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Easthampton Congregational Church v. Church Mutual Insurance Co.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

February 22, 2019

EASTHAMPTON CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH, Plaintiff, Appellee,
v.
CHURCH MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant, Appellant.

          APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS [Hon. Katherine A. Robertson, Magistrate Judge]

          John Egan, with whom Rubin and Rudman, LLP was on brief, for appellant.

          William P. Rose, with whom Melick & Porter LLP was on brief, for appellee.

          Before Lynch, Circuit Judge, Souter, Associate Justice, [*] and Stahl, Circuit Judge.

          STAHL, Circuit Judge.

         This appeal requires the interpretation of words and terms in an insurance policy. Plaintiff-Appellee Easthampton Congregational Church (the "Church") had a property insurance policy (the "Policy") with Defendant-Appellant Church Mutual Insurance Company (the "Insurance Company"). On April 25, 2016, the ceiling in one section of the Church collapsed. The Church filed a claim pursuant to the Policy, which the Insurance Company denied. The Church then filed suit, seeking a declaratory judgment that the claim was covered. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court ruled for the Church. Noting that the Policy did not define the word "decay," the court adopted a dictionary definition of the word and used that definition to conclude that the Policy provided coverage. We affirm, albeit for different reasons.

         I. Factual Background

         A. The Insurance Policy

         The Policy was in effect at the time of the collapse and carries a coverage limit of $5, 353, 000. The parties agree that the damaged section of the Church, Fellowship Hall, "is among the [covered] premises described in the [P]olicy's Declarations Page."

         The coverage provisions are governed by two primary forms. The first is the "Building and Personal Property Coverage Form," which covers "direct physical loss of or damage to Covered Property . . . caused by or resulting from any Covered Cause of Loss." The second is the "Causes of Loss - Special Form." That form sets forth various exclusions and limitations in Sections B and C, respectively.

         The Insurance Company argues that two exclusionary clauses are relevant to this case. First, in Section B-2(d), the Policy includes a "Wear and Tear Exclusion" which states:

We will not pay for loss or damage caused by or resulting from any of the following:
. . .
d. (1) Wear and tear;
(2) Rust, or other corrosion, decay, deterioration, hidden or latent defect, or any quality in property that causes it to damage or destroy itself;[1]

         Second, in Section B-3(c), the Policy includes a "Faulty Construction Exclusion" which excludes coverage for:

loss or damage caused by or resulting from any of the following [sections] but if an excluded cause of loss that is listed in [the following sections] results in a Covered Cause of Loss, we will pay for the loss or damage caused by that Covered Cause of Loss.
. . .
c. Faulty, inadequate, or defective:
. . .
(2) Design, specifications, workmanship, repair, construction, renovation, remodeling, grading, compaction;
(3) Materials used in repair, construction, renovation, or remodeling; or
(4) Maintenance; of part or all of any property on or off the ...

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