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Sabia Landscaping v. Merchants Mutual Insurance Co.

United States District Court, Third Circuit

November 6, 2013

SABIA LANDSCAPING, Plaintiff,
v.
MERCHANTS MUTUAL INSURANCE CO., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

DuBOIS, JAN E., J.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Sabia Landscaping (“Sabia”), has brought suit against its insurer, Merchants Mutual Insurance Company (“Merchants”), seeking a declaratory judgment establishing Merchants’s duty to defend Sabia in an underlying tort action and, if necessary, to indemnify it for any damages for which it is found liable. Sabia also asserts claims for breach of contract and bad faith as a result of Merchants’s denial of Sabia’s insurance claim.

Before the Court is Merchants’s Motion to Dismiss plaintiff’s Complaint. Merchants argues that it does not have a duty to defend or indemnify Sabia because Sabia’s insurance contract does not cover the claims asserted in the underlying tort action. For the reasons stated below, the Court denies Merchants’s motion.

II. FACTS[1]

On December 20, 2009, Tucker Gunderson slipped and fell on a patch of ice in the parking lot outside his condominium. Compl. in Civil Action ¶ 10, Gunderson v. Westwyk Condo. Ass’n, No. 2011-09569 (Ct. Com. Pl. Oct. 28, 2011) [hereinafter Gunderson Compl.]. Seeking relief for injuries he suffered as a result of that fall, Gunderson brought suit against his condominium association, Westwyk Condominium Association (“Westwyk”), alleging, inter alia, that the association and/or its agents were negligent in failing to “prevent” or “timely remove” ice accumulations or warn the public of slippery conditions. Id. ¶ 20 (a), (g).

On December 5, 2011, Westwyk joined Sabia as a “third-party defendant”[2] in the Gunderson action, alleging that Sabia was under contract with Westwyk to perform snow and ice removal and that Sabia’s negligence in performing such duties caused Gunderson’s injuries. Def.’s, Westwyk Condo. Ass’n and Cont’l Prop. Mgmt., Inc.’s Am. Joinder Compl. Against Sabia Landscaping Pursuant to Pa.R.C.P. 2252 ¶¶ 2, 7 [hereinafter Joinder Compl.]. Westwyk alleges Sabia’s negligence included, inter alia, failing to remove all snow and ice, failing to presalt, and failing to monitor weather conditions. Id. ¶ 4 (c), (d), (h).

On June 6, 2013, Sabia filed the instant action in the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County, alleging that, at all relevant times, it had a commercial general liability insurance policy with Merchants (“the Merchants policy”), that the Merchants policy obligates Merchants to defend and, if necessary, indemnify Sabia in the Gunderson action, and that Merchants improperly denied Sabia’s claim for such coverage. Pl., Sabia Landscaping’s, Compl. for Decl. J. Against Def., Merchs. Mut. Ins. Co. ¶¶ 4, 10, 14, Sabia Landscaping v. Merchs Mut. Ins. Co., No. 2013-04340 (Ct. Com. Pl. June 10, 2013) [hereinafter Sabia Compl.]. Defendant removed the action to this Court on the basis of diversity of citizenship. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1441, 1446.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that, in response to a pleading, a defense of “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted” may be raised by motion to dismiss. In analyzing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court “accept[s] all factual allegations as true, [and] construe[s] the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted).

“To survive a motion to dismiss, a civil plaintiff must allege facts that ‘raise a right to relief above the speculative level.’” Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). A complaint must contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). To satisfy the plausibility standard, a plaintiff’s allegations must show that a defendant’s liability is more than “a sheer possibility.” Id. “Where a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with’ a defendant’s liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.’” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

IV. DISCUSSION

A. Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Claim for Declaratory Judgment

In Count One of its Complaint, Sabia seeks a declaratory judgment establishing (1) Merchants’s duty to defend Sabia in the underlying action, (2) Merchants’s duty to reimburse Sabia for the costs of defending the underlying action, and (3) Merchants’s duty to indemnify Sabia for any damages for which it ...


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