Monthly Archive for May, 2020

NO BAD FAITH BY DEFINITION IF COVERAGE DENIAL IS REASONABLE (Western District)

“When an insurer’s coverage denial was reasonable ‘on the basis of the plain meaning of the Policy and relevant exclusions and definitions,’ there can be no ‘bad faith’ as a matter of law.”

Unlike the Eastern District’s recent decision in Smith v. AAA Interinsurance Exchange, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Gallagher v. Geico did not void the household exclusion under the facts of this case. The court thus found no UIM coverage due, and because the auto insurer “properly denied coverage, Plaintiffs’ tag-along claims for bad faith and violations of the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, 73 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 201-1, et seq., also fail.”

The insured was injured on a motorcycle she owned. The motorcycle was covered by Progressive. The insured owned two other vehicles covered by Mid-Century, the present defendant. The insured waived UIM coverage under the Progressive policy. She still sought coverage under the Mid-Century policy, relying on Gallagher, because she had not executed a stacking waiver in connection with the Mid-Century policy.

Gallagher does not apply where stacking is not at issue

The insured’s claim against Mid-Century failed. Gallagher stands for the proposition that the household exclusion cannot limit stacking without a stacking waiver. In this case, however, the insured had waived UIM coverage under her Progressive policy, so there was no stacking at issue. Rather, she was seeking primary UIM coverage against Mid-Century. Thus, Gallagher did not apply, and Mid-Century properly relied on the household exclusion to deny coverage.

No coverage due means no bad faith by definition

In dismissing the bad faith claim, the court found plaintiffs could not make out the first prong of the bad faith test, i.e., that the denial was unreasonable. “When an insurer’s coverage denial was reasonable ‘on the basis of the plain meaning of the Policy and relevant exclusions and definitions,’ there can be no ‘bad faith’ as a matter of law.” “Put differently, if Mid-Century properly denied coverage, which the Court finds it did, it could not, by definition, have acted in bad faith by denying coverage.”

Any other putative bad faith claims were dismissed for merely making conclusory allegations.

UTPCPL claim fails for variety of reasons

Lastly, the court dismissed plaintiffs’ Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (UTPCPL) claims for a variety of reasons. First, there was no improper conduct. Next, even if there was misconduct, the UTPCPL only applies to conduct in connection with issuing the insurance policy, not the performance of the insurer’s obligations under the policy after it is issued. Third, even assuming arguendo the plaintiffs could have overcome these two hurdles, they solely pleaded nonfeasance, and the UTPCPL only applies to claims of malfeasance.

No leave to amend was given, and judgment on the pleadings was entered for the insurer.

Date of Decision: May 19, 2020

Dunleavy v. Mid-Century Insurance Company, U.S. District Court Western District of Pennsylvania No. 2:19-cv-1304, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 88024 (W.D. Pa. May 19, 2020) (Ranjan, J.)

Our thanks to Attorney and Mediator Daniel Cummins of the excellent Tort Talk Blog for bringing this case to our attention.

EASTERN DISTRICT JUDGE MARSTON GIVES OVERVIEW ON HOW TO PLEAD STATUTORY BAD FAITH IN FEDERAL COURT (Philadelphia Federal)

Courts in this Circuit regularly dismiss bad faith claims when the complaint is devoid of specific factual allegations of bad faith conduct and is merely comprised of bare-bones, conclusory allegations.

This property damage coverage and bad faith complaint included one of these regularly dismissed bad faith claims.

Judge Marston cited numerous Eastern District cases where the court found bad faith claims inadequately pleaded, including Shallow (2020, Judge Pappert), Clapps (2020, Judge Darnell Jones), Shetayh (2020, Judge Leeson), MBMJ Properties (2019, Judge Slomsky), Myers (2017, Judge Surrick), Toner (2017, Judge Slomsky), Soldrich (2015, Judge Leeson), and the 2012 Third Circuit decision in Smith. The pleading flaws in these cases all fundamentally involve a failure to explain or describe with any details what the insurer actually did, e.g., in purportedly failing to investigate, causing unreasonable delays, failing to negotiate or offer a reasonable settlement, etc.

