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Scott v. Geico General Insurance Co.

United States District Court, Third Circuit

June 19, 2013

MICHAEL SCOTT, Plaintiff,
v.
GEICO GENERAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM [2]

MALACHY E. MANNION, District Judge. [1]

Presently before the court is the defendant's motion for summary judgment, (Doc. No. 23). Finding that a reasonable jury could conclude that the defendant acted in bad faith thereby violating its duties under the contract of insurance or Pennsylvania's bad faith statute, 42 Pa.C.S. §8371, the motion to dismiss will be denied in part. The motion will be granted, however, with respect to the defendant's argument that punitive damages and attorney's fees are not available for a breach of contract claim and that no fiduciary relationship existed between the parties.

I. BACKGROUND

The plaintiff and his wife were injured in an automobile accident on July 11, 2006. (Doc. No. 1, Att. 1 ¶ 4). The plaintiff brought a claim against the driver of the automobile that had collided with the plaintiff and settled the claim at the limits of the other driver's insurance policy, $95, 000. (Id. at ¶ 5). The plaintiff subsequently made a claim under his underinsured motorist policy with the defendant, policy number XXXXXXXXXX (hereinafter the "Policy"). (Doc. No. 24 at ¶ 4). The Policy provides for underinsured motorist benefits of $300, 000 per person and a limit of $600, 000 per accident. (Id. at ¶ 5).

On August 31, 2011, the plaintiff filed his complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Schuykill County, Pennsylvania alleging breach of contract and bad faith against the defendant for delaying the payment of full benefits. (Doc. No. 1 Att. 1). On September 27, 2011, the defendant removed the action to this court on diversity grounds. (Doc. No. 24 at ¶ 2). The plaintiff alleges that the defendant breached the contract of insurance by breaching the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing and that the defendant failed to act as a fiduciary to the plaintiff. (Doc. No. 1 ¶¶ 21-22). The plaintiff also claims that the defendant has acted in bad faith under Pennsylvania's bad faith statute, 42 Pa.C.S. §8371. (Id. at ¶ 25). The plaintiff seeks compensatory damages, including lost interest, attorney's fees and costs and punitive damages under each cause of action. (Id. at ¶¶ 23, 26).

The plaintiff argues that the defendant's bad faith is evidenced by the protracted processing of his claim that included several settlement offers which were unreasonably low considering his injuries. On July 20, 2006, counsel for the plaintiff presented the plaintiff's UIM claim to the defendant seeking to collect proceeds at the policy limit, $300, 000. (Doc. No. 24 at ¶ 22).

On or about June 1, 2007, the defendant informed counsel for the plaintiff that, based on the documentation provided to that point, it did not value the claim as being greater than $100, 000 and, therefore, the claim was entirely covered by the other driver's policy. (Id. at ¶ 67). The parties do not appear to dispute that at the time of its first settlement offer, the defendant's claim examiners had received the police report of the accident, some post-accident medical reports and bills, an employment summary of the plaintiff's work in 2006 and 2007 and the report of a vocational expert. (Id. at ¶¶ 22-76; Doc. No. 25 Att. 4 at 3-4). The parties similarly do not dispute that the plaintiff had not yet provided, inter alia, authorizations for the investigation of his medical and employment records, a list of prior medical providers, information about additional employment and prior tax returns. (Id.). Over the next twenty months the defendant continued to investigate the claim and receive additional information from the plaintiff. (Doc. No. 24 at ¶¶ 93-126; Doc. No. 25 Att. 4 at 6-7).

On or about February 23, 2009, the defendant extended a settlement offer of $35, 000 based on the information presented in the additional documentation collected during the period. (Doc. No. 24 at ¶ 134). The plaintiff rejected this offer and sought arbitration. (Id. at ¶ 143). In the months following, the plaintiff executed the requested medical release forms, submitted further information regarding additional employment and underwent an examination under oath and an evaluation by the defendant's vocational expert. (Doc. No. 24 at ¶¶ 158-197; Doc. No. 25 Att. 4 at 9-10).

On or about December 1, 2009, based on the newly acquired information, the defendant extended an offer of $120, 000 to settle the claim. (Doc. No. 24 at ¶199). On December 10, 2009 the defendant increased its offer to $150, 000. (Id. at 200). The plaintiff decreased its demand of $300, 000 to $285, 000, but the parties were unable to settle the matter. (Id. at ¶ 201).

On or about January 15, 2010, an arbitration panel awarded the plaintiff $450, 000 in damages. (Id. at ¶ 209). The award was eventually modified to reflect the policy limit of $300, 000. (Id. at ¶ 215). On or about February 23, 2010, the plaintiff acknowledged receipt of a check for $300, 000 from the plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 216).

On November 30, 2012, the defendant filed the instant motion for summary judgment, (Doc. No. 23), a statement of facts, (Doc. No. 24), and a brief in support, (Doc. No. 25). In addition, on December 3, 2012, the defendant filed a number of exhibits in support of its motion, (Doc. No. 26). The defendant argues that its investigation and attempts to settle the plaintiff's claims were reasonable as a matter of law. With respect to the plaintiff's breach of contract claim, the defendant seeks summary judgment on alternative grounds that the plaintiff failed to satisfy a condition precedent of the claim, that the defendant fulfilled all of its duties under the contract and met its duty of good faith and fair dealing, and that punitive damages, attorney's fees and interest are not available under Pennsylvania law. With respect to the bad faith claim, the defendant argues that any delay in the processing of the claim is attributable to the plaintiff, that the plaintiff's claims were uncertain and subjective and that all settlement offers were reasonable based on the information available to the defendant at the time.

On December 21, 2012, the plaintiff filed a brief in opposition, (Doc. No. 28 Att. 15). On January 2, 2013, the plaintiff filed a counter-statement of facts, (Doc. No. 30). Also on January 2, 2013, the defendant filed a brief in reply, (Doc. No. 29).

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, the discovery [including, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file] and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56; see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Turner v. Schering-Plough Corp., 901 F.2d 335, 340 (3d Cir. 1990). A factual dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party, and is material if it will affect the outcome of the trial under governing substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co. v. Ericksen, 903 F.Supp. 836, 838 (M.D. Pa. 1995). At the summary judgment stage, "the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249; see also Marino v. Indus. Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d ...


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