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Pratts v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 19, 2017



          A. Richard Caputo, United States District Judge.

         Presently before me is the Motion to Dismiss and/or Strike (Doc. 6) filed by Defendant State Farm Fire and Casualty Company (“Defendant” or “State Farm”). Plaintiff Jennifer Pratts (“Plaintiff” or “Pratts”) commenced this action asserting claims for breach of contract, statutory bad faith, negligence, and vicarious liability as a result of Defendant's conduct after Plaintiff made a claim under the terms of a homeowners insurance policy issued by Defendant. Defendant moves to dismiss the breach of contract, negligence, and vicarious liability claims and to strike a number of allegations from the Complaint. Because Plaintiff fails to state negligence or vicarious liability claims upon which relief can be granted, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss will be granted in part. However, Plaintiff's breach of contract claim will not be dismissed because Plaintiff adequately pleads a contract cause of action. Furthermore, because some, but not all, of the allegations Defendant seeks to strike are immaterial and/or impertinent, Defendant's Motion to Strike will be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         The facts as alleged in Plaintiff's Complaint are as follows:

         Plaintiff owns residential property located at 303 Players Court, East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania (the “Property”). (See Doc. 1, Ex. 1, ¶ 4). Defendant issued a homeowners insurance policy (the “Policy”) to Plaintiff for the Property. (See id. at ¶ 5).

         On June 31, 2014, Plaintiff entered into a listing contract with a real estate agent for the sale of the Property. (See id. at ¶ 7). Plaintiff relocated to New York in August 2014. (See id. at ¶ 9). Plaintiff instructed the real estate agent to maintain the thermostat for the Property between 50 and 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and she informed the agent that the Property was heated with propane. (See id. at ¶ 11). In October 2014, Plaintiff accepted an offer to sell the Property for $275, 000.00; however, certain modifications had to be completed prior to closing. (See id. at ¶¶ 12, 15).

         In March 2015, the real estate agent inspected the Property and realized the water pipes had burst, causing significant damage to the home. (See id. at ¶ 17). The real estate agent noted that the propane tank was not empty, but the thermostat had been turned off. (See id. at ¶¶ 17-18). The real estate agent immediately reported the claim to Defendant. (See id. at ¶ 19).

         A small claims adjuster sent to the Property by Defendant on March 14, 2015 estimated the damage to exceed $100, 000.00. (See id. at ¶ 21). A second adjuster sent to the Property by Defendant approximated the loss to be $80, 000.00. (See id. at ¶ 22). The second adjuster also suggested that the Property was sabotaged. (See id.). Plaintiff, though, had no reason to sabotage the Property because she had purchased the home for $223, 000.00, $200, 000.00 was left on the mortgage, and the Property was under contract to be sold for well above these sums. (See id. at ¶ 23). Despite the damage, the buyer was willing to proceed with the purchase provided the home was repaired. (See id. at ¶ 24).

         Defendant sent correspondence to Plaintiff on March 20, 2015 indicating that there were questions about Defendant's coverage obligations under the Policy, and, further, requesting documentation that heat had been maintained in the Property prior to the loss. (See id. at ¶ 25). Plaintiff timely responded with confirmation that propane deliveries had been made up until the month the damage was discovered and that the tank contained propane at the time of the loss. (See id. at ¶ 26). Plaintiff also provided documentation from the water company demonstrating that there was an excessive amount of water used at the Property in February 2015 which compelled the water company to unilaterally shut off water service. (See id. at ¶ 27). Plaintiff received additional correspondence from Defendant in April 2015 indicating that Defendant referred the claim to its fraud unit. (See id. at ¶¶ 27-28).

         Plaintiff provided information to Defendant's fraud unit adjuster in a recorded statement on May 8, 2015. (See id. at ¶¶ 29-33). A few days later, the fraud unit adjuster contacted Plaintiff requesting additional information, including, inter alia, cell phone records and water company records. (See id. at ¶ 34). The fraud unit adjuster renewed this request numerous times over the next several months. (See id. at ¶¶ 35, 42). Defendant also scheduled an examination of Plaintiff under oath, which resulted in Plaintiff retaining counsel. (See id. at ¶¶ 37-40). During this time, the sale of the Property fell through and the home went into foreclosure proceedings. (See id. at ¶ 41).

         In February and March 2016, Plaintiff's counsel requested numerous documents and materials from Defendant. (See id. at ¶¶ 43-44). Defendant, however, failed to provide much of the information requested. (See id. at ¶¶ 45-46). Defendant also continued its efforts to obtain information regarding Plaintiff's cell phone records, water company records, and financial information. (See id. at ¶¶ 47-48).

         Plaintiff gave a second statement under oath on April 25, 2016. (See id. at ¶ 49). The information provided in that statement was the same as that given by Plaintiff on May 8, 2015. (See id.). Thereafter, Plaintiff's counsel requested appraisals from the two inspections Defendant had conducted of the Property, but Defendant refused. (See id. at ¶¶ 50-51).

         On May 13, 2016, Defendant's fraud unit adjuster informed Plaintiff's counsel that the coverage questions had been resolved. (See id. at ¶ 52). Shortly thereafter, Defendant forwarded Plaintiff's counsel payment in the amount of $93, 049.95, which Defendant contended represented the “net actual cash value” for the damage. (Id. at ¶ 54). Plaintiff responded by providing Defendant with a copy of a public adjuster's estimation of damages to be $155, 785.00. (See id. at ¶ 55). Defendant then made an additional $17, 460.25 payment to Plaintiff. (See id. at ¶ 56).

         Based on the foregoing, Plaintiff commenced this action by way of the Complaint filed in the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas. (See Doc. 1, Ex. 1, generally). The Complaint asserts claims for breach of contract (Count I), statutory bad faith (Count II), negligence (Count III), and vicarious liability (Count IV). (See id.). Defendant removed the action to this Court. (See Doc. 1, generally).

         On December 15, 2016, Defendant filed the instant Motion seeking dismissal of Plaintiff's breach of contract, negligence, and vicarious liability claims. (See Doc. 6, generally). Defendant also seeks to have various allegations struck from Plaintiff's Complaint. (See id., generally; see also Doc. 18, generally). The Motion to Dismiss and/or Strike is fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

         II. Discussion

         As stated, Defendant moves to dismiss Plaintiff's claims in Counts I, III, and IV of the Complaint and to strike numerous allegations from the Complaint. (See Doc. 6, generally). The motion to dismiss will be addressed first.

         A. Rule 12(b)(6) ...

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