The complaint in the present case alleged the following conduct constituted bad faith:

  1. by sending correspondence falsely representing that Plaintiffs’ loss caused by a peril insured against under the Policy was not entitled to benefits due and owing under the Policy;

  2. in failing to complete a prompt and thorough investigation of Plaintiffs’ claim before representing that such claim is not covered under the Policy;

  3. in failing to pay Plaintiffs’ covered loss in a prompt and timely manner;

  4. in failing to objectively and fairly evaluate Plaintiffs’ claim;

  5. in conducting an unfair and unreasonable investigation [*3]  of Plaintiffs’ claim;

  6. in asserting Policy defenses without a reasonable basis in fact;

  7. in flatly misrepresenting pertinent facts or policy provisions relating to coverages at issue and placing unduly restrictive interpretations on the Policy and/or claim forms;

  8. in failing to keep Plaintiff or their representatives fairly and adequately advised as to the status of the claim;

  9. in unreasonably valuing the loss and failing to fairly negotiate the amount of the loss with Plaintiff or their representatives;

  10. in failing to promptly provide a reasonable factual explanation of the basis for the denial of Plaintiff’s claim;

  11. in unreasonably withholding policy benefits;

  12. in acting unreasonably and unfairly in response to Plaintiffs’ claim;

  13. in unnecessarily and unreasonably compelling Plaintiff to institute this lawsuit to obtain policy benefits for a covered loss, that Defendant should have paid promptly and without the necessity of litigation.

Judge Marston found these allegations were virtually identical to the allegations in MBMJ, where Judge Slomsky found the bad faith claims entirely conclusory. For example, MBMJ highlighted that while pleading a failure to promptly and thoroughly investigate, there were no allegations of any underlying facts supporting those general averments of bad faith. “For instance, the plaintiffs did not plead ‘the timing of the alleged investigation in relation to when Plaintiffs submitted their claim’ or ‘the length of the investigation from start to finish.’”

Judge Marston added, “[l]ikewise, in Clapps v. State Farm Insurance Cos., the plaintiff pled identical bad faith allegations as those the [the insureds] raise here. … The [Clapps] court concluded that ‘Plaintiff’s bad faith allegations [were] nothing more than conclusory statements devoid of any factual detail.’”

In the 1009 Clinton Properties case, relied on by the insureds, the court had found similar allegations to those plead here sufficient under the circumstances of that case to withstand a motion to dismiss. Judge Marston, however, agreed with the observation in Shetayh and Clapps that 1009 Clinton properties was an outlier.

After observing that the insureds in this case failed to plead any facts concerning dates, length of time to denial, or details of other interactions, communications negotiations and alleged misrepresentations, Judge Marston concludes: “As we repeatedly noted above, the … bad faith allegations are identical to those in numerous other cases. The [insureds] cannot “simply parrot” the same allegations pled in 1009 Clinton Properties, Clapps, Shetayh, and MBMJ Properties and expect this Court to find that they alleged enough factual content to render their bad faith claim plausible. Indeed, doing so would turn federal pleading standards on their head.” (Court’s emphasis)

That being said, Judge Marston did grant leave to amend the bad faith claim, quoting Shetayh to the effect that the amendment must be “consistent with this Memorandum and ‘must specifically include facts to address who, what, where, when, and how the alleged bad faith conduct occurred.’”

Date of Decision: May 8, 2020

Cappuccio v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Insurance Co., U.S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania CIVIL ACTION NO. 19-3025-KSM, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 81751 (E.D. Pa. May 8, 2020) (Marston, J.)

 

BAD FAITH PLAUSIBLE WHERE INSURER DENIED COVERAGE 11 DAYS AFTER CLAIM MADE SOLELY BASED ON A POLICY EXCLUSION IT KNEW OR SHOULD HAVE KNOWN HAD BEEN VOIDED BY PENNSYLVANIA’S SUPREME COURT (Philadelphia Federal)

The insurer denied a UIM claim 11 days after it was submitted. Denial was based solely on the policy’s household exclusion. Many months earlier, however, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court had generally voided the household exclusion’s application under Pennsylvania law in similar circumstances. Gallagher v. GEICO Indemnity Co.   Thus, the exclusion was an invalid basis to deny coverage.

The insured brought breach of contract and bad faith claims, and the carrier moved to dismiss the bad faith claim for inadequate pleading. The court denied the motion, and found a plausible bad faith claim stated.

