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Robinson v. Allstate

March 30, 2010

DAVID W. ROBINSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ALLSTATE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff David Robinson brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Allstate Insurance Company ("Allstate") and several other defendants. Plaintiff alleges that Allstate, acting in concert with a number of state actors, violated his constitutional rights in connection with an insurance claim that plaintiff filed on a policy issued by Allstate.

Allstate has moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff has cross-moved for a continuance under Rule 56(f).

BACKGROUND

In 1984, plaintiff purchased a homeowner's insurance policy from Allstate for his property located at 1025 Reed Road in Scottsville, New York. At about that same time, plaintiff began erecting a building ("barn") on his property, to function as what he describes as a "barn/museum" that would house plaintiff's collection of about 200 motorcycles, as well as various other items.

Plaintiff's homeowners policy valued the barn at ten percent of the $186,000 value of his residence, i.e., $18,600, though plaintiff estimated the value of the contents of the barn/museum at around $650,000. Concerned that he was underinsured, plaintiff purchased a "custom deluxe" policy from Allstate in November 1991. According to plaintiff, when he purchased that policy, Allstate's agent represented to him that this policy would enable plaintiff to insure the barn for the full value of the structure and its contents. Plaintiff also alleges that the agent "told Plaintiff that it did not matter what or whose items were located in the barn/museum, so long as he was not running a business there." Complaint ¶ 31.

On December 28, 1999, a fire broke out at the barn. Plaintiff alleges that the fire started when gasoline leaked out from the fuel tank of one of his motorcycles and came into contact with a furnace inside the barn. The barn and its contents were completely destroyed. Plaintiff estimates the amount of his loss at over $800,000. Complaint ¶ 37.

Plaintiff reported the fire to Allstate that same day. This triggered a series of events revolving around plaintiff's attempts to obtain coverage for the loss, which ultimately were to give rise to this lawsuit. Plaintiff alleges that Allstate's insurance adjuster, William Marsaw, acting on behalf of Allstate, initiated a conspiracy that would eventually grow to include: the New York State Insurance Department; the Village of Penn Yan, New York; the Penn Yan Police Department; Yates County, New York; and the Yates County Sheriff's Department.

Plaintiff's allegations concerning that conspiracy will not be repeated at length here, but at the heart of plaintiff's claims is his allegation that Allstate wrongly denied him coverage based on Allstate's allegedly false assertion that plaintiff had been operating a business out of the barn. The policy contained an express exclusion for "[s]tructures used in whole or in part for business purposes," Def. Ex. A (Dkt. #48-2) at 18, as well as a cap of $2000 on recovery for personal "[p]roperty used or intended to be used in a business ... ." Id. at 22.*fn1 Plaintiff alleges that Allstate engaged in fraud and other acts of wrongdoing, in concert with the state actors mentioned above, in order to deny him coverage for his loss under that exclusion.

On December 20, 2001, plaintiff commenced an action against Allstate in New York State Supreme Court, Monroe County, alleging claims for breach of contract and other theories under state law, seeking recovery under his Allstate policy in the amount of $344,100. Def. Ex. B (Dkt. #48-3).*fn2

In his state court complaint, which was brought on behalf of himself and his wife, plaintiff alleged that Allstate engaged in various wrongful acts, many of which are similar or identical to those that he alleges in the case at bar.

On February 14, 2006, Supreme Court Justice Kenneth R. Fisher issued a Decision and Order (Def. Ex. M), that granted Allstate's motion for partial summary judgment dismissing four of plaintiff's six claims, and denied plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment on the issue of Allstate's liability under the policy. Dkt. #48-3.

Plaintiff's remaining two claims went to trial in November 2006. On November 30, the jury rendered a verdict, finding in a special verdict that plaintiff had "intentionally misrepresented the existence of a business at the barn at the time of the fire during an October 18, 2000, examination under oath," and that "the barn was used in whole or in part for business purposes at the time of the fire." Def. Ex. N (Dkt. #48-19) at 64. The jury determined plaintiff's covered loss under his Allstate policy to total $60,000. Id. at 65-67.

Pursuant to the jury verdict, judgment was entered in Allstate's favor on March 1, 2007. Dkt. #48-16 at 11-12. On appeal by plaintiff, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department affirmed. 52 A.D.2d 1234 (4th Dep't 2008).

While that appeal was pending, plaintiff commenced the instant action in this Court. The amended complaint asserts six causes of action: (1) a conspiracy claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3) against Allstate, Yates County, Yates County Sheriff Ronald Spike, Yates County Sheriff's Department Investigator Michael Christensen, the Village of Penn Yan, and Penn Yan Police Chief Gene Mitchell, alleging that those defendants conspired to violate plaintiff's equal protection rights; (2) a claim under state law against Allstate for negligent infliction of emotional distress; (3) a claim against Yates County for failure to properly train or supervise its employees; (4) a claim against Sheriff Spike based on his alleged maintenance of a custom or policy that led to the alleged violation of plaintiff's constitutional rights, (5) a claim against Penn Yan for failure to properly train or supervise its employees; and (6) a claim against Police Chief Mitchell based on his alleged maintenance of a custom or policy that led to the alleged violation of plaintiff's constitutional rights.*fn3

The only claims against Allstate, then, and the only claims directly before me on Allstate's motion for summary judgment, are plaintiff's first and second causes of action, i.e. the ยง 1985(3) conspiracy claim and ...


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