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Viking Construction, Inc. v. 777 Residential, LLC

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

May 28, 2019

VIKING CONSTRUCTION, INC.
v.
777 RESIDENTIAL, LLC, ET AL.

          Argued February 14, 2019

         Procedural History

         Action to recover damages for, inter alia, breach of contract, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Hartford and transferred to the Complex Litigation Docket, where the court, Moukawsher, J., granted the plaintiff's motion to cite in 777 Main Street, LLC, et al. as defendants; thereafter, the named defendant et al. filed a counterclaim and filed a cross claim against the defendant Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company et al.; subsequently, the named defendant et al. withdrew the counterclaim and withdrew the cross claim in part; thereafter, the plaintiff withdrew the complaint; subsequently, the court denied the motion for summary judgment on the cross claim filed by the defendant Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company; thereafter, the court granted the motion for summary judgment on the cross claim as to liability filed by the named defendant et al.; subsequently, the court granted the motion for judgment in accordance with the parties' stipulation filed by the named defendant et al. and rendered judgment for the named defendant et al., from which the defendant Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company appealed to this court. Reversed; judgment directed.

          Stephen E. Goldman, with whom was Wystan M. Ackerman, for the appellant (defendant Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company).

          Jeffrey J. Vita, with whom was Theresa A. Guertin, for the appellees (named defendant et al.).

          Alvord, Keller and Eveleigh, Js.

          OPINION

          EVELEIGH, J.

         The cross claim defendant, Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company (Liberty Mutual), [1]appeals from the summary judgment rendered against it in favor of the cross claim plaintiffs, 777 Main Street, LLC (777 Main) and 777 Residential, LLC (777 Residential).[2] On appeal, Liberty Mutual argues that the trial court erred in granting the 777 entities' motion for summary judgment on their cross claim and in denying Liberty Mutual's motion for summary judgment, on the basis of its interpretation of the insurance policy issued by Liberty Mutual to the 777 entities. Specifically, Liberty Mutual argues that (1) the defects, errors, and omissions exclusion in the insurance policy bars coverage, and (2) the resulting loss clause in the policy does not reinstate coverage. We agree with Liberty Mutual and reverse the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to the resolution of this appeal. The 777 entities are the owners of a high-rise building at 777 Main Street in Hartford (building), which they planned to renovate and convert from an office building into a 285 unit apartment complex. On March 27, 2014, the 777 entities hired Viking Construction, Inc. (Viking), as the general contractor for the renovation. Viking's work on the renovation included cleaning the concrete facade of the building. On October 2, 2014, Viking subcontracted with Armani Restoration, Inc. (Armani), to clean the concrete facade of the building.

         From September to December, 2014, Armani cleaned the building's facade using a crushed glass cleaner that was sprayed onto the building using power washers. The cleaning inadvertently damaged the building's approximately 1800 windows, all of which had to be replaced at a cost of over $4 million.

         In July, 2015, the 777 entities claimed coverage of the loss under a builder's risk insurance policy (policy) that they had purchased from Liberty Mutual. This policy, which was in effect when the damage occurred, provides: ‘‘[Liberty Mutual] cover[s] direct physical loss or damage caused by a covered peril[3] to ‘buildings or structures' while in the course of construction, erection, or fabrication.'' (Footnote added.) The policy contains several exclusions, including a ‘‘Defects, Errors, And Omissions'' exclusion, which provides that Liberty Mutual is not responsible for ‘‘loss or damage consisting of, caused by, or resulting from an act, defect, error, or omission (negligent or not) relating to: a) design, specifications, construction, materials, or workmanship; b) planning, zoning, development, siting, surveying, grading, or compaction; or c) maintenance, installation, renovation, remodeling, or repair.'' The exclusion, however, contains an exception, also known as a ‘‘resulting loss'' clause, which provides: ‘‘[I]f an act, defect, error, or omission as described [in the exclusion] results in a covered peril, [Liberty Mutual] do[es] cover the loss or damage caused by that covered peril.''