First, the court found that the insurer was fully on notice that the household exclusion was invalid in Pennsylvania in these circumstances. Even if the carrier somehow was otherwise unaware of the case, the insured’s counsel brought it to the carrier’s attention in making the claim for coverage. Thus, the household exclusion was a plainly invalid basis to deny coverage, but the carrier denied coverage anyway.

The insurer attempted to argue the Supreme Court’s Gallagher decision only applied to Gallagher’s unique facts. Magistrate Judge Wells found this argument patently incorrect on the face of the Gallagher opinion itself.

Second, the court reasonably inferred from the facts pleaded that the carrier did nothing to investigate the claim before denying coverage. Specifically, the court inferred that the defendant carrier did not even know what the other insurers would be paying the insured toward her injuries for purposes of evaluating its own potential share due to the insured. Moreover, she found the defendant insurer made no effort to evaluate the case itself. Thus, at the time it denied the claim, the carrier could not have known if the insured was fairly compensated or was due further payment.

The facts pleaded supporting these conclusions are that the carrier did not require a medical examination, nor did it produce any contrary medical documents; that it denied the claim in only 11 days; and the insured had not even settled yet with the other insurers at the time the claim was denied.

In sum, the court stated the claim denial “was based solely upon a patently false statement of Pennsylvania law, hence, it is plausible that a jury could find [the denial] decision frivolous and issued in bad faith. …. Furthermore, since it can be inferred that [it] made no effort to value the case, it is plausible that [the insurer] violated its duty of good faith and to deal fairly with Plaintiff, its insured.”

Decision: May 6, 2020

Smith v. AAA Interinsurance Exchange of the Automobile Club, U.S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania CIVIL ACTION NO. 20-768, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79489 (E.D. Pa. May 6, 2020) (Moore Wells, M.J.)

(1) FAILURE TO MAKE PARTIAL PAYMENT NOT BAD FAITH; (2) BAD FAITH POSSIBLE WHERE INSURER ALLEGEDLY KNEW CLAIM WAS WORTH MORE THAN ITS OFFER, AND THAT IT FAILED TO RE-EVALUATE THE CLAIM AFTER RECEIVING ADDITIONAL INFORMATION (Western District)

The insureds’ complaint alleged husband-insured was riding a bicycle when hit by the tortfeasor’s car. The driver’s carrier offered to pay $50,000 towards the injuries, but the complaint alleged this was insufficient in light of the severity of the injuries, and the insureds sought UIM coverage from a set of insurers (though we will treat the claim as against one carrier for purposes of this post). The insureds allege they had $250,000 in UIM coverage, per person, and that both insureds were entitled to coverage.

They also allege they made demand on their UIM carrier. The demand package included information as to liability and damages, and was allegedly provided to a UIM adjuster. The package included the $50,000 offer from the tortfeasor’s carrier. The UIM adjuster made an “initial offer” of $10,000. The complaint alleges the adjuster was aware when making the $10,000 offer that the UIM part of the claim was worth “at least $10,000.00” and that Plaintiffs were unable to respond to this initial offer because Plaintiff [husband] was still receiving medical treatment.”

The complaint alleges that after the initial demand and response, plaintiffs’ counsel provided medical records and lien information addressing the husband’s injuries, condition, treatment and prognosis. Counsel also provided various written and oral demands on the carrier to tender UIM benefits. The demands exceeded $10,000 generally, but at some point did include a request for partial payment of the $10,000. Plaintiffs allege the carrier originally refused to pay the $10,000, but later paid that $10,000 without making any additional offers or payments “despite concluding that the value of the UIM claim exceeded this amount [$10,000].”

The insureds brought breach of contract claims, and a bad faith claim under 42 Pa. C.S.A. § 8371. The complaint also references the Unfair Insurance Practices Act (UIPA), 40 P.S. § 1171.5. The carrier moved to dismiss the bad faith claims as well as any claims based on the UIPA.

Three counts alleged identical language for bad faith claims handling, e.g. the complaint included subparagraphs alleging failure “to evaluate and re-evaluate Plaintiffs’ claim on a timely basis, failing to offer a reasonable payment to Plaintiffs, failing to effectuate an equitable settlement of Plaintiffs’ claim, failing to reasonably investigate Plaintiffs’ claim and engaging in ‘dilatory and abusive’ claims handling.”

