Plaintiff Did Not Affirmatively Demonstrate Fire Was Not Intentionally Set by Merely Challenging the Insurer’s Arson Investigation—Plaintiff’s Summary Judgment Motion Properly Denied—Proof Burdens at Summary Judgment Stage Explained
The Third Department determined plaintiff was not entitled to summary judgment in its breach of contract action against the insurer. Plaintiff’s restaurant was destroyed by fire. The insurer disclaimed coverage on the ground that the fire had been intentionally set. Plaintiff brought a summary judgment motion seeking the dismissal of the insurer’s affirmative defense (arson) and judgment in its favor on liability. The court explained the relevant proof burdens re: the affirmative defense of arson at the summary judgment stage:
As the movant, plaintiff was required to initially demonstrate “the absence of genuine issues of material fact on every relevant issue raised by the pleadings, including any affirmative defenses” … . Upon the affirmative defense of arson, if plaintiff, as the insured, met its initial burden, the burden would then shift to defendant, as the insurer. Although defendant’s ultimate burden of proving the affirmative defense at trial would be by the standard of clear and convincing evidence …, this strict standard is not applied at this juncture. Assuming that plaintiff met its initial burden to demonstrate that the fire was not intentionally set and that plaintiff had no motive to commit arson, to defeat the summary judgment motion defendant was merely required to demonstrate “that plaintiff’s premises may have been damaged by arson and that plaintiff may have had a motive to see the property destroyed by fire” … . Importantly, “[e]vidence of motive and incendiary origin without more is sufficient to defeat an insured’s motion for summary judgment in an action on its fire insurance policy” … .
Plaintiff failed to offer evidence to establish that the fire had not been intentionally set and, instead, merely challenged the validity of defendant’s investigation, arguing that the evidence failed to affirmatively establish that the fire had been deliberately set. Morley Maples, Inc. v Dryden Mut. Ins. Co., 2015 NY Slip Op 06395, 3rd Dept 7-30-15