United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S
MOTION  FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT
SULEYMAN OZERDEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
THE COURT is the Motion  for Partial Summary Judgment
filed by Defendant Allstate Insurance Company
(“Allstate”). After two fires broke out at a
residential property owned by Plaintiff Darrell Davis
(“Mr. Davis”), he filed an insurance claim with
Allstate. Allstate denied the claim and asserted that Mr.
Davis committed civil arson. In response, Mr. Davis filed
this lawsuit against Allstate, alleging claims for breach of
contract, bad faith, and punitive damages. Allstate moves for
partial summary judgment on Mr. Davis' bad faith and
punitive damages claims. For the reasons more fully stated
below, the Motion should be granted, and Mr. Davis'
claims for bad faith and punitive damages should be dismissed
Mr. Davis Rents a House to Ms. Skipper
Davis owns a house (“Property”) located in Moss
Point, Mississippi. Mr. Davis did not live at the Property,
but used it as a rental investment. It is undisputed that Mr.
Davis resides two or three minutes away from the Property.
Pl. Exam. [74-3] at 87. In 2011, Mr. Davis incurred a net
loss of $1, 149.00 on the Property. Pl. Dep. [74-6] at 63-64.
In 2013, Mr. Davis earned a net profit of $2, 036.00 on his
two rental properties, one of which was the Property.
Id. at 60-61. The Property was insured by Allstate
under a policy of insurance for a period beginning on April
14, 2014. Policy Decl. [74-1] at 4. The insurance policy does
not cover losses caused by “[i]ntentional or criminal
acts of or at the direction of any insured person, if the
loss that occurs: a) may be reasonably expected to result
from such acts; or b) is the intended result of such
acts.” Id. at 32.
in early 2014, Mr. Davis rented the Property to Jackie
Skipper (“Ms. Skipper”). Pl. Exam. [74-3] at
13-14. Ms. Skipper gave Mr. Davis $150.00 as a deposit to
move in, although the deposit was supposed to be $550.00.
Id. at 49-50. The Mississippi Regional Housing
Authority paid Ms. Skipper's rent of $800.00 per month.
Id. at 13-14. On August 5, 2014, Ms. Skipper
forwarded a complaint to the Housing Authority regarding
broken appliances in the Property and Mr. Davis'
treatment of her. Skipper Compl. Form [74-10]. The Housing
Authority notified Mr. Davis of the complaint, at which point
he went to speak with Ms. Skipper. Pl. Exam. [74-3] at 42.
Ms. Skipper told Mr. Davis that “she just wanted to
just get out, ” presumably referring to her lease.
Id. Mr. Davis responded, “no problem. All you
had to do was come to me and I would have let you out.”
Id. The two agreed that Mr. Davis would make an
effort to let Ms. Skipper move out. Id. at 43.
According to Mr. Davis, her lease expired on October 1, 2014.
Skipper moved out during the “late part of
September” 2014, but she “still had the keys to
the place.” Id. at 34. At some point after
October 1, 2014, Mr. Davis visited the Property and noticed
that Ms. Skipper had many items still in the house -
“her radios, her TVs, TV stands, all her table stuff
was in there, aquarium, food and everything.”
Id. at 34-35. Mr. Davis believed that he
“still couldn't touch her stuff until [he] got a
order to remove her from the courts.” Id. at
Davis also observed extensive damage to the interior of the
residence. Id. at 34-35. “Pretty much all the
rooms” had three-inch and six-inch holes in the wall.
Id. Several walls also had six to twelve-inch
gashes. Id. at 22. The bathroom and room doors
“were just hanging on the frame” and “[a]ll
the smoke detectors were down in the back of the
house.” Id. at 34-35. Mr. Davis “would
have to get somebody in there to clean it when she moved
out” because there were “gobs of food and stuff
that was splattered on the wall.” Id. at 39.
Moreover, the Property was infested with “roaches and
stuff just everywhere.” Id. Mr. Davis believed
he would have to replace the oven in the house because in his
view it was substantially damaged. Id. Ms. Skipper
also left Mr. Davis “with a $400 light bill.” Pl.
Dep. [74-6] at 71.
Two Fires Ablaze in the Property
morning of October 5, 2014, two fires broke out at separate
times inside the Property. The exact time of the first fire
is unclear, as there is some evidence that the first fire
alarm was received at 1:01 a.m., Jones Report [74-9] at 5,
but according to Allstate claims adjuster Wilbur Jordan
(“Jordan”), the fire department was first
dispatched at 4:02 a.m. and arrived at the Property at 4:05
a.m. Jordan Dep. [74-8] at 35. “[T]he initial fire
originated along the south living room wall with the flames
spreading vertically to the attic. The responding firemen
contained the damages to this location and departed the
premises.” Jones Report [74-9] at 5. The fire
department was again dispatched to the Property at 6:03 a.m.
and arrived at 6:06 a.m. Jordan Dep. [74-8] at 35-36. This
time, “flames were venting the roof over the west end
of the house.” Jones Report [74-9] at 5. This second
fire “originated in the west hallway closet and spread
vertically into the attic.” Id. at 3.
Allstate Investigates and Denies Mr. Davis' Insurance
Davis filed a claim on his insurance policy with Allstate for
damage incurred as a result of the fires. On October 6, 2014,
Allstate requested Gary Jones (“Jones”) to
investigate the origin and cause of the fires. Jones Report
[74-9] at 2. Jones is employed as a Fire Investigator with a
company called EFI Global, Inc. Jones Aff. [74-2] at ¶
2. Jones has been working continuously in the field of fire
and explosion investigations for over thirty-five years and
has been accepted as an expert in this field in several
began investigating the following day on October 7, 2014.
Id. During his inspection, Jones noted that
“[e]lectrical service was not connected to the
building” and gas service was also not in use at the
time of loss. Jones Report [74- 9] at 3. With regard to the
second fire, Jones noticed that “[a]n access opening in
the west hallway ceiling had been removed so the flames could
easily access the attic.” Id. at 3-4. Jones
found that “[t]he flooring was damaged from direct
flame impingement consistent with an ignitable liquid.”
Id. at 4. Jones detected “an unusual odor . .
. similar to gasoline” when he opened the hallway HVAC
closet. Id. Jones submitted two fire debris samples
to EFI Global's chemical lab to test for ignitable
liquids. Jones Report [74-9] at 4, 18. The lab reported that
the fire debris from the hallway closet did not contain a
measurable level of ignitable liquids. Id. However,
the HVAC filter and debris from the HVAC closet contained a
relatively high level of gasoline residue. Id.
October 13, 2014, Jones prepared his Fire Investigation
Report. Id. at 1. Jones concluded:
All potential accidental heat/ignition sources within the
areas of origin have been excluded. The absence of electrical
and gas services eliminates either utility or an appliance
requiring their service. Separate points of origin are
indicative of human involvement and the presence of gasoline
where none should have been found is consistent with an
incendiary fire cause.
. . . .
Fire pattern analysis indicates that the fire originated in
separate locations in the living room and west hallway
closet. Evidence indicates that ignition resulted from an
open flame. Evidence indicates the first fuel ignited
consisted of gasoline vapors followed by available