June 16, 2021

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The Residency Requirement: Middle District of Pennsylvania Rules Question of Residency to be Determined by Jury

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The Middle District of Pennsylvania recently denied a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Allstate Insurance Company (“Allstate”) against its insured for the insured’s alleged failure to reside at the property. Merlin Law Group attorney Jason Cieri blogged on the Court’s Denial of Allstate’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings last November which you can access here. Now, after consideration of the expert reports and facts obtained during discovery, the court has ruled that this matter can move to trial.

The Insured filed a claim with Allstate in relation to a fire loss that occurred to his property in Central Pennsylvania. Allstate had performed an investigation into the loss and denied the loss due to:

[M]isrepresentations of facts material to the claim but not limited to misrepresentations related to residency, condition of the Property prior to the fire, ownership of the Property and issues regarding utilities at the property.

The denial of the insured’s claim was based on the findings of Allstate’s fire expert and a private investigator. The fire expert observed that there was a lack of furnishings at the property, both refrigerators were empty, and there was a lack of clothing at the property. The private investigator had interviewed certain neighbors who stated they had never seen anyone residing at the property. The denial was also based on testimony taken of both the insured and his mother reflecting that he stayed at his mother’s house more often than he stayed at the property in question, he had not been at the property for a week prior to the fire, and he had moved out of the property prior to the fire.

In opposition to Allstate’s conclusions, the insured stated that he kept all of his belongings at the property including furniture, slept there “on a nightly basis,” was remodeling the property, had a driver’s license with the property address on it, and purchased the home from his aunt in 2003.

In weighing the evidence, the court determined that Allstate had misconstrued some of the insured’s testimony. For example, Allstate had represented that the insured testified to moving out of the property prior to the period leading up to the fire. However, the court found the testimony reflected that he only moved out of the area for a bit when he was going to college and would always come back to the property to sleep.

The court also weighed other factors that supported residency such as the insured receiving mail at the property address, providing the property address for income tax purposes, being the only person with keys to the property, and consistently referring to the property as “my house” when testifying.

Stating that the term “residence” carries a more transitory meaning than the term “domicile,” the trial court ultimately concluded that the evidence on the record was sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to conclude that the insured resided at the property at the time of the fire.

A copy of the court Order can be found here.

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