         The policy also includes an optional renovation endorsement, which the 777 entities added to the policy because the project involved the renovation of an existing building rather than the construction of a new structure. The renovation endorsement provides: ‘‘[Liberty Mutual] cover[s] direct physical loss or damage caused by a covered peril to ‘building materials' and ‘existing buildings' that are part of [the 777 entities'] ‘rehabilitation or renovation project.' ''

         On August 12, 2015, after investigating the 777 entities' claimed loss under the policy, Liberty Mutual denied coverage. On December 24, 2015, Viking filed an action against 777 Residential, alleging breach of contract on the basis of 777 Residential's alleged refusal ‘‘to remit the outstanding contract balance . . . for work Viking performed on the [renovation].'' On May 12, 2016, Viking filed a motion to cite in as defendants, inter alia, 777 Main, Liberty Mutual, and Armani, which the court subsequently granted. On August 19, 2016, the 777 entities filed a cross claim, alleging a breach of contract on the basis of Liberty Mutual's refusal to cover the claimed loss under the policy. In March, 2017, the 777 entities settled their case with Viking and Armani for $1.6 million. The 777 entities continue to seek the remaining balance of the cost to replace the windows from Liberty Mutual.

         On November 6, 2017, after the close of discovery, Liberty Mutual filed a motion for summary judgment on the cross claim. On January 11, 2018, following oral argument on the motion, the trial court denied Liberty Mutual's motion for summary judgment. In its memorandum of decision on the motion, the court explained that its conclusion was based on a reading of the policy's exclusion in conjunction with the loss peril clause.[4]

         On January 31, 2018, the 777 entities filed a motion for summary judgment on their cross claim, which the court subsequently granted on February 14, 2018 ‘‘[f]or the reasons stated in the court's memorandum of decision on Liberty Mutual's motion for summary judgment . . . .'' On February 16, 2018, the parties filed a stipulation as to the amount of damages. On February 20, 2018, the 777 entities filed a motion for judgment in accordance with the stipulation and Liberty Mutual filed an objection to the motion. On February 22, 2018, the court granted the motion for judgment and rendered judgment on the cross claim in the amount of $1, 950, 000 in favor of the 777 entities ‘‘for the reasons set forth in the court's January 11, 2018, February 14, 2018, and February 22, 2018 memoranda of decision.''[5]

         Thereafter, Liberty Mutual filed the present appeal. Additional facts and procedural history will be set forth as necessary.

         ‘‘We begin our analysis with the standard of review applicable to a trial court's decision to grant a motion for summary judgment. Practice Book § 17-49 provides that summary judgment shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, affidavits and any other proof submitted show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. A party moving for summary judgment is held to a strict standard. . . . To satisfy [its] burden the movant must make a showing that it is quite clear what the truth is, and that excludes any real doubt as to the existence of any genuine issue of material fact. . . . As the burden of proof is on the movant, the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the opponent. . . . When documents submitted in support of a motion for summary judgment fail to establish that there is no genuine issue of material fact, the non-moving party has no obligation to submit documents establishing the existence of such an issue. . . . Once the moving party has met its burden, however, the opposing party must present evidence that demonstrates the existence of some disputed factual issue. . . . It is not enough, however, for the opposing party merely to assert the existence of such a disputed issue. Mere assertions of fact . . . are insufficient to establish the existence of a material fact and, therefore, cannot refute evidence properly presented to the court under Practice Book § [17-45]. . . . Our review of the trial court's decision to grant [a] motion for summary judgment is plenary.'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Anderson v. Dike, 187 Conn.App. 405, 409-10, 202 A.3d 448, cert. denied, 331 Conn. 910, 203 A.3d 1245 (2019).

         ‘‘The general principles that guide our review of insurance contract interpretations are well settled. . . . An insurance policy is to be interpreted by the same general rules that govern the construction of any written contract. . . . In accordance with those principles, [t]he determinative question is the intent of the parties, that is, what coverage the . . . [insured] expected to receive and what the [insurer] was to provide, as disclosed by the provisions of the policy. . . . If the terms of the policy are clear and unambiguous, then the language, from which the intention of the parties is to be deduced, must be accorded its natural and ordinary meaning. . . . Under those circumstances, the policy is to be given effect according to its terms. . . . When interpreting [an insurance policy], we must look at the contract as a whole, consider all relevant portions together and, if possible, give operative effect to every provision in order to reach a reasonable overall result. . . .

         ‘‘In determining whether the terms of an insurance policy are clear and unambiguous, [a] court will not torture words to import ambiguity where the ordinary meaning leaves no room for ambiguity . . . . Similarly, any ambiguity in a contract must emanate from the language used in the contract rather than from one party's subjective perception of the terms. . . . As with contracts generally, a provision in an insurance policy is ambiguous when it is reasonably susceptible to more than one reading. . . . Under those circumstances, any ambiguity in the terms of an insurance policy must be construed in favor of the insured because the ...


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