In opposing the motion to dismiss the claims, the insureds argued that the “bad faith stems from [the insurer’s] untimely and unreasonable offer … failure to properly investigate the claim; and initially refusing to make the partial payment Plaintiffs requested from the adjustor.” The insureds asserted “that upon receipt and review of the settlement package and documentation provided, Defendants recognized that [husband’s] injuries were far in excess of $60,000 (the $50,000 limits paid by [the driver’s] insurance carrier, plus the $10,000 offered by Defendants).” They also argued bad faith because the carrier initially refused to make the partial $10,000 payment, and, for ultimately offering a minimal sum in an untimely manner while knowing the claim was worth far more than the $10,000 offer.

Refusing to Make Partial Payment Not Bad Faith

The court cited Third Circuit precedent for the proposition that “if Pennsylvania were to recognize a cause of action for bad faith for an insurance company’s refusal to pay unconditionally the undisputed amount of a UIM claim, it would do so only where the evidence demonstrated that two conditions had been met. The first is that the insurance company conducted, or the insured requested but was denied, a separate assessment of some part of her claim (i.e., that there was an undisputed amount). The second is, at least until such a duty is clearly established in law (so that the duty is a known duty), that the insured made a request for partial payment.” Pennsylvania Superior Court case law also required that a bad faith plaintiff plead that both parties agreed that the partial valuation was an undisputed amount.

In this case, the plaintiffs did not plead that the insureds requested an assessment of a part of their claim and were denied that assessment. Nor did they allege that “the parties had undertaken a partial valuation and agreed that the amount of $10,000 was an undisputed amount of benefits owed.” All they allege is the insurer made an initial offer, and the insureds initially declined that offer and later requested it be paid. The court found that an “’initial offer’ indicates that an insurer is willing to negotiate, and does not in itself represent evidence of bad faith,” citing Judge Flowers Conti’s 2013 Katta decision. Thus, “to the extent that Plaintiffs attempt to assert that the failure by Defendants to make a more timely partial payment represents bad faith, any such claim fails as a matter of law.”

The Bad Faith Claim Survived on Factual Allegations that the Insurer Knew the Claim was Worth More than it Offered, and the Insurer Failed to Re-evaluate the Claim after Receiving Additional Information

Taking the factual allegations in the complaint in plaintiffs’ favor, the court would not dismiss the bad faith claims. The insureds alleged that the carrier knew and was aware the claim value exceed $60,000 (the tortfeasor payment plus the $10,000 offer). From the subsequent $10,000 partial payment, the court had to infer on the pleadings that the carrier had concluded the claim was worth more than $10,000, and had therefore “refused to effectuate an equitable settlement.” The court stated that “[w]hile this may or may not ultimately support a bad faith claim, it is sufficient for now to defeat Defendants’ motion to dismiss.”

Further, the complaint alleges that the carrier refused to do additional investigation or re-evaluate the claim even after receiving additional information from counsel about the insured’s injuries. The insurer argued on the motion to dismiss this conduct was reasonable because there was an “understanding” with the insureds that negotiations would be put on hold pending the husband’s medical treatment. The court could not consider this argument, however, as it relied on facts and a defense outside the pleadings. Rather, it could only consider the allegations that there was a lack of good faith investigation into the facts, and the insurer failed to re-evaluate the claim even after receiving new information that merited re-evaluation.

Finally, the insureds confirmed to the court they were not asserting any claims under the UIPA, and that UIPA references in the complaint could be stricken.

Date of Decision: May 4, 2020

Kleinz v. Unitrin Auto & Home Insurance Co., U.S. District Court Western District of Pennsylvania No. 2:19-CV-01426-PLD, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 78400 (W.D. Pa. May 4, 2020) (Dodge, M.J.)

 

BAD FAITH CLAIM CAN PROCEED EVEN THOUGHT CONTRACT CLAIM DISMISSED AS UNTIMELY; ADJUSTOR AND INVESTIGATOR NOT SUBJECT TO BAD FAITH STATUTE (Philadelphia Federal)

This case involved breach of contract and bad faith claims against the insurer based on its decision not to cover the alleged theft of jewelry. The insurer engaged an investigation firm to look into the theft. The individual investigator assigned to the claim raised questions about either the ownership of the jewelry, or whether it was actually stolen in a burglary.

The insurer was granted judgment on the pleadings as to the breach of insurance contract claim. The policy had a one-year limitations period for brining suit, and the insured failed to file her action within one year.

