United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit
Submitted September 18, 2017
from the United States District Court for the District of
Columbia (No. 1:14-cv-00380)
H. Silver was on the briefs for appellants. Erik B. Lawson
entered an appearance.
D. Bogris was on the brief for appellee R.W. Home Services,
Inc., d/b/a Gale Force Cleaning and Restoration.
Charles B. Peoples was on the brief for appellee
Windsor-Mount Joy Mutual Insurance Co.
Before: Griffith and Kavanaugh, [*] Circuit Judges, and Sentelle,
Senior Circuit Judge.
Griffith, Circuit Judge.
Katopothis and Francesca Dahlgren (the "Dahlgrens")
own a beach home that flooded in a plumbing accident while
they were away. They sued their insurance company for breach
of contract when it refused to cover the damage. They also
sued their cleaning-and-restoration company for failing to
adequately remedy the damage and prevent mold. The district
court granted summary judgment in favor of the insurance
company based on the plain language of the Dahlgrens'
insurance policy and transferred the claims against the
cleaning-and-restoration company to the district court in
Delaware for lack of personal jurisdiction. We affirm both
the grant of summary judgment and the transfer of the claims.
2000, the Dahlgrens, who reside in the District of Columbia,
purchased a beach home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, where
they spend most of their weekends. At all times relevant to
this litigation, the house was a second residence and
remained fully furnished with the accessories of daily life,
such as furniture, clothes, food, toiletries, and medicine.
When not at their beach home, the Dahlgrens routinely left
the heat on to prevent the pipes from freezing and asked a
friend to check on the house and retrieve the mail. They did
not, however, shut off the water supply.
February 2013, Ms. Dahlgren returned to the beach home to
find two inches of standing water throughout the main level
and additional water "gushing" from the ceiling
overhead. The Dahlgrens had been away for ten days, and, in
their absence, a pressurized hot water pipe in the upstairs
bathroom had separated at the joint and flooded the house.
Dahlgrens notified their insurance company, Windsor-Mount Joy
Mutual Insurance Co. ("Windsor-Mount"), about the
flooding. They also contracted with R.W. Home Services, Inc.,
doing business as Gale Force Cleaning and Restoration
("Gale Force"), to remedy the damage and prevent
mold. According to the Dahlgrens, Gale Force was negligent in
its clean-up effort and mold spread through the house, so the
Dahlgrens eventually decided to tear it down and build a new
Dahlgrens timely filed an insurance claim with Windsor-Mount
to cover the damage from the accident. The insurance company
denied the claim because, while they were away, the Dahlgrens
had failed to shut off the water where it entered the house.
Dahlgrens sued Windsor-Mount for breach of contract. They
filed suit in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia,
but Windsor-Mount invoked federal diversity jurisdiction and
removed the case to the district court. See 28
U.S.C. §§ 1332(a), 1441(a). When Windsor-Mount
impleaded Gale Force as a third-party defendant, the
Dahlgrens amended their complaint to add claims against Gale
Force as well for breach of contract, negligence, negligent
misrepresentation, and violations of the Delaware Consumer
Fraud Act, 6 Del. Code §§ 2511-27. The Dahlgrens
and Windsor-Mount then filed cross-motions for summary
judgment, and Gale Force moved to be dismissed from the case
for lack of personal jurisdiction.
district court determined that the Dahlgrens could not
recover under the clear terms of their insurance policy and
granted summary judgment against them on that issue. See
Katopothis v. Windsor-Mount Joy Mut. Ins. Co., 211
F.Supp.3d 1, 14-21 (D.D.C. 2016). While the Dahlgrens argued
that Delaware law should apply and Windsor-Mount argued for
District of Columbia law, the district court was not put to
the choice because the insurance claim failed under the law
of both jurisdictions. See id. at 13-14; see
also City of Harper Woods Emps.' Ret. Sys. v. Olver,
589 F.3d 1292, 1298 (D.C. Cir. 2009) ("A federal court
sitting in diversity applies the conflict of law rules of the
forum in which it sits." (citing Klaxon Co. v.
Stentor Elec. Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 496 (1941)));
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