Archive for the 'PA – Federal Pleading Inadequate' Category

MARCH 2020 HAS BEEN A TIME TO ADMONISH PLAINTIFFS ABOUT BARE-BONES BAD FAITH PLEADINGS IN THE EASTERN DISTRICT (Philadelphia Federal)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

In line with other recent case law from the Eastern District, two more Eastern District judges recently dismissed bad faith claims for failure to plead adequate facts beyond bare-bone allegations.

In Ridpath v. Progressive, Judge Pratter dismissed the insured’s bad faith claim because it rested “entirely on conclusory and bare-bones allegations.” Leave to file an amended complaint was given, provided the insured could rectify the deficient pleadings.

The complaint merely alleged, with no additional facts, that the insurer failed to negotiate the claim, failed to properly investigate and evaluate the claim, and failed to request a defense medical examination. The court looked to Judge Slomsky’s Kiessling and Toner decisions as guidance for the dismissal, as well as Judge Gardiner’s Atiyeh decision, Judge Leeson’s Krantz decision, Judge Caputo’s Sypeck decision, and Judge Baylson’s Eley decision.

Date of Decision: March 16, 2020

Ridpath v. Progressive Advanced Automobile Insurance Co., U.S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania CIVIL ACTION NO. 19-5871, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 44796 (E.D.Pa. Mar. 16, 2020) (Pratter, J.)

Three days later, Eastern District Judge Darnell Jones dismissed a bad faith claim for failing to meet pleading standards.  In that case, the insurer cited 10 other cases dismissing insurance bad faith claims.

Judge Jones cited to Judge Leeson’s Soldrich opinion for the proposition that when alleging unreasonable delay, specific facts must be alleged concerning the length of any allegedly unreasonable delay between notification and response. Judge Jones also cited to the Mozzo, Atiyeh, Blasetti and Eley cases as examples of conclusory bare-bones allegations with no factual support.  Like the complaints in those cases, the instant complaint was lacking.

For example, the insured only made bare bones allegations that the insurer “failed to complete a prompt and thorough investigation of Plaintiff’s claim” and “fail[ed] to promptly provide a reasonable factual explanation of the basis for the denial of Plaintiff’s claim,” without alleging facts relating to the alleged delay, e.g., the length of time between the date of notice of the insured’s claim and the date the insurer responded.

The insured did not attempt to distinguish the insurer’s authorities. Rather, she relied upon a single case, 1009 Clinton Properties v. State Farm (discussed at length in this post), to argue her position. More than that, her complaint used the exact language found in the Clinton Properties complaint, verbatim. 

Judge Jones stated, “While the court in [Clinton Properties] deemed those allegations sufficient, it surely did not intend to create a rule whereby all future plaintiffs could simply parrot the exact same allegations in order to survive a motion to dismiss.” Judge Jones then cited the basic pleading standards set out in Twombly and its progeny, and dismissed the bad faith claim without prejudice to amend that claim if the insured so chooses.

Date of Decision: March 19, 2020

Clapps v. State Farm Insurance Cos., U.S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania Civil Action No. 19-3745, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 47800 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 19, 2020) (Jones, II, J.)

For those wanting to research further examples of federal pleading standards case law, here are this Blog’s category links to adequate and inadequate pleading cases.

 

TWO EASTERN DISTRICT CASES ON INADEQUATE PLEADINGS - (1) BARE-BONES CLAIM WITH NO FACTUAL SUPPORT DISMISSED EVEN THOUGH CONTRACT CLAIM PROCEEDS; (2) COMPLAINT DEVOID OF FACTUAL SPECIFICITY CANNOT STAND

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Case 1

In Park v. Evanston Insurance Company, the insureds successfully pleaded a breach of contract claim, but not a bad faith claim.

The insured alleged the nature of the loss, putative damages, and the policy covered the loss. The court agreed these allegations withstood the insurer’s motion to dismiss the breach of contract claim. Though not detailed in the opinion, the court obviously concluded that the facts as pleaded would fall within the policy’s coverage terms.

On the bad faith claim, however, no plausible claim was pleaded.  The court dismissed the claim without prejudice, giving leave to amend if possible.

The flawed complaint asserted that the insurer had no reasonable and sufficient basis to deny coverage, but did “not contain any factual allegations that relate to why Defendants’ alleged acts or omissions were unreasonable.” The court cited a number of decisions for the proposition that “bare-bones allegations of bad faith such as these, without more, are insufficient to survive a motion to dismiss.” These include the Third Circuit’s Smith decision, and the Eastern District decisions in McDonough and Atiyeh.

Date of Decision: March 4, 2020

Park v. Evanston Ins. Co., U.S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania CIVIL ACTION No. 19-4753, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 37778 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 4, 2020) (Schiller, J.)

Case 2

In Shetayh v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Company, the insureds alleged the insurer fraudulently denied coverage, falsely alleging a property was used for business purposes. They sued for breach of contract and bad faith.

The insureds alleged that the insurer knew the business purpose allegation “was false, fraudulent and misleading and made solely for the purpose of denying coverage and preventing Plaintiffs from obtaining the benefits owed under their policy of insurance.” The insureds remaining bad faith averments were generic in nature, e.g., the insurer was unreasonable in withholding benefits, conducted an unfair investigation, failed to keep the insureds adequately advised, etc.

As the insurer stated in moving to dismiss the bad faith count, “these generic averments … could fit any category of insurance claim….” In response, the insureds simply repeated the allegation that the insurer’s agent knew his statement about business purposes was false, as adequately underpinning the entire bad faith claim.

The court agreed with the insurer.

Bad faith plaintiffs “must plead specific facts as evidence of bad faith and cannot rely on conclusory statements.” Judge Leeson cited the Third Circuit’s Smith decision, just as Judge Schiller did in Park. Judge Leeson found the complaint “devoid of factual specