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Monck v. The Progressive Corporation

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 13, 2015



RICHARD P. CONABOY, District Judge.

Here we consider Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 5) filed on February 11, 2015. With this motion, Defendants seek dismissal of several counts of Plaintiff's eight-count Complaint (Doc. 1-1), asserting that the counts for Underinsured Motorist Benefits (Count One), Breach of Contract (Count Two), and Insurance Bad Faith (Count Five) provide an adequate remedy for Plaintiff's claim for insurance benefits for any misconduct in relation to the handling of her underinsured motorist's claim. (Doc. 5 at 2.) For the reasons discussed below, we conclude Defendants' motion is properly granted.

I. Background

This matter arises as a result of Plaintiff's involvement in an automobile accident on or about July 8, 2013. (Doc. 1-1 ¶¶ 7-9.) Plaintiff was a passenger in a car driven by Christopher O'Brien. (Doc. 1-1 ¶ 9.) The O'Brien vehicle failed to stop at a stop sign and was struck by a vehicle operated by Joseph Migatulski. (Id. ) Plaintiff claims that she sustained serious permanent injuries as a result of the collision. (Doc. 1-1 ¶ 10.)

O'Brien had two third party liability automobile insurance policies with a combined total of $80, 000. ((Doc. 1-1 ¶ 22.) The full amount of liability coverage was tendered and disbursed among seven parties who were injured as a result of the accident. (Id. ) Plaintiff received $16, 000 which she claims to be insufficient to compensate her for her injuries. (Id. )

On August 14, 2013, Plaintiff's counsel requested that Defendant United Financial Casualty Company open a claim for underinsured motorist benefits and requested that an adjuster contact Plaintiff's counsel.[1] (Doc. 1-1 ¶ 36; Doc. 6 at 2.) Defendant issued a policy of insurance to Plaintiff's aunt and uncle, Mary Martin and Roland Marro, which was in effect at the relevant time. (Doc. 1-1 ¶ 14.) Plaintiff asserts that she is an insured under the policy which had $100, 000 (stacked) in underinsured motorist benefits available to her under the policy. (Doc. 1-1 ¶ 21.) With three vehicles insured under the policy, Plaintiff claims that a total of $300, 000 of coverage is available to her. (Id. ) Plaintiff maintains she is an insured under the policy because she meets the definition of "relative" in that she was living with Mary Martin and Roland Marro at the time of the accident. (Doc. 1-1 ¶¶ 16-20.) Defendant disputed Plaintiff's residency claim and advised Plaintiff's counsel on March 12, 2014, that Plaintiff's claim was being denied because she did not reside at the policy address. (Doc. 1-1 ¶ 42.)

As a result of the failure to pay her claim for underinsured motorist benefits, Plaintiff filed her Complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna Count on or about January 15, 2015. (Doc. 12 at 11.) Defendants removed the case to this Court on February 6, 2015. (Doc. 1.) As noted above, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 5) was filed on February 11, 2015. Defendants' motion was accompanied by a supporting brief. (Doc. 6.) Plaintiff filed her opposition brief (Doc. 12) on March 17, 2015, after requesting and being granted an extension of time within which to do so (Docs. 8, 9). With the filing of Defendants' reply brief (Doc. 17) on March 31, 2015, the motion was fully briefed and became ripe for disposition.

II. Discussion

A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

In a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the defendant bears the burden of showing that no claim has been presented. Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991)). Courts are directed to "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008).

When reviewing a complaint pursuant to a defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim filed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court does so in the context of the requirement of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) which requires only "a short and plain statement of the claims showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." The "short and plain statement" must be sufficient to "give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957), abrogated on other grounds by Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 433 (2007). Twombly confirmed that more is required than "labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." 550 U.S. at 555 (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986) (on a motion to dismiss, courts "are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation")). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." 550 U.S. at 555 (citations omitted).

In McTernan v. City of York, 577 F.3d 521, 530 (3d Cir. 2009), the Third Circuit Court of Appeals set out the standard applicable to a motion to dismiss in light of the United States Supreme Court's decisions in Twombly, 550 U.S. 433 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009).

"[T]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true to state a claim that relief is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). The Court emphasized that "only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. at 1950.

McTernan, 577 F.3d at 530. Iqbal explained that "[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." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

McTernan discussed the effects of Twombly and Iqbal in detail and provided a road map for district courts presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim in a case filed just a week before McTernan, Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203 (3d Cir. 2009).

[D]istrict courts should conduct a two-part analysis. First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated. The District Court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. [ Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949.] Second, a District Court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief." Id. at 1950. In other words, a complaint must do more than allege a plaintiff's entitlement to relief. A complaint has to "show" such an entitlement with its facts. See Philips [ v. Co. of Alleghany ], 515 F.3d [224, ] 234-35 [(3d Cir.2008)]. As the Supreme Court instructed in Iqbal, "[w]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not show[n]'-that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. This "plausibility" determination will be "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id.

Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210-11.

The Circuit Court's guidance makes clear that legal conclusions are not entitled to the same deference as well-pled facts. As noted above, "the court is not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.'" Guirguis v. Movers Specialty Services, Inc., No. 09-1104, 2009 WL 3041992, at ...

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