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Cohen v. Transportation Insurance Co.

United States District Court, N.D. New York

February 19, 2014

MITCHELL COHEN, Plaintiff,
v.
TRANSPORTATION INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

POKLEMBA & HOBBS, LLC, GARY C. HOBBS, ESQ., Malta, NY, Counsel for Plaintiff.

HISCOCK & BARCLAY, LLP, THOMAS J. O'CONNOR, ESQ., Albany, NY, Counsel for Defendant.

DECISION and ORDER

GLENN T. SUDDABY, District Judge.

Currently pending before the Court, in this diversity action for breach of contract filed by Mitchell Cohen ("Plaintiff") against Transportation Insurance Company ("Defendant"), are the parties' cross-motions in limine. (Dkt. No. 53, 66.) The cross-motions are fully briefed. (Dkt. Nos. 53-59, 66, 67, 80-82.) The Court heard oral argument on February 14, 2014, after which the Court reserved decision and stated that a written decision would be forthcoming. This is that written decision. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is granted in part and denied in part, and Defendants' cross-motion is denied.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Parties' Requests for Relief

In his motion in limine, Plaintiff requests an Order precluding the following three forms of evidence: (1) evidence that Plaintiff allegedly caused, solicited or procured the fire that caused the loss claimed, until Defendant has first proven that it made a timely (i.e., reasonable) written notice of its denial of Plaintiff's claim; (2) evidence that is unrelated to Defendant's two stated grounds for its denial of Plaintiff's claim as set forth in Defendant's Notice of Disclaimer, its Answer to Plaintiff's Complaint, and the deposition of Defendant's insurance adjuster Tony Marra, i.e., the fact that Plaintiff caused the fire to be intentionally set, and the fact that in his claim Plaintiff falsely represented that he did not cause the fire to be intentionally set (as well as evidence that is unrelated to the three factors used to deny Plaintiff's claim, as stated in the deposition of Mr. Marra, i.e., the fact that the fire was incendiary, the fact that Plaintiff was the last person to leave the building, and the fact that Plaintiff had a motive of financial gain in starting the fire); and (3) evidence of Plaintiff's 22-year-old criminal conviction for Fourth Degree Grand Larceny, and dental-license suspension resulting from the criminal investigation. (Dkt. No. 53.)

In its cross-motion in limine, Defendant requests the opposite of the relief contained in Plaintiff's third request-an Order admitting Plaintiff's 22-year-old felony conviction for Fourth Degree Grand Larceny.

B. Parties' Arguments in Their Motion Papers

1. Plaintiff's Arguments

Generally, in support of his motion in limine, Plaintiff argues as follows. (Dkt. Nos. 54, 75.) With regard to his first request, generally Plaintiff argues that New York State cases hold that, if an insurance company unreasonably delays giving the policy holder written notice of its denial of the claim, the insurance company will not be permitted to deny the claim (and that delays of two to four months are unreasonable as a matter of law).

With regard to his second request, generally Plaintiff argues that New York State cases hold that an insurer's attempt at disclaimer is strictly limited to those grounds articulated in the notice of disclaimer such that a ground not raised in a notice of disclaimer may not be later asserted by the insurer. Here, argues Plaintiff, in its notice of disclaimer, Defendant attempted to add a "catch-all" provision, allowing Defendant to disclaim coverage for "any additional relevant reasons for disclaimer in the future."

With regard to his third request, generally Plaintiff argues that his conviction for Fourth Degree Grand Larceny is 22 years old and was based (upon information and belief) on an Alford plea, which is not even an admission of guilt (and in any event has been sealed and/or vacated). In addition, Plaintiff argues, his dental license was suspended for one year on August 11, 1989 (24 years ago), for five years on August 21, 1991 (22 years ago), and for five years on March 26, 1993 (20 years ago). Moreover, Plaintiff argues, his dental license was revoked for three years (17 years ago) on July 25, 1996. Plaintiff argues that he has had a clean record since then, rehabilitating himself. Finally, Plaintiff argues, Defendant has ...


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