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Rissinger v. State Farm Insurance Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 30, 2015




Presently before the court in the above-captioned matter is the motion (Doc. 4) to dismiss filed by defendant State Farm Fire and Casualty Company ("State Farm"), [1] wherein State Farm seeks dismissal of the request of plaintiffs Mark and Kristen Rissinger ("the Rissingers") for attorney's fees in Count I of the complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or 12(f), and dismissal of Count II of the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons that follow, the motion will be deemed unopposed and granted.

I. Factual Background and Procedural History[2]

At all times relevant to this action, State Farm insured the Rissingers' residence in Oberlin, Pennsylvania ("the property") under a homeowners' policy ("the policy"). (See Doc. 4-1, Ex. A11 4). On or about September 8, 2011, the Rissingers' property suffered water damage. (Id. II 9). On June 29, 2013, the property was damaged by a fire, after which the Rissingers made a timely claim to State Farm pursuant to the policy. (Id. UU 12-13). The Rissingers completed certain repairs to their residence following the fire. (Id. II16). Thereafter, Swatara Township inspected the property in contemplation of an occupancy permit. (Id. HH 16-17). According to the Rissingers, Swatara Township declined to grant the necessary permit because the property did not comply with applicable building ordinances. (See id. H 17). The policy included "Building Ordinance or Law" coverage for:

legally required changes to the undamaged portion of the dwelling caused by the enforcement of a building, zoning or land use ordinance or law, if:
(1) the enforcement is directly caused by the same Loss Insured;
(2) the requirement is in effect at the time the Loss insured occurs; and
(3) the legally required changes are made to the undamaged portions of specific dwelling features, systems or components that have been physically damaged by the Loss Insured.

(Id. II15). State Farm paid certain losses under this provision but denied payment for losses associated with the second floor bathroom, hallway, and exterior of the property. (Id. II 23). The Rissingers aver that State Farm unreasonably denied coverage for these losses. (Id. H 24).

The Rissingers commenced this action on November 28, 2014 by filing a two-count complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County. (Doc. 4-1, Ex. A). They assert claims for breach of contract (Count I) and for bad faith denial of an insurance claim pursuant to 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 8371 (Count II). With respect to their first cause of action, the Rissingers claim that State Farm's failure to pay the total loss amount constituted a breach of its contractual obligations. (See Doc. 4-1, Ex. A HH 30-31). In connection with their breach of contract claim, the Rissingers request attorney's fees, among other forms of relief. With respect to their bad faith claim, the Rissingers aver, inter alia, that State Farm deliberately misinterpreted the language of the Building Ordinance or Law coverage, that it failed to adjust their claim in a timely manner, and that it engaged in deceptive practices. (Id. UU 35, 36, 39).

State Farm filed a notice of removal to this court. (Doc. 1). On December 30, 2014, State Farm moved to dismiss in part the Rissingers' complaint. (Doc. 4). State Farm argues that that the Rissingers' request for attorney's fees in Count I should be stricken or dismissed on the ground that attorney's fees are not available in a breach of contract action and that Count II contains conclusory averments that fail to state a cause of action for bad faith under Pennsylvania law. (Doc. 4).

On February 17, 2015, the court granted the motion (Doc. 5) of the Rissingers' former counsel to withdraw, designated the Rissingers as proceeding pro se, and instructed the Rissingers to file a brief in opposition to State Farm's motion to dismiss by March 3, 2015. (Doc. 11). On March 6, 2015, after the Rissingers failed to file an opposition brief, the court again directed the Rissingers to file an opposition brief, expressly cautioning that a failure to comply with this directive would result in the court deeming State Farm's motion unopposed. (Doc. 12). The court-imposed deadline has expired, and the Rissingers have failed to oppose State Farm's motion. Consequently, the court will rule on State Farm's unopposed motion to dismiss.

II. Legal Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of complaints that fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must "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." Gelman v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 583 F.3d 187, 190 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 ...

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