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Hoffer v. Grange Insurance Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 30, 2014

OLIVIA HOFFER, Plaintiff,
v.
GRANGE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION[1]

MARTIN C. CARLSON, Magistrate Judge.

I. Statement of Facts and of the Case

This case, which comes before the Court on a motion to strike, involves an auto insurance dispute arising out of a June 16, 2012, accident in which the plaintiff, Olivia Hoffer, was struck by an under-insured motorist while operating a vehicle insured by her father through the defendant, Grange Insurance Company. (Doc. 1-1, ¶¶1-14.) Hoffer settled a claim with the insurance carrier of the person who struck her automobile, (id., ¶¶14-16), and then made an under-insured motorist coverage claim against her father's policy with Grange. ( Id., ¶¶16-21.) According to the plaintiff's complaint, this claim was unjustifiably denied by Grange. (id., ¶¶22-31.) Hoffer's complaint then alleges a breach of contract claim against Grange, (id., ¶¶26-33), a claim which closes in paragraph 32 of the complaint with the following narrative: "As Ms. Hoffer's insurer, Defendant owes a fiduciary, contractual and statutory obligation to investigate, evaluate, and negotiate the UIM claim in good faith and to arrive at a prompt, fair and equitable settlement." ( Id., ¶32.)

Hoffer originally filed this complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Lebanon County. (Id.) Grange subsequently removed this action to federal court based upon diversity of citizenship, (Doc. 1.), and has now moved to strike paragraph 32 of Hoffer's complaint pursuant to Rule 12(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. 6.) In the alternative, Grange seeks a more definite statement of the nature of the claims propounded by Hoffer in this paragraph of her complaint, pursuant to Rule 12(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Id.) This motion is fully briefed by the parties, (Docs. 7 and 12.), and is, therefore, ripe for resolution.

For the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that the defendant's motion to strike be denied, but that the defendant's motion for more definite statement be granted, in part.

II. Discussion

A. Motion to Strike-Standard of Review

A motion to strike is not a substitute for a motion to dismiss under federal practice. Rather the two types of motions serve very different purposes. A Rule 12(b) motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. In contrast, Rule 12(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which governs motions to strike pleadings, serves a specific and narrow purpose and provides, in part, that:

(f) Motion to Strike. The court may strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.

Fed. R.Civ. P. 12(f).

"The purpose of a motion to strike is to clean up the pleadings, streamline litigation, and avoid unnecessary forays into immaterial matters.' Natale v. Winthrop Resources Corp. , 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 54358, 2008 WL 2758238 (E.D.Pa. July 9, 2008). Relief under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f) is generally disfavored, and will be denied unless the allegations have no possible relation to the controversy and may cause prejudice to one of the parties, or if the allegations confuse the issues in the case.' Id." Fiorentino v. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. , 750 F.Supp.2d 506, 509 (M.D. Pa. 2010). Thus, while rulings on motions to strike rest in the sound discretion of the court, Von Bulow v. Von Bulow , 657 F.Supp. 1134, 1146 (S.D.N.Y. 1987), that discretion is guided by certain basic principles. Because striking a pleading is viewed as a drastic remedy, such motions are "generally disfavored." Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Sales, Inc. v. Avondale Shipyards, Inc. , 677 F.2d 1045, 1057 (5th Cir. 1982). As one court has aptly observed: "striking a party's pleadings is an extreme measure, and, as a result, ... [m]otions to strike under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f) are viewed with disfavor and are infrequently granted.' Lunsford v. United States , 570 F.2d 221, 229 (8th Cir.1977) (citing 5 Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure. Civil § 1380 at 783 (1969)). See also Resolution Trust Corp. v. Gibson , 829 F.Supp. 1103, 1106 (W.D.Mo.1993); 2 James Wm. Moore et al., Moore's Federal Practice § 12.37[1] (3d ed. 2000)." Stanbury Law Firm v. I.R.S. , 221 F.3d 1059, 1063 (8th Cir. 2000).

"Because a motion to strike is not favored, a court will generally not grant such a motion unless the material to be stricken bears no possible relationship to the controversy and may cause prejudice to one of the parties. See Hanover Ins. Co., 619 F.Supp.2d at 133; Miller v. Group Voyagers, Inc. , 912 F.Supp. 164, 168 (E.D.Pa.1996). In deciding the motion, a court should also consider the liberal pleading standards of Rule 8 and the lack of a developed factual record at this early stage of litigation. See Hanover Ins. Co., 619 F.Supp.2d at 133; United States v. Consolidation Coal Co., No. 89-CV-2124 , 1991 WL 333694, at *1 (W.D.Pa. Jul. 5) (citing Kelley v. Thomas Solvent Co. , 714 F.Supp. 1439, 1442 (W.D.Mich.1989))." Zaloga v. Provident Life & Acc. Ins. Co. of Am. , 671 F.Supp.2d 623, 633 (M.D. Pa. 2009). In practice, courts should exercise this discretion and strike pleadings only when those pleadings are both "redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous" and unfairly prejudicial to the opposing party. Ruby v. Davis Foods, Inc. , 269 F.3d 818, 820 (7th Cir. 2001). For purposes of Rule 12(f): "Immaterial matter is that which has no essential or important relationship to the claim for relief. Impertinent matter consists of statements that do not pertain, and are not necessary, to the issues in question. Scandalous matter has been defined as that which improperly casts a derogatory light on someone, most typically on a party to the action. Scandalous pleading must "reflect cruelly" upon the defendant's moral character, use "repulsive language" or "detract from the dignity of the court."' Donnelly v. Commonwealth Fin. Sys., No. 07-CV-1881 , 2008 WL 762085, at *4 (M.D.Pa. Mar. 20) (internal citations omitted)." Zaloga v. Provident Life & Acc. Ins. Co. of Am. , 671 F.Supp.2d 623, 633 (M.D. Pa. 2009).

B. Grange's Motion to Strike Should Be Denied But Hoffer Should Provide More Definite Statement of Any Claim Under 42 Pa.C.S. §8371

Given the specific and narrow purpose served by a motion to strike, and the exacting burden of proof which attaches to such a motion, we find that Grange has not shown that the recital contained in paragraph 32 of this complaint, which simply alleges that, "[a]s Ms. Hoffer's insurer, Defendant owes a fiduciary, contractual and statutory obligation to investigate, evaluate, and negotiate the UIM claim in good faith and to arrive at a prompt, fair and equitable settlement" (Doc. 1-1, ¶32.), should be stricken from this pleading. Recognizing that we should exercise our discretion and strike language from pleadings only when those pleadings are both "redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous" and unfairly prejudicial to the opposing ...


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