Even though there was no coverage due because of the contractual limitations period, however, the court denied summary judgment on the bad faith claim. The insurer argued that the insured’s “deposition testimony shows that she cannot meet her burden of establishing bad faith.” The court found this argument premature.

The case had been removed to federal court and immediately placed in the arbitration track. There were no formal discovery requests from any party. The court found that the “litigation that has ensued does not preclude full and fair discovery on fact-driven claims that remain on the bad-faith count.” Thus, summary judgment was premature, and the motion was dismissed without prejudice. Judge Rufe added a requirement that the parties had to report jointly regarding to the court on what discovery was being pursued, if any, heading into the arbitration.

[Note: The insurer apparently did not attempt to argue that if the contract claim was dismissed, then the bad faith claim necessarily failed. There is some case law holding if the contract claim is dismissed on the basis of a contractual limitations period, the bad faith claim can still proceed. See, e.g., Doylestown Electrical Supply Co. v. Maryland Casualty Ins. Co., 942 F. Supp. 1018 (E.D. Pa. 1996) and March v. Paradise Mutual Ins. Co., 646 A.2d 1254 (Pa. Super. 1994), appeal denied, 540 Pa. 613, 656 A.2d 118 (1995).]

Finally, the insured attempted to amend the complaint to add claims against the insurer’s claim adjustor, the company it hired to investigate the claim and the individual investigator. The court found these claims meritless and would not allow amendment.

An individual adjustor working for an insurer is not an insurer. Thus, the individual adjustor was not subject to (i) a breach of contract claim because he was not a party to the contract; or (ii) the bad faith claim because Pennsylvania’s bad faith statute only applies to insurers. The same reasoning applied to the investigators.

Date of Decision: April 30, 2020

Holden v. Homesite Insurance Co., U.S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania CIVIL ACTION NO. 19-2167, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 75904 (E.D. Pa. April 30, 2020) (Rufe, J.)

 

COURT GRANTS SUMMARY JUDGMENT ON STAYED BAD FAITH CLAIM ONCE IT WAS DETERMINED COVERAGE WAS NOT DUE (New Jersey Federal)

Today’s post gives insurers some practical guidance on how to address dismissal of a stayed bad faith claim, upon the court’s determining no coverage is due.

This New Jersey federal decision puts an interesting twist on yesterday’s post summarizing a New Jersey federal ruling staying a bad faith claim pending the outcome of the insured’s coverage case. In yesterday’s post, the court severed and stayed the bad faith claim, awaiting the outcome of the coverage case. In today’s post, the court had already severed and stayed the bad faith claim awaiting the outcome of the coverage case.

The case had now reached the summary judgment stage. The insurer not only moved for summary judgment on coverage, however, but also moved for summary judgment on the severed and stayed bad faith claim. The court granted the insurer summary judgment on coverage, and on the otherwise stayed bad faith claim.

The insured purchased homeowners insurance that only covered claims if the property was owner occupied. Here, the insured rented out the property, and a fire loss occurred while the property was tenant occupied. The court ruled the policy language precluded coverage. It also rejected an equitable estoppel argument, because the insurer was unaware the property was tenant-occupied until after the fire. Thus, the court granted summary judgment on coverage.

The carrier had also moved for summary judgment on the severed and stayed bad faith claim. The insured argued that because the bad faith claim was severed and stayed, no discovery had been taken and the motion was premature. The court disagreed, finding the record sufficient to rule on the bad faith issue.

New Jersey law requires the bad faith plaintiff to “show the absence of a reasonable basis for denying benefits of the policy and the defendant’s knowledge or reckless disregard of the lack of a reasonable basis in denying the claim.” Further, “’[a] plaintiff can only succeed on a bad faith claim against his insurer if he can establish that he would be entitled to summary judgment on the underlying claim—that there are no factual issues over whether the plaintiff is entitled to insurance coverage under his policy.’”

In finding no coverage due on the breach of contract claim, the court necessarily also found the carrier had a reasonable basis to deny coverage. Thus, because the insured could not succeed on the underlying coverage claim, “the claim for bad faith cannot stand.”

Date of Decision: April 29, 2020

Rodriguez v. United Property & Casualty Insurance Co., U.S. District Court District of New Jersey Civ. No. 18-16939, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 78082 (D.N.J. April 29, 2020) (Thompson, J.)

