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Lancaster v. Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 24, 2017

SARAH LANCASTER, Plaintiff,
v.
NATIONWIDE MUTUAL FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM

          MALACHY E. MANNION United States District Judge.

         Before the court is a partial motion to dismiss filed by the defendant Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Company (“Nationwide”). (Doc. 6). The defendant seeks to dismiss a breach of contract claim brought by the plaintiff Sarah Lancaster who is insured under an insurance policy with Nationwide. Based on the foregoing, the defendant's motion will be GRANTED.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND [1]

         This case arises out of a May 21, 2015 fire that occurred at the plaintiff's residence located at 106 Hope Way, Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1, ¶¶1, 5). The plaintiff sustained damages to her home with an estimated cost of repair in excess of $75, 000.00. (Id.). The plaintiff alleges she was insured by Nationwide for accidental fire damage at the time of the fire. (Id., ¶4). Nationwide is an insurance corporation incorporated in Ohio with a place of business in Scranton, Pennsylvania.[2] (Id., ¶2).

         Within a day of the fire, the plaintiff submitted a claim for the loss to Nationwide. (Id., ¶6). Written notice was also forwarded on May 29, 2015, August 11, 2015, and September 9, 2015. (Id., ¶7). Nationwide denied the plaintiff's claim asserting that the plaintiff's policy had been cancelled due to non-payment. (Id., ¶8).

         The plaintiff asserts that her insurance policy requires thirty-day notice to the plaintiff before cancellation by Nationwide and that renewal of the policy is required unless this notice is provided. (Id., ¶¶13, 15). The plaintiff also asserts that her insurance policy requires Nationwide to notify the plaintiff's mortgagee, Habitat for Humanity, of cancellation at least ten days prior to the cancellation. (Id., ¶17). Nationwide never mailed the plaintiff notice of the premium required to renew or maintain the policy prior to cancellation and did not provide any notice to the plaintiff of the intended cancellation. (Id., ¶¶12, 14). In addition, Nationwide did not notify Habitat for Humanity of the cancellation. (Id., ¶18). Nonetheless, Nationwide did not renew the policy when it expired and the plaintiff's claim for the May 21, 2015 fire was denied. (Id., ¶¶8, 16).

         On December 9, 2016, the plaintiff filed a complaint in this court alleging two counts against Nationwide, breach of Contract (Count I) and bad faith in violation of 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. §8371, Pennsylvania's bad faith statute (Count II).[3] (Doc. 1). On February 13, 2017, Nationwide filed the current, partial motion to dismiss Count I, along with a brief in support. (Docs. 6-7). Nationwide's motion seeks to dismiss the plaintiff's breach of contract claim based on a one-year limitations clause for filing suit under the policy. To date, the plaintiff has not responded to Nationwide's motion. The motion is now ripe for review.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The defendant's motion to dismiss is brought pursuant to the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 12(b)(6). This rule provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The moving party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated, Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005), and dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting all of the facts alleged in the complaint as true, the plaintiff has failed to plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007) (abrogating “no set of facts” language found in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). The facts alleged must be sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. This requirement “calls for enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence” of necessary elements of the plaintiff's cause of action. Id. at 556. Furthermore, in order to satisfy federal pleading requirements, the plaintiff must “provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief, ” which “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, S31 (3d Cir. 2008) (brackets and quotations marks omitted) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         In considering a motion to dismiss, the court generally relies on the complaint, attached exhibits, and matters of public record. Sands v. McCormick, 502 F.3d 263 (3d Cir. 2007). The court may also consider “undisputedly authentic document[s] that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the [attached] documents.” Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). Moreover, “documents whose contents are alleged in the complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the pleading, may be considered.” Pryor v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002). However, the court may not rely on other parts of the record in determining a motion to dismiss. See Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994).

         Lastly, the court should grant leave to amend a complaint before dismissing it as merely deficient. See, e.g., Fletcher-Harlee Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, Inc., 482 F.3d 247, 252 (3d Cir. 2007); Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116-17 (3d Cir. 2000). "Dismissal without leave to amend is justified only on the grounds of bad faith, undue delay, prejudice, or futility." Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 236 (3d Cir. 2004).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Nationwide's motion is based on a limitations period provided for in the plaintiff's policy. This provision states that “[a]ny action must be started within one year after the date of loss or damage.” (Doc. 6-2 at 34, ¶8).[4] The court agrees that this provision is controlling and will grant Nationwide's motion to dismiss Count I of the plaintiff's complaint.

         There is no dispute that Pennsylvania law governs this action. “Under Pennsylvania law, an insurance contract is governed the law of the state in which the contract was made.” Meyer v. CUNA Mut. Ins. Soc'y, 648 F.3d 154, 162 (3d Cir. 2011). The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has set ...


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