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Leitzel v. Merchants Insurance Company of New Hampshire

February 2, 2006

RONALD M. LEITZEL, AND BARBARA D. LEITZEL, PLAINTIFFS
v.
MERCHANTS INSURANCE COMPANY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE, INC. AND MERCHANTS INSURANCE GROUP, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Yvette Kane United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Before the Court are cross-motions for judgment on the pleadings. While the motions were pending, Defendant submitted an additional motion for summary judgment. On January 25, 2006, the Court heard oral argument on the dispositive motions. For the reasons that follow, the Court finds that Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings must be granted and Plaintiff's motion denied. Additionally, Defendant's motion for summary judgment will be denied as moot.

I. Factual Background*fn1

At all times relevant to this action, Plaintiffs Ronald and Barbara Leitzel were named insureds under Personal Auto Insurance Policy number PAP 2664949 ("Policy") issued by Defendants Merchants Insurance Company of New Hampshire, Inc. and Merchants Insurance Group. On April 26, 2004, Plaintiff Ronald Leitzel executed a supplement to the Policy. The two-page supplement contained, inter alia, provisions for (1) rejection of Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist ("UM/UIM") coverage; (2) rejection of stacked UM/UIM coverage; and (3) an authorization for lower UM/UIM coverage limits. The supplement was divided into two pages, one of which pertained to UM coverage and the other of which pertained to UIM coverage. The supplement provided that in order to select reduced limits of UM/UIM coverage, the insured was required first to reject UM/UIM coverage and to reject stacking of UM/UIM coverage before affirmatively selecting specified lower coverage limits. As evidenced by his initials and signatures, Mr. Leitzel first rejected UM/UIM coverage and stacking of UM/UIM coverage and then selected reduced UM/UIM coverage limits of $15,000 per person and $30,000 per accident.

On June 29, 2004, Plaintiff Barbara Leitzel was involved in an automobile accident as a result of which she suffered serious and permanent bodily injuries. Plaintiffs made a claim under the Policy, and after reviewing the claim, Defendants issued Plaintiffs a check in the amount of $15,000 representing the maximum amount to which they were entitled under the terms of the Policy as modified by the lower limits authorization form Ronald Leitzel executed. Plaintiffs negotiated that check.

II. Procedural History

On or about May 3, 2005, Plaintiffs commenced an action against Defendants in the Court of Common Pleas of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. Plaintiffs styled the complaint as a putative class action, asserting a class of plaintiffs that includes all policyholders of Defendants' insurance policies who have executed rejection/waiver of UM/UIM coverage forms.*fn2

On or about May 25, 2005, Defendants removed the action to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441(a) and 1446(b) on the basis of diversity of citizenship under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332(a).

On September 7, 2005, Defendants moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. No. 11.) On September 29, 2005, Plaintiffs opposed Defendants' motion and cross-moved for judgment on the pleadings. (Doc. No. 14.) On September 3, 2005, Defendants moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. No. 19.) Pursuant to Defendants' written request, the Court heard oral arguments on all pending dispositive motions on January 25, 2006.

III. Standard of Review

Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a party to move for judgment on the pleadings "after the pleadings are closed but within such time as not to delay trial . . . ." Under Rule 12(c), "judgment will not be granted unless the movant clearly establishes that no material issue of fact remains to be resolved and that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Jablonski v. Pan American World Airways, Inc., 863 F.2d 289, 290 (3d Cir. 1988) (citation omitted). As with a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the "Court 'views the facts alleged in the pleadings and the inferences to be drawn from those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.'" Mele v. FRB, 359 F.3d 251, 253 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Leamer v. Fauver, 288 F.3d 532, 535 (3d Cir. 2002)).

IV. Discussion

Plaintiffs argue that the official forms Defendants used to allow Plaintiffs to request lower UM/UIM limits violate the technical requirements set forth in § 1731 of Pennsylvania's Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law, codified at 75 Pa. C.S.A. §§ 1701 et seq. ("MVFRL"). Plaintiffs acknowledge that Ronald Leitzel was seeking to lower his UM/UIM policy limits rather than to reject them entirely. However, Plaintiffs argue that because Defendants' forms required Plaintiffs to first reject UM/UIM coverage before affirmatively selecting reduced coverage, Defendants forms must comply with the requirements imposed by § 1731 of the MVFRL.

Section 1731 of the MVFRL requires, inter alia, that insurers must print rejection forms for UM and UIM coverage on separate sheets of paper and that any rejection forms that do not comply with the statute are deemed void. 75 Pa. C.S.A. § 1731(c.1). Plaintiffs contend that because Defendants included rejection/waiver forms for UM/UIM coverage and UM/UIM stacking on the same sheet of paper, rather than on separate documents as allegedly required under § 1731, the Plaintiffs' election to have reduced UM/UIM coverage should be declared void and that Defendants be required to provide UM/UIM coverage in an amount equal to the bodily injury liability coverage under the Policy pursuant to the remedial provision of § 1731(c.1). Additionally, Plaintiffs argue that Defendants' ...


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