ALL FACTORS FAVORED SEVERANCE AND STAY OF BAD FAITH CLAIM UNDER FEDERAL RULE 21 (New Jersey Federal)

In this first party coverage and bad faith case, the court granted the insurer’s motion to sever and stay the bad faith claim.

The insured brought three claims: (1) declaratory judgment for coverage, (2) breach of contract for damages, and (3) punitive damages based on the insurer’s bad faith. Per Federal Rule 21, the insurer moved to sever and stay the bad faith claim until the coverage claim was resolved, including a stay of discovery on the bad faith claim.

The court observed that “with requests to sever bad faith claims from first-party coverage claims, ‘this Court has refused to adopt a blanket rule that a plaintiff’s bad faith claim should be severed in every coverage case.[…] Every case is different and must be decided on its own facts.’” The court has broad discretion in rendering such decisions.

  1. The court found that the contract/coverage issues were different from the bad faith issues. On the bad faith claim, the insured alleged the carrier made misrepresentations about the policy, failed to act reasonably and promptly concerning the insurance claim, “failed to conduct a meaningful and timely investigation, failed to advise of available coverage, and compelled plaintiff to start this lawsuit to obtain coverage under the Policy.” The court held “[t]hese alleged wrongdoing acts, however, are not relevant to whether there is coverage under the Policy.”

  2. The court next found the bad faith and contract counts require two different sets of evidence, with different witnesses and different documents necessary to prove each claim. Thus, the court found that “[d]iscovery relating to claims personnel, claims handling procedures and guidelines, and best practices is not directly relevant to the contract claims….”

  3. The court further ruled that bad faith discovery “’distracts from, and will undoubtedly delay, the resolution of the primary focus of the case, i.e., whether plaintiff’s . . . claim should be paid.’” The court cited earlier case law for the proposition that “’it just makes good common sense to resolve the declaratory judgment claims first because . . . [these] are the only claims that are susceptible to judicial resolution as a matter of law and with little or no discovery necessary.’”

  4. The court also found the insured would not be prejudiced by severance. “Plaintiff argues it would be prejudiced because a stay would prolong resolution of the case. This may be true. But the bad faith claim will be moot if defendant defeats plaintiff’s breach of contract claim. Thus, the bad faith claim should necessarily abide the resolution of the insurance coverage claim.”

  5. Finally, the court found the insurer would be prejudiced. “Defendant, on the other hand, will be prejudiced if it is required to litigate the bad faith claim before plaintiff’s insurance coverage claim is resolved. Judicial economy and efficiency will be promoted by avoiding potentially expensive and time-consuming discovery on the bad faith claim. Plaintiff’s coverage claim should be the focus of the case at this time. If the coverage claim is resolved in plaintiff’s favor, then the parties can promptly turn to plaintiff’s bad faith claim.”

Thus, all factors favored severance and a stay of the bad faith claim.

Date of Decision: April 27, 2020

Bayshore Recycling Corp. v. Ace American Insurance Co., U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey Case No. 19-cv-21618-MCA-ESK, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 73168 (D.N.J. April 27, 2020) (Kiel, M.J.)

NO BAD FAITH WHERE NO BENEFITS DENIED; NO PRIVATE ACTION UNDER UIPA OR UCSP REGULATIONS; NO DECEPTIVE CONDUCT IN NOTICE OF NEW ENDORSEMENT (Philadelphia Federal)

In this case, the court makes clear that “Bad faith claims cover a range of conduct relating to the improper denial of benefits under the applicable contract.” The court quotes the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Toy v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 593 Pa. 20, 928 A.2d 186, 199 (Pa. 2007), to highlight the point that statutory bad faith claims must relate to a denial of benefits: “’In other words, the term [bad faith] captured those actions an insurer took when called upon to perform its contractual obligations of defense and indemnification or payment of a loss that failed to satisfy the duty of good faith and fair dealing implied in the parties’ insurance contract.’”

This first party property damage case centered on a policy endorsement changing the scope of coverage for access work done to repair leakage.

In 2015, the insureds had a homeowners policy with the carrier. In August 2015, while the policy was in effect, the carrier provided the insureds with notice of a new endorsement that would take effect on September 27, 2015. The notice stated that the new endorsement would potentially reduce coverage, and that “[a]lthough not intended to change coverage, this change could potentially reduce or eliminate coverage depending on how it is interpreted and, in that regard, should be viewed as either an actual or potential reduction in or elimination of coverage.”

