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Stephen J. Grassetti, Sr. v. Property & Casualty Insurance Company of Hartford and the

April 20, 2011

STEPHEN J. GRASSETTI, SR.
PLAINTIFF
v.
PROPERTY & CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY OF HARTFORD AND THE HARTFORD FINANCIAL SERVICES GROUP, INC., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Judge Munley)

MEMORANDUM

Before the court is the defendants' motion to dismiss Count II of the plaintiff's complaint. (Doc. 7). The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Stephen J. Grassetti Sr. ("Plaintiff") was seriously injured on May 16, 2007 during a traffic accident while driving in Florida. (Compl. ¶ 12 (Doc. 7-1)). At the time of the accident, Plaintiff had an auto insurance policy with Defendants Property & Casualty Insurance Company of Hartford and The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc. ("Defendants"). (Id. ¶ 5). Plaintiff alleges that under the policy, the Defendants "agreed to pay compensatory damages to the Plaintiff, up to a limit of Fifty Thousand ($50,000), per vehicle, for injuries inflicted upon the Plaintiff by the operator of an uninsured ("UM") vehicle." (Id. ¶ 7). Plaintiff's complaint implies that the Plaintiff signed an Uninsured Motorist ("UM") Rejection form, but alleges that the form does not comply with the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law ("MVFRL"), 75 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. § 1731(b). (Id. ¶¶ 8-10). Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants' form stated "Uninsured Motorists Coverage protects me and relatives living in my household for losses and damages suffered if injury is caused by the negligence of a driver who does not have any insurance to pay for losses and damages." (Id. ¶ 9; see also Ex. A to Pl.'s Compl., Rejection of Uninsured Motorist Protection Waiver (Doc. 7-1 at 26)).

Plaintiff alleges that, because the other driver involved in the May 16 accident was unidentified-- and therefore uninsured-- the Defendants were obligated to pay compensatory damages of $100,000.00; the stacked liability limits of $50,000.00 per vehicle for each of Plaintiff's vehicles. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 15). The Plaintiff made a claim for such compensatory damages which the Defendants denied. (Id. ¶ 19).

The Plaintiff filed his complaint in the Court of Common Pleas for Lackawanna County on August 25, 2010. (Doc. 7-1). In Count I of the complaint, Plaintiff alleges a breach of contract based on the Defendants' failure to pay $100,000.00 in compensatory damages. (Id. ¶¶ 14-20). In Count II of the complaint, Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants denied Plaintiff's claim for UM benefits knowing they had no reasonable basis for the denial, in violation Pennsylvania's Bad Faith Statute, 42 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. § 8371. (Id. ¶¶ 21-26).

On October 5, 2010, the Defendants removed the action to this court. (Doc. 1). On November 24, 2010, the Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Count II of the complaint, bringing the case to its present posture. (Doc. 7).

JURISDICTION

Because there is complete diversity of citizenship between the parties and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.00, the court has removal jurisdiction over the case. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332 ("district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between . . . citizens of different States[.]"); 28 U.S.C. § 1441 (A defendant can generally remove a state court civil action to federal court if the federal court would have had original jurisdiction to address the matter pursuant to the diversity jurisdiction statute).

As a federal court sitting in diversity, we must apply state law. Chamberlain v. Giampapa, 210 F.3d 154, 158 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Erie R.R. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938)). In this case, the relevant state is Pennsylvania. If the state supreme court has not yet addressed an issue before us, we must predict how that court would rule if presented with that issue. Nationwide v. Mutual Ins. Co., 230 F.3d 634, 637 (3d Cir. 2000). In so doing, we must examine the opinions of the lower state courts, and we cannot disregard them unless we are convinced by other persuasive data that the highest court would rule otherwise. Id.

LEGAL STANDARD

When a 12(b)(6) motion is filed, the sufficiency of a complaint's allegations are tested. Granting the motion is appropriate if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, the plaintiff has not pleaded "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," or put another way, "nudged [his or her] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The Third Circuit interprets Twombly to require the plaintiff to describe "enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" each necessary element of the claims alleged in the complaint. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Moreover, the plaintiff must allege facts that "justify moving the case beyond the pleadings to the next stage of litigation." Id. at 234-35.

In relation to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), the complaint need only provide "'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 upon which it rests,'" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted). "[T]he factual detail in a complaint [cannot be] so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant the type of notice of claim which is contemplated by Rule 8." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232 (citation omitted). "Rule 8(a)(2) requires a 'showing' rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief." Id.

The issue is whether the facts alleged in the complaint, if true, support a claim upon which relief can be granted. In deciding a 12(b)(6) motion, the court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and give the pleader the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can fairly be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). However, "we are not bound to accept as true a legal ...


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