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Carter v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co.

United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division

July 17, 2019, Decided; July 17, 2019, Filed

No. 1:17-cv-02745-JPH-DML



Matthew Carter filed an insurance claim for water damage to a house on his family's vacation property. After the insurer, State Farm, denied the claim, Mr. Carter filed this lawsuit seeking, among other things, a declaratory judgment that the State Farm Policy provides coverage. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Dkt. [48], dkt. [52]. Because the key Policy terms "dwelling," "vacant," and "unoccupied" are ambiguous and must be construed against the insurer, Mr. Carter's motion is GRANTED, and State Farm's motion is DENIED.

Facts and Background

The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Ordinarily, the Court would take the motions "one at a time," viewing the evidence and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Am. Family Mut. Ins. v. Williams, 832 F.3d 645, 648 (7th Cir. 2016). Here, though, the material facts are [**2]  undisputed, so the Court considers the motions together. See State Auto Prop. & Cas. Ins. v. Brumit Servs., 877 F.3d 355, 357 (7th Cir. 2017).

A. Undisputed facts

Mr. Carter was the trustee of family vacation property on Lake Wawasee in Syracuse, Indiana. Dkt. 52-1 at 7-9 (Carter Dep. at 9-11). The property had three houses—the Main House, the Island House (which is the subject of this lawsuit), and the Hamburger Hut. The family generally gathered at the Main House, with the other two houses providing bedrooms and privacy as needed. Dkt. 52-2 at 1-2.

In March 2015, the Island House's boiler system failed, causing water damage that is unrelated to the claim at issue in this case. Dkt. 52-2 at 2. While the family decided not to replace some furnishings, including beds, they continued to use the Island House. Dkt. 52-2 at 2. The last time that someone spent the night at the Island House before the water damage that gave rise to this lawsuit was over the Fourth of July weekend in 2016, about six months before the damage. Dkt. 52-1 at 53 (Carter Dep. at 76).

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407 F. Supp. 3d 780 *; 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 175696 **



dwelling, vacant, unoccupied, insurer, terms, coverage, ambiguous, summary judgment, vacation home, seasonal, vacation, insurance policy, reasonable interpretation, policyholder, provisions, structures, premises