The case of Weingarten v. Auto Owners Insurance Company,1 may have raised some interesting ideas about insurance policy interpretation, yet it was ultimately decided by a number of case-specific facts. Connie and Edward Weingarten sued their homeowner’s insurer, Auto-Owners Insurance Company, arguing that the company had improperly denied their insurance claim, which sought coverage for property damage due to an illegal marijuana grow operation. The Weingartens alleged breach of insurance contract, breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing, and statutory unreasonable delay or denial.
Auto-Owners brought a motion for summary judgment on the grounds that the policy did not cover the Weingartens’ losses because the property was not “principally” used as a private residence but rather an illegal marijuana grow operation. While the Weingartens conceded that “virtually the entire house” They had leased to individuals was being used for that purpose, they argued the chief, primary, or most important use for the property was as a private residence.
To support this, the Weingartens provided the court with pictures and video showing the property’s condition when law enforcement discovered the grow operations. The pictures and video came from the district attorney’s file for the prosecution of the individuals allegedly growing marijuana at the property. Auto-Owners in turn argued these materials indicated the property was principally used as a marijuana grow operation, not a private residence.
The trial court ultimately denied the motion for summary judgment, finding that the video and pictures created a disputed issue of material fact as to whether the property was used principally as a private residence. The court noted that the evidence showed that the individuals paid for internet and received mail at the property. Additionally, the video indicated the house had a dining room table, photographs and art on the walls, a couch, television, a pool table, a washing machine and a bottle of detergent with clothes hanging nearby. There were also mattresses in two bedrooms; a desk, an office chair, and a night stand in one of the bedrooms; a bathroom with a toothbrush and mouthwash on the sink; clothes in one closet; and a coffee pot with coffee grounds in the kitchen.
Taking this evidence in the light most favorable to the Weingartens, the trial court concluded that a disputed issue of fact existed but also noted that “significant footage supporting the notion that the house was used principally as a marijuana grow operation” was contained in the video and photographs. The court further noted that while it was “doubtful” that the Weingartens would be able to prove the house was used principally as a private residence, that judgment was for the jury to make.
1 Weingarten v. Auto Owners Ins. Co., No. 17-cv-01401 (D. Colo. April 17, 2018).