The insureds renewed their homeowners policies in the ensuing years, apparently without ever questioning this endorsement. The property damage at issue occurred in September 2018, when the insured homeowners had their plumber do certain repair work to fix a leak, including access work to get to damaged plumbing. The insureds allege that the carrier improperly refused to pay the full bill for the access work, while the carrier relied on the 2015 endorsement in justifying its lower than hoped for payment.

The homeowners brought individual and class action counts, seeking declaratory relief, as well as claims for breach of contract, violations of the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (UTPCPL), the Unfair Insurance Practices Act (UIPA), Pennsylvania’s Unfair Claims Settlement Practices regulations (UCSP), and for statutory bad faith. The insurer moved to dismiss all claims.

Declaratory judgment and contract claims dismissed without prejudice

The insureds argued the 2015 endorsement was unconscionable and should be rendered void; but even if enforceable, it still required greater payment than the carrier made for the cost of the access work. The court, however, dismissed the declaratory judgment claim and breach of contract claim on these grounds, but without prejudice if plaintiffs could plead additional facts to support these claims.

Bad faith claim dismissed without prejudice

The essence of the insureds’ bad faith claims is that the notice accompanying the 2015 endorsement promised greater coverage, but gave less coverage. The court found this could not state a bad faith claim because these claims did not involve the denial of a benefit. “Section 8371 encompasses a variety of insurer conduct, but such conduct must be related to the denial of benefits.” Though “’the alleged bad faith need not be limited to the literal act of denying a claim, the essence of a bad faith claim must be the unreasonable and intentional (or reckless) denial of benefits.’”

In this case the “Plaintiffs’ allegations do not relate to the denial of coverage of the access bill, they relate to the Endorsement notice’s language and how Defendant engaged in alleged misrepresentation because of the purportedly confusing notice.” A “claim that the drafting of policy language was in bad faith is not actionable under Pennsylvania law….” In making this point, the court relied on Mitch’s Auto Service Center, Inc. v. State Automobile Mutual Insurance Co. As stated above, it relied on Toy v. Metropolitan Life for the fundamental point that statutory bad faith claims must include the denial of a benefit.

The court also specifically observed the complaint was “devoid of any facts indicating Defendant lacked a reasonable basis for denying benefits under the policy.” Likewise, there were no plausible allegations that the insurer “knew or recklessly disregarded its lack of reasonable basis.” The insureds argued that the 2015 notice language could be the basis of a bad faith claim. The court failed to see, however, “how that notice, provided to Plaintiffs three years prior to the water damage here, shows that Defendant knew or recklessly disregarded its alleged lack of reasonable basis in denying Plaintiffs’ entire costs for the plumber’s access bill.”

Still, the court dismissed without prejudice if the insureds could replead a plausible bad faith claim.

UIPA and UCSP regulations claims dismissed with prejudice

The insureds conceded that there is no private cause of action under Pennsylvania’s UIPA, 40 P.S. § 1171.1, or UCSPR, 31 Pa. Code §§ 146.1. The court cited Leach v. Northwestern Mut. Ins. Co., 262 F. App’x 455 (3d Cir. 2008), Swan Caterers, Inc. v. Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins. Co., No. 12-0024, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 162305, 2012 WL 5508371 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 13, 2012) and Connolly v. ReliaStar Life Ins. Co., No. 03-5444, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 83440, 2006 WL 3355184 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 13, 2006) for the proposition that there is no private cause of action under the UIPA or UCSP regulations, and the statute and regulations can only be enforced by the insurance commissioner.

UTPCPL claim dismissed without prejudice

The court dismissed the UTPCPL claim without prejudice, finding the 2015 notice did not constitute a deceptive act, because “the notice’s language explicitly states that the policyholder should treat the change as a reduction in coverage.” The court further found justifiable reliance was not pleaded, as there were no allegations that the insureds relied on any alleged misconduct causing them to purchase the policy.

Dates of Decision: March 27, 2020 (Report and Recommendation) and April 22, 2020 (District Court Order)

Velazquez v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co., U.S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania CIVIL ACTION NO. 19-cv-3128, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55854 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 27, 2020) (Sitarski, M.J.) (Report and Recommendation), approved and adopted by the District Court (April 22, 2020) (Quiñones Alejandro, J.)