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Rice v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co.

August 25, 2010

JASON RICE AND STEPHANIE RICE, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
STATE FARM FIRE AND CASUALTY COMPANY, T/D/B/A/ STATE FARM INSURANCE COMPANIES, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge McClure

MEMORANDUM

I. BACKGROUND

On April 30, 2010, the plaintiffs, Jason Rice and Stephanie Rice, filed a four-count complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Snyder County. (Rec. Doc. No. 1, Exhbt. A). As of the date of the filing of the complaint, plaintiffs resided in Selinsgrove, Snyder County, Pennsylvania. Id. at 1. The defendant named in the complaint is State Farm Fire and Casualty Company t/d/b/a State Farm Insurance Companies ("State Farm"), a company that does business in Pennsylvania but has a principal place of business in Bloomington, Illinois. Id.*fn1 This action was removed to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania upon the defendant's notice of removal, filed with this court on June 18, 2010. This court has proper jurisdiction based upon diversity of citizenship.*fn2

In their complaint, plaintiffs seek to recover damages they say they incurred as a result of a fire at their home in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. Count I of the plaintiffs' complaint is a breach of contract claim, based upon a contract of insurance the plaintiffs claim they entered into with the defendant. (Rec. Doc. No. 1, Exhbt. A at 4-5).*fn3 Count II of the complaint is an action for bad faith in violation of 42 Pa.C.S. § 8731, et seq. Id. at 5-7. In Count III of the complaint, plaintiffs allege that State Farm "has acted in bad faith and breached its contractual and fiduciary duties owed to the Plaintiffs...." Id. at 7-9. Finally, in Count IV, plaintiffs contend that the defendant violated the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law ("UTPCPL"), 73 P.S. § 201-1, et seq., "by engaging in unfair or deceptive acts or practices...." Id. at 9-10.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On June 25, 2010, defendant State Farm filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). (Rec. Doc. No. 4). With this motion, the defendant seeks to dismiss Counts II, III, and IV of the plaintiffs' complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. On July 9, 2010, State Farm filed a brief in support of its motion to dismiss. (Rec. Doc. No. 5). In addition to providing support for its contention that Counts II, III, and IV of the complaint should be dismissed, State Farm also argues that the plaintiffs' demand for attorneys' fees in Count I should be stricken, as plaintiffs are not entitled to such fees in a breach of contract action.

Plaintiffs did not file a brief in opposition within the time period as required by Middle District Local Rule 7.6. That rule states that "[a]ny party who fails to comply with this rule shall be deemed not to oppose such motion." Local Rule 7.6. However, as granting the motion at issue would dispose of a number of the plaintiffs' claims, we allowed the plaintiffs until August 9, 2010, in which to file an opposition brief to the defendant's motion to dismiss. (Rec. Doc. No. 8). As of the date of this order, the plaintiffs have yet to file any brief in opposition.

Now, in light of the following, we will grant the defendant's motion to dismiss to the extent that the defendant seeks the dismissal of Count III of the complaint and the plaintiffs' request for legal costs in Count I. We will deny the motion to the extent that the defendant seeks the dismissal of Count II and IV of the plaintiffs' complaint.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When considering a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court must view all allegations stated in the complaint as true and construe all inferences in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Hishon v. King & Spaulding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984); Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). "The tenet that a court must accept as true all of the [factual] allegations contained in the complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (internal citations omitted). In ruling on such a motion, the court primarily considers the allegations of the pleading, but is not required to consider legal conclusions alleged in the complaint. Kost, 1 F.3d at 183. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. At the motion to dismiss stage, the court considers whether plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence to support the allegations in the complaint. Maio v. Aetna, Inc., 221 F.3d 472, 482 (3d Cir. 2000).

A complaint should only be dismissed if, accepting as true all of the allegations in the complaint, plaintiff has not pled enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1960 (2007). "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will... be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950. In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, we must be mindful that federal courts require notice pleading, as opposed to the heightened standard of fact pleading. Hellmann v. Kercher, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 54882, 4 (W.D. Pa. 2008). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 "'requires only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds on which it rests,'" Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964, (2007) (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S.Ct. 99, (1957)). However, even under this lower notice pleading standard, a plaintiff must do more than recite the elements of a cause of action, and then make a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief under it. Hellmann, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS at 4-5. Instead, a plaintiff must make a factual showing of his entitlement to relief by alleging sufficient facts that, when taken as true, suggest the required elements of a particular legal theory. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965. "[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - - but it has not "shown" - - "that the pleader is entitled to relief." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950, citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a).

The failure-to-state-a-claim standard of Rule 12(b)(6) "streamlines litigation by dispensing with needless discovery and factfinding." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326-27 (1989). A court may dismiss a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) where there is a "dispositive issue of law." Id. at 326. If it is beyond a doubt that the non-moving party can prove no set of facts in support of its allegations, then a claim must be dismissed "without regard to whether it is based on an outlandish legal theory or on a close but ultimately unavailing one." Id. at 327.

IV. ALLEGATIONS IN THE COMPLAINT

The material facts as contained in the complaint are as follows. Plaintiffs Jason Rice and Stephanie Rice were at all times relevant to the instant action the owners of a property located at 1253 North Old Trail, Selinsgrove, Snyder County, Pennsylvania. (Rec. Doc. No. 1, Exhbt. A at 2). At all times relevant to this suit, defendant State Farm provided Mr. and Mrs. Rice with insurance coverage for this property under Policy No. 78-PT-6539-2. This policy provided coverage for the dwelling located at 1253 North ...


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