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Gemini Insurance Co. v. Sirnaik, LLC

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division

May 2, 2019

GEMINI INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
SIRNAIK, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          THOMAS E. JOHNSTON, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Before this Court is Plaintiff Gemini Insurance Company's (“Plaintiff”) motion for judgment on the pleadings and to dismiss the counterclaims asserted against it by Defendants Sirnaik, LLC; Green Sustainable Solutions, LLC; Surnaik Holdings of WV, LLC; Polymer Alliance Services, LLC; Intercontinental Export Import, Inc.; Dr. Saurabh Naik; Saurabh Naik; Shraddha Naik; Rajiv Naik; Upen Naik; Upendra Naik; and Jyoti Naik (collectively, “Defendants”). (ECF No. 26.) For the reasons explained more fully herein, Plaintiff's motion, (ECF No. 26), is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This insurance coverage action arises out of a warehouse fire that occurred on October 21, 2017, in Parkersburg, West Virginia. (ECF No. 1 at 2.) Plaintiff seeks declaratory judgment as to certain aspects of the insurance policy it issued to Defendants and makes an unjust enrichment claim for defense costs in a number of lawsuits filed against Defendants as a result of the warehouse fire. (Id. at 10-14.)

         Plaintiff filed its motion for judgment on the pleadings and to dismiss the counterclaims on September 10, 2018. (ECF No. 26.) Defendants filed a timely response, (ECF No. 34), and Plaintiff filed a timely reply, (ECF No. 36). As such, the motion is fully briefed and ripe for adjudication.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Motion to Dismiss

         In general, a pleading must include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); see McCleary-Evans v. Md. Dep't of Transp., State Highway Admin., 780 F.3d 582, 585 (4th Cir. 2015) (stating that this requirement exists “to give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests” (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007))). However, to withstand a motion to dismiss made pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint must plead enough facts “to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Wikimedia Found. v. Nat'l Sec. Agency, 857 F.3d 193, 208 (4th Cir. 2017) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Stated another way, the factual allegations in the complaint “must be sufficient ‘to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'” Woods v. City of Greensboro, 855 F.3d 639, 647 (4th Cir. 2017) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). A complaint that alleges enough facts “to satisfy the elements of a cause of action created by [the relevant] statute” will survive a motion to dismiss. Id. at 648 (quoting McCleary-Evans, 780 F.3d at 585).

         In evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint, this Court first “identif[ies] pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. This Court then “assume[s] the[] veracity” of the complaint's “well-pleaded factual allegations” and “determine[s] whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. Review of the complaint is “a context-specific task that requires [this Court] to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. “[T]o satisfy the plausibility standard, a plaintiff is not required to plead factual allegations in great detail, but the allegations must contain sufficient factual heft to allow a court, drawing on judicial experience and common sense, to infer more than the mere possibility of that which is alleged.” Nanni v. Aberdeen Marketplace, Inc., 878 F.3d 447, 452 (4th Cir. 2017) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         B. Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings

         When considering a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), this Court applies the same standard it applies to a motion to dismiss made pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Drager v. PLIVA USA, Inc., 741 F.3d 470, 474 (4th Cir. 2014). That is, this Court accepts as true all the well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint and draws all reasonable factual inferences in the non-movant's favor. Pulte Home Corp. v. Montgomery Cty., 909 F.3d 685, 691 (4th Cir. 2018). “A motion for judgment on the pleadings is properly granted if ‘it appears certain that the [non-moving party] cannot prove any set of facts in support of [its] claim entitling [it] to relief.'” Id. (quoting Priority Auto Grp., Inc. v. Ford Motor Co., 757 F.3d 137, 139 (4th Cir. 2014)).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff moves for judgment on the pleadings as to Count I of its complaint, which requests declaratory judgment as to the applicability of the pollution exclusion in the policy it issued to Defendants. (ECF No. 27 at 5.) Plaintiff also contends that Defendants' coverage-based counterclaims, Counts I and II, should be dismissed if this Court grants judgment in its favor as to the pollution exclusion. (See id.) Plaintiff argues that the exclusion precludes insurance coverage for the claims alleged in the suits against Defendants arising out of the warehouse fire. (Id. at 11-14.) Indeed, the pollution exclusion provides that the policy does not apply to bodily injury or property damage caused by “the actual, alleged or threatened discharge, dispersal, seepage, migration, release or escape of ‘pollutants.'” (ECF No. 1-5 at 10.) The policy likewise does not apply to any “[r]equest, demand, order or statute or regulatory requirement that any insured or others test for, monitor, clean up, remove, contain, treat, detoxify or neutralize, or in any way respond to, or assess the effects of, ‘pollutants.'” (Id. at 11.) The term “pollutants” is defined in the policy to mean “any solid, liquid, gaseous or thermal irritant or contaminant, including smoke, vapor, soot, fumes, acids, alkalis, chemicals and waste.” (Id. at 22.) This language is clear and unambiguous. See Syl. Pt. 1, Flowers v. Max Specialty Ins. Co., 761 S.E.2d 787 ( W.Va. 2014) (per curiam) (“The interpretation of an insurance contract, including the question of whether the contract is ambiguous, is a legal determination.” (quoting Syl. Pt. 2, Riffe v. Home Finders Assoc., Inc., 517 S.E.2d 313 ( W.Va. 1999))).

         Further, the pollution exclusion applies to the claims alleged in the warehouse fire lawsuits. See Id. at 791 (“Determination of the proper coverage of an insurance contract when the facts are not in dispute is a question of law.” (quoting Farmers & Mechs. Mut. Ins. Co. of W.Va. v. Cook, 557 S.E.2d 801, 806 ( W.Va. 2001))). The Callihan plaintiffs allege that “an overwhelming amount of chemical smoke, odors, gases and/or fumes, particulate matter, and other harmful ‘fallout material' were released . . . by the destruction and/or combustion of harmful chemicals, compounds, hazardous waste, and/or otherwise harmful substances.” (ECF No. 1-1 at 7; ECF No. 26-1 at 11.) They claim that they “and their real and personal property . . . were significantly exposed . . . to an overwhelming amount of chemical smoke, odors, gases and/or fumes, particulate matter, and other harmful ‘fallout material'” as a result of the fire. (ECF No. 1-1 at 10; ECF No. 26-1 at 16.) The Barker plaintiffs aver that the fire “releas[ed] smoke, soot, pollutants, air contaminants, and noxious odors” that caused them to be exposed “to pollutants, horrific odors, and air contaminants” and “interfered with the use and enjoyment of their property.” (ECF No. 1-2 at 1, 5.) The Snider plaintiffs claim “personal injury and property damages arising from toxic smoke from a warehouse fire.” (ECF No. 1-3 at 1.) And the Mohwish plaintiffs allege that “hazardous materials” ...


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