The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lynne A. Sitarski United States Magistrate Judge
Presently before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Strike Plaintiff's request for Trial de Novo and to Dismiss Plaintiff's case. (Doc. No. 29). On September 10, 2012, Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to Defendant's motion. (Doc. No. 36). On September 12, 2012, Defendant filed a reply. (Doc. No. 38). Thus, this matter is now ripe for determination.
On March 7, 2010, Plaintiff's 2004 BMW 525i ("BMW" or "the vehicle") was involved in an accident when her son's friend took the vehicle on a test drive. (Doc. No. 36, Ex. A, ¶5-7). Upon learning of the accident, Ms. Rogers made a claim with Defendant, her insurance provider. (Doc. No. 36, Ex. A, ¶ 9). Allstate refused to cover the loss, stating that Plaintiff's insurance was no longer in effect on the date of the accident. (Doc. No. 36, Ex. A, ¶ 10-11). Whether or not Ms. Rogers was covered by Allstate at the time of the accident is the central issue in this case.
It is undisputed that on March 12, 2010, Ms. Rogers went to Allstate's website and canceled the BMW's insurance coverage. (Doc. No. 36, Ex. A, ¶ 9,11; Doc. No. 29, Ex. 3 at 73:14-19). What the parties dispute is the date that the cancellation went into effect. Allstate argues that Ms. Rogers requested the effective date of cancellation to be March 5, 2010. (Doc. No. 29, Ex. 4-6). Ms. Rogers, however, claims that she requested the effective cancellation date to be March 12, 2010, and that Allstate backdated her request to March 5, 2010. (Doc. No. 36, Ex. A, ¶9,11).
In light of Allstate's refusal to cover the loss, Plaintiff filed
this case in the Northampton County Court of County Pleas in November
2011. (Doc. No. 36, Ex. A (Complaint)). The Complaint alleged four
counts: Breach of Contract (Count I), Bad Faith (Count II), Violation
of the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (Count III),
and Fraudulent Misrepresentation (Count IV). (Doc. No. 36, Ex.
A).*fn1 The case was removed to the Eastern District
of Pennsylvania on December 21, 2011. (Doc. No. 1).*fn2
Because the dispute involved less than $150,000, the parties
were scheduled for an arbitration hearing pursuant to Local Rule of
Civil Procedure 53.2(5)(B). (Doc. No. 20).
The arbitration was originally set for June 20, 2012, but it was then rescheduled to July 18, 2012. (Doc. No. 17, 18). Plaintiff apparently made a letter request for a continuance,*fn3 but on June 25, 2012, that request was denied by Judge Sanchez. (Doc. No. 21). On July 17, 2012, Jeffrey R. Lessin entered his appearance on behalf of Plaintiff. (Doc. No. 21, 23). Mr. Lessin represented Ms. Rogers at the arbitration the next day, on July 18, 2012. At the arbitration, Plaintiff presented evidence only as to Count I, the breach of contract claim. ( Doc. No. 29, Ex. 3 at 7).
The arbitration panel ruled in favor of Allstate on all counts. (Doc. No. 29, Ex. 12). On August 14, 2012, Plaintiff filed a request for a trial de novo. (Doc. No. 25).
On August 27, 2012, Allstate filed a motion to strike Plaintiff's request for a trial de novo, arguing that Plaintiff failed to meaningfully participate in the arbitration hearing. (Doc. No. 29). Additionally, Allstate argues that the entire case should be dismissed due to Ms. Rogers' spoliation of evidence; namely, destruction of the computer on which Ms. Rogers accessed Allstate's website to cancel her coverage on the vehicle.
II. DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO STRIKE PLAINTIFF'S REQUEST FOR A TRIAL DE NOVO
Allstate argues that Ms. Rogers failed to meaningfully participate in the arbitration process in violation of Local Rule 53.2(5)(B), and therefore her motion for a trial de novo should be stricken. Defendant's motion to strike Plaintiff's request for a trial de novo will be granted in part and denied in part.
Local Rule 53.2 dictates that, if the amount in controversy in a case is less than $150,000, arbitration is compulsory. Local Rule 53.2(3)(A). "In the event, however, that a party fails to participate in the trial in a meaningful manner, the Court may impose appropriate sanctions, including but not limited to the striking of any demand for a trial de novo filed by that party."
Local Rule 53.2(5)(B). Thus, there are two issues this Court must decide: (1) whether Ms. Rogers' conduct at the arbitration hearing was "meaningful;" and (2) if Ms. Rogers' participation was ...