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Shoreline Growers, Inc. v. New Hampshire Insurance Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division

August 30, 2017




         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, (ECF No. 20), and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, (ECF No. 22). The parties have consented to proceed in this Court for all further proceedings, including trial and an order of final judgment. 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1). By Order of Reference, the Honorable Janet T. Neff referred this case to the undersigned. For the reasons discussed herein, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, (ECF No. 20), is granted and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, (ECF No. 22), is denied.


         Plaintiff operates approximately 300 greenhouses at its Hudsonville, Michigan facility. Each greenhouse utilizes two blower fans to circulate air and prevent the plants therein from overheating. On Sunday, April 17, 2016, electric power to thirty-one (31) greenhouses was interrupted preventing the blower fans from operating. As a result, the temperatures in the greenhouses increased significantly causing the destruction of 61, 326 ornamental plants and flowers causing Plaintiff $236, 811.02 in damages.[1] Plaintiff filed a claim for this loss, but Defendant denied the claim instead agreeing to pay Plaintiff only five thousand dollars in “spoilage” coverage. Plaintiff initiated this action on September 13, 2016, alleging a single cause of action, a breach of contract premised upon Defendant's failure to indemnify Plaintiff for the loss in question. The parties now each move for summary judgment. The parties have not identified any material facts which are in dispute. Instead, the present dispute simply concerns which provisions of the relevant insurance contract apply to Plaintiff's circumstance and how should such provisions be interpreted.


         Summary judgment “shall” be granted “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). A party moving for summary judgment can satisfy its burden by demonstrating “that the respondent, having had sufficient opportunity for discovery, has no evidence to support an essential element of his or her case.” Minadeo v. ICI Paints, 398 F.3d 751, 761 (6th Cir. 2005). Once the moving party demonstrates that “there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case, ” the non-moving party “must identify specific facts that can be established by admissible evidence, which demonstrate a genuine issue for trial.” Amini v. Oberlin College, 440 F.3d 350, 357 (6th Cir. 2006).

         While the Court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the party opposing the summary judgment motion “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Amini, 440 F.3d at 357. The existence of a mere “scintilla of evidence” in support of the non-moving party's position is insufficient. Daniels v. Woodside, 396 F.3d 730, 734-35 (6th Cir. 2005). The non-moving party “may not rest upon [his] mere allegations, ” but must instead present “significant probative evidence” establishing that “there is a genuine issue for trial.” Pack v. Damon Corp., 434 F.3d 810, 813-14 (6th Cir. 2006).

         Moreover, the non-moving party cannot defeat a properly supported motion for summary judgment by “simply arguing that it relies solely or in part upon credibility considerations.” Fogerty v. MGM Group Holdings Corp., Inc., 379 F.3d 348, 353 (6th Cir. 2004). Rather, the non-moving party “must be able to point to some facts which may or will entitle him to judgment, or refute the proof of the moving party in some material portion, and. . .may not merely recite the incantation, ‘Credibility, ' and have a trial on the hope that a jury may disbelieve factually uncontested proof.” Id. at 353-54. In sum, summary judgment is appropriate “against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Daniels, 396 F.3d at 735.

         While a moving party without the burden of proof need only show that the opponent cannot sustain his burden at trial, a moving party with the burden of proof faces a “substantially higher hurdle.” Arnett v. Myers, 281 F.3d 552, 561 (6th Cir. 2002). Where the moving party has the burden, the plaintiff on a claim for relief or the defendant on an affirmative defense, “his showing must be sufficient for the court to hold that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the moving party.” Calderone v. United States, 799 F.2d 254, 259 (6th Cir. 1986). The Sixth Circuit has repeatedly emphasized that the party with the burden of proof “must show the record contains evidence satisfying the burden of persuasion and that the evidence is so powerful that no reasonable jury would be free to disbelieve it.” Arnett, 281 F.3d at 561. Accordingly, summary judgment in favor of the party with the burden of persuasion “is inappropriate when the evidence is susceptible of different interpretations or inferences by the trier of fact.” Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 553 (1999).


         I. Michigan Contract Law

         As the parties do not dispute that there exists complete diversity of citizenship in this matter and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, the Court has subject matter over the present dispute. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). When presiding over a diversity action, federal courts must apply the choice of law rules of the state in which the court sits. See Mill's Pride, Inc. v. Continental Ins. Co., 300 F.3d 701, 704 (6th Cir. 2002). Michigan's choice of law rules indicate that Michigan substantive law applies in this matter, see, e.g., Chrysler v. Skyline Industrial Services, Inc., 528 N.W.2d 698 (Mich. 1995), a determination with which the parties agree. Accordingly, the Court will apply Michigan substantive law in resolving the present dispute. The relevant Michigan law was recently reiterated by the Michigan Supreme Court:

An insurance policy is similar to any other contractual agreement, and, thus, the court's role is to “determine what the agreement was and effectuate the intent of the parties.” “[W]e employ a two-part analysis” to determine the parties' intent. First, it must be determined whether “the policy provides coverage to the insured, ” and, second, the court must “ascertain whether that coverage is negated by an exclusion.” While “[i]t is the insured's burden to establish that his claim falls within the terms of the policy, ” “[t]he insurer should bear the burden of proving an absence of coverage.” Additionally, “[e]xclusionary clauses in insurance policies are strictly construed in favor of the insured.” However, “[i]t is impossible to hold an insurance company liable for a risk it did not assume, ” and, thus, “[c]lear and specific exclusions must be enforced.”

Hunt v. Drielick, 852 N.W.2d 562, 565-66 (Mich. 2014) (internal citations omitted); see also, Tabernacle-The New Testament Church v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., 616 Fed.Appx. 802, 807-08 (June 22, 2015) (applying Michigan contract law).

         II. ...

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