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Mary E. D'orazio v. Hartford Underwriters Insurance Company

June 18, 2012

MARY E. D'ORAZIO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HARTFORD UNDERWRITERS INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joyner, C.J.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Before the Court are Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 7, 8), Plaintiff's Response in Opposition (ECF No. 11), and Defendant's Reply thereto (ECF No. 12). For the reasons set forth in this Memorandum of Law, Defendant's Motion is GRANTED.

I. Background

Mary E. D'Orazio ("Plaintiff"), a resident of Delaware, was injured in an automobile accident on November 17, 2007 while traveling in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the time, Plaintiff maintained an automobile insurance policy (the "Policy") with the Hartford Underwriters Insurance Company ("Defendant"), incorporated and with its principal place of business in Connecticut. The policy provided for first party injury coverage, including medical expenses and lost wages.

Plaintiff sued Defendant for breach of contract and bad faith for failing to pay certain claims for medical expenses and lost wages. The action was originally filed in Pennsylvania state court and removed before this Court on December 2, 2011. The Court has jurisdiction over the action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

Plaintiff previously filed an action against Defendant in Pennsylvania court on December 10, 2008. Like the present action, Plaintiff sued Defendant for breach of contract and bad faith for denying claims for medical expenses and lost wages resulting from the November 17, 2007 accident. The case was removed to federal district court on January 28, 2009 and the court granted Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on May 6, 2011. See D'Orazio v. Hartford Ins. Co., Civ. No. 09-cv-403, 2011 WL 1756004 (E.D. Pa. May 6, 2011) ("D'Orazio I"). The court held that as a matter of law, Defendant was entitled to judgment in its favor on all claims. Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, in which Defendant argues both claim preclusion and issue preclusion prohibit the litigation of the instant action.

II. Legal Standard

Upon consideration of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must "accept as true the factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom." Krantz v. Prudential Invs. Fund Mgmt., 305 F.3d 140, 142 (3d Cir. 2002). In so doing, the courts must consider whether the complaint has alleged enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Bell Atl. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

Res judicata,*fn1 an affirmative defense, may be raised in a motion to dismiss. See, e.g., Jones v. Lapina, 450 F. App'x 105, 108 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Connelly Found. v. Sch. Dist. of Haverford Twp., 461 F.2d 495, 496 (3d Cir. 1972)). "In addition to the complaint itself, the court can review documents attached to the complaint and matters of public record, and a court may take judicial notice of a prior judicial opinion." McTernan v. City of York, 577 F.3d 521, 526 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Lum v. Bank of Am., 361 F.3d 217, 221 n.3 (3d Cir. 2004)). A court may only take notice of the existence of a prior opinion and may not use it to establish the truth of the facts asserted therein.

Lum, 361 F.3d at 221 n.3.

III. Analysis

Defendant asserts that the doctrine of res judicata prohibits litigation of the present action. Defendant contends both of Plaintiff's claims were already litigated and the same issues were already ruled upon in D'Orazio I. Defendant argues that Pennsylvania's res judicata law should be used to decide its Motion to Dismiss and Plaintiff appears to agree. Although Defendant is correct that in a federal diversity action "the law of the state where the prior judgment was entered governs the applicability of the doctrine of res judicata," (Def.'s Mem. 8), this has no bearing on the present case. The fact that Pennsylvania was the forum state for the prior federal action is irrelevant. "[F]ederal courts should apply the general rule that the preclusive effect of a judgment is determined by the preclusion law of the issuing court." Paramount Aviation Corp. v. Agusta, 178 F.3d 132, 135 (3d Cir. 1999). The prior judgment was issued by a federal court; thus the Court applies federal res judicata law. See id. at 145; see also Burlington N. R.R. Co. v. Hyundai Merch. Marine Co., 63 F.3d 1227, 1231 (3d Cir. 1995). Still, the federal and Pennsylvania res judicata doctrines bear such substantial similarity that the parties' arguments pursuant to Pennsylvania law accord with federal law.

The claim preclusion doctrine "draw[s] a line between the meritorious claim on the one hand and the vexatious, repetitious and needless claim on the other hand." Purter v. Heckler, 771 F.2d 682, 689-90 (3d Cir. 1985). "When one has been given the opportunity to fully present his case in a court and the contested issue is decided against him, 'he may not later renew the litigation in another court.'" Id. at 690 (quoting Heiser v. Woodruff, 327 U.S. 726, 733 (1946)). The present action consists of vexatious, repetitious and needless claims that cannot be relitigated.

Claim preclusion consists of three elements: "(1) a final judgment on the merits in a prior suit involving (2) the same claim and (3) the same parties or their privies." In re Montgomery Ward, 634 F.3d 732, 736-37 (3d Cir. 2011) (quoting E.E.O.C. v. U.S. Steel Corp., 921 F.2d 489, 493 (3d Cir. 1990)). "If these three factors are present, a claim that was or could have been raised previously must be dismissed as precluded." Shih-Liang Chen v. Township of Fairfield 354 ...


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