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Oscar Smith, Jr. and O. Smith Agency, Inc. v. the Allstate Corporation and the Allstate Insurance Company

July 10, 2012

OSCAR SMITH, JR. AND O. SMITH AGENCY, INC.
v.
THE ALLSTATE CORPORATION AND THE ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY
GREG BURRIS ANDTHE GREG BURRIS AGENCY
v.
THE ALLSTATE CORPORATION AND THE ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

The defendants, The Allstate Corporation and The Allstate Insurance Company (collectively, "Allstate") have moved to dismiss the complaint filed by Greg Burris and Oscar Smith, Jr., former Allstate insurance agents, in which they allege that Allstate engaged in a hostile takeover of their insurance agency businesses. According to the plaintiffs, Allstate induced them to sign exclusive agency agreements by extolling the benefits of the agreements. After they built their businesses under the agency relationship, Allstate established customer satisfaction standards that set the plaintiffs up to fail. When the plaintiffs did not meet these standards, Allstate terminated the agreements and forced the plaintiffs to sell their books of business to Allstate-approved agents at below-market rates.

The plaintiffs filed suit as individuals and on behalf of their agencies alleging that Allstate fraudulently or negligently induced them to enter into the contracts, was fraudulent or negligent in the performance and termination of the contract, and breached the duty of good faith and fair dealing. They assert that Allstate breached their contracts when it did not provide their agencies with formal reviews and was unjustly enriched when it forced them to sell their books of business to Allstate-approved agents for less than they were worth. The plaintiffs, African Americans, also claim that Allstate's performance under and termination of the agency agreements was discriminatory, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981.*fn1

Allstate has moved to dismiss all claims. After carefully reviewing the plaintiffs' complaints, Allstate's motions and the plaintiffs' consolidated response, we shall grant the motion to dismiss on all claims except the one for breach of contract.

Background

In June of 2000, Allstate terminated its employer-employee relationships with its incumbent agents. These agents were given three options: (1) become independent contractors to sell only Allstate products pursuant to an Allstate Exclusive Agency Agreement ("agency agreement"); (2) become temporary independent contractors to sell the existing books of business they had generated while they had been Allstate employees; or, (3) accept a severance package. Smith and Burris chose the first option, electing to become exclusive Allstate agents.

According to Smith, Allstate told him that if he sold Allstate products as an independent contractor, he would have a major stake in his business, including his book of business, and be able to grow his business more profitably. Smith claims that he relied on these representations, incorporated his own insurance agency, and signed the R3001A agency agreement on behalf of his agency.*fn2

The plaintiffs claim that they achieved exemplary results as independent contractors. Smith alleges that he built and maintained a book of business that generated approximately $3,000,000 per year in insurance premiums, and Burris claims that he generated premiums of approximately $1,000,000 per year. The customer retention rates for both agencies were at or above the national and regional averages over a ten-year period.

Allstate periodically evaluates each agency and produces a report known as the Agency Status Review, which measures expected results based on a number of factors including the agency's productivity, retention, and profitability. In 2007, Allstate implemented a new client survey called the Agency Loyalty Index ("ALI"). Allstate conducted the survey through questionnaires mailed to each agency's clients to measure customer satisfaction. Before Allstate implemented the ALI, customer satisfaction was measured by retention rates. In March 2009, Allstate informed its agents that the ALI would be included as part of its calculation of expected results.

In the 2009 ALI survey, both the Burris and Smith agencies scored below sixty, the benchmark established by Allstate. Both agencies received warning letters issued by Allstate stating that "failure to achieve a score of 60 or higher in the 2010 survey could jeopardize [their] relationship[s] with Allstate."*fn3 Despite efforts to raise their scores, the plaintiffs again failed to score sixty or higher on the 2010 ALI. The plaintiffs allege that much of the negative feedback on the 2010 ALI was due to Allstate increasing their customers' premiums. The plaintiffs also allege that in determining customer satisfaction, Allstate failed to make adjustments for demographics, including the ethnic and racial makeup of the customer bases, thus giving them low scores that were not representative of their overall performances.

Based on their ALI scores, Allstate terminated Smith and Burris's agency agreements on February 21, 2011 and August 30, 2011 respectively.*fn4 Plaintiffs allege that once Allstate terminated the agreement, their only options were to sell their books of business to an Allstate-approved buyer or accept a severance and forfeit their books to Allstate. Both plaintiffs sold their books at what they claim were below-market rates. The plaintiffs, both African American, also claim that their agencies were the only Pennsylvania-based ones whose agency agreements were terminated because of low ALI scores.

The plaintiffs bring claims for fraud, negligence, unjust enrichment, breach of contract, breach of good faith and fair dealing, and discrimination in contracting in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 to recover for damages for monetary loses and emotional distress. Allstate has moved to dismiss all claims.

Standard of Review

A complaint must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief," Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), giving the defendant "fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Although this standard "does not require 'detailed factual allegations,' . . . it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

A complaint is subject to dismissal if the plaintiff fails to plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The plaintiff must allege facts that indicate "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. Pleading only "facts that are 'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability" is insufficient and cannot survive a motion to dismiss. Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

We apply a three-step approach in examining the complaint to determine the sufficiency of a claim under Iqbal and Twombly. Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d 212, 221 (3d Cir. 2011). First, we identify the elements the plaintiffs must plead to state a claim. Id. (quoting Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010)).Second, we discount conclusory allegations because they are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Id. (quoting Santiago, 629 F.3d at 130). Third, we assume the veracity of well-pleaded factual allegations and determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief. Id. (quoting Santiago, 629 F.3d at 130).

When considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint are accepted as true and viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Holk v. Snapple Beverage Corp., 575 F.3d 329, 334 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008)). We may consider authentic documents that form the basis of the plaintiffs' claims. See Mayer v. Belichick, 506 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010) ("[A] court must consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, as well as undisputably authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents.") (citations and quotations omitted). With these standards in mind, we shall accept as true the facts as they appear in the plaintiffs' complaints and draw all possible inferences from these facts in their favor.

Fraudulent Inducement and Negligent Misrepresentation

In Counts Four and Five of the complaints, the plaintiffs allege that Allstate acted fraudulently and negligently in the inducement, performance and termination of the agency agreements. Allstate argues that the fraud allegations lack the degree of specificity required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (9)(b); the alleged fraudulent and negligent statements are inadmissible under the parol evidence rule; and, the claims ...


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