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Plummer v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 27, 2014

GREGORY PLUMMER AND CHRISTINE PLUMMER Plaintiffs,
v.
STATE FARM FIRE AND CASUALTY COMPANY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JOY FLOWERS CONTI, Chief District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs Gregory and Christine Plummer ("plaintiffs") sued defendant State Farm Fire and Casualty Company ("defendant") for failure to pay an insurance claim for roof damage caused by a severe weather event that plaintiffs allege was covered under their homeowners' insurance policy. Plaintiffs alleged three counts against the defendant: (1) breach of contract; (2) breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing; and (3) insurance bad faith under 42 PA. CONS. STAT. § 8371. (Notice of Removal ¶ 3, ECF No. 1.) Defendant filed a partial motion to dismiss targeting counts two and three for failure to state a claim for which relief could be granted. (Mot. to Dismiss ¶ 2, ECF No. 4.) Defendant's motion is now ripe for decision.

The procedural history of this case is somewhat complex and therefore set forth here. Plaintiffs brought a claim for breach of contract against defendant in magisterial district court and were awarded damages and court costs on June 7, 2012. (Notice of Removal ¶ 1, ECF No. 1.) Defendant appealed to the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County. ( Id. ¶ 1.) Plaintiffs filed a complaint on August 23, 2012, in the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County, alleging three counts: (1) breach of contract; (2) breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing; and (3) insurance bad faith under 42 PA. CONS. STAT. § 8371. ( Id. ¶ 3.)

Defendant removed the action to this court on September 12, 2012. (Civil Action No. 12-1311.) On October 31, 2012, both parties agreed to a stipulation dismissing without prejudice the counts of breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing and insurance bad faith, and the court remanded plaintiffs' action to state court. ( Id. ¶ 5.) Arbitrators awarded plaintiffs $14, 789 plus costs in a state court arbitration hearing on May 21, 2013. ( Id. ¶ 6.) Defendant appealed from the arbitration award on June 18, 2013. ( Id. )

Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on October 10, 2013, in state court, realleging claims for breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing and statutory insurance bad faith in addition to breach of contract. ( Id. ¶ 7.) On October 30, 2013, defendant again removed plaintiffs' claim to this court. ( Id. ¶ 24.)

On November 4, 2013, defendant filed the pending partial motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, alleging that plaintiffs' counts in their amended complaint for breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing and statutory bad faith failed to state claims for which relief could be granted. (Mot. to Dismiss ¶ 2, ECF No. 4.) A brief in support of defendant's partial motion to dismiss was concurrently filed by defendant. ( Id. ¶ 6.) On December 19, 2013, plaintiffs filed a pro se brief in response to defendant's partial motion to dismiss. (Resp., ECF No. 9.)

II. FACTS AS ALLEGED IN THE COMPLAINT

Plaintiffs bought a homeowner's insurance policy from defendant, which indemnified plaintiffs for damage caused by weather events such as wind, hail, and tornados in exchange for premiums paid by plaintiffs. ( Id. ¶¶ 5-7.) On March 23, 2011, a severe storm which, included high winds, hail, and a tornado, struck plaintiffs' home. ( Id. ¶ 8.) Plaintiffs filed a claim with defendant, who found that plaintiffs' property was damaged and made a payment, less a deductible, for the damage. ( Id. ¶¶ 9-10.) Plaintiffs alleged, however, that the damage to their home, particularly their roof, was more extensive than what defendant assessed. ( Id. ¶¶ 11-12.) Defendant failed to pay for any roof damage despite being provided proof of damage and despite the damage being caused by an event covered by their policy. ( Id. ¶ 12.)

Defendant paid a claim toward repairing the roof of a property directly across the street from plaintiffs' property, but failed to pay for similar damage to plaintiffs' home even though the same hailstorm damaged both properties. ( Id. ¶¶ 23-24.) Plaintiffs allege defendant had no reasonable basis to pay for damage to the property across the street, but not to pay for damage to plaintiffs' property from the same incident. ( Id. ¶ 25.)

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). In deciding a motion to dismiss, the court is not opining on whether the plaintiff will be likely to prevail on the merits; rather, when considering a motion to dismiss, the court accepts as true all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint and views them in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. U.S. Express Lines Ltd. v. Higgins, 281 F.3d 383, 388 (3d Cir. 2002). While a complaint does not need detailed factual allegations to survive a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must provide more than labels and conclusions. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level" and "sufficient to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Id. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

The plausibility standard is not akin to a "probability requirement, " but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Where a complaint pleads facts that are "merely consistent with" a defendant's liability, it "stops short of the ...

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