Carmel sent a similar letter [101-26].

On June 24, 2013, GuideOne filed this declaratory judgment action, seeking an order declaring that it is lawfully entitled to deny Defendants' claims for benefits because the policy was not in force at the time of the loss. The Court now addresses GuideOne's Motion for Summary Judgment [101], Seaway's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [105], Mount Carmel's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment [107], and GuideOne's Motion to Exclude [103] Mount Carmel's expert.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Rule 56 provides that "[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a); see also Sierra Club, Inc. v. Sandy Creek Energy Assocs., L.P., 627 F.3d 134, 138 (5th Cir. 2010). "An issue is material if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action." Sierra Club, Inc., 627 F.3d at 138. "An issue is genuine' if the evidence is sufficient for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Cuadra v. Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., 626 F.3d 808, 812 (5th Cir. 2010).

The Court is not permitted to make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence. Deville v. Marcantel, 567 F.3d 156, 164 (5th Cir. 2009). When deciding whether a genuine fact issue exists, "the court must view the facts and the inference to be drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Sierra Club, Inc., 627 F.3d at 138. However, "[c]onclusional allegations and denials, speculation, improbable inferences, unsubstantiated assertions, and legalistic argumentation do not adequately substitute for specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial." Oliver v. Scott, 276 F.3d 736, 744 (5th Cir. 2002).

III. GUIDEONE'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [101]

The primary issue presented by the parties' dispositive motions is whether GuideOne provided sufficient notice that it was cancelling Mount Carmel's policy. This question is easily answered by reference to the policy and Mississippi law. First, the policy provides:

2. We may cancel this policy by mailing or delivering to the first Named Insured written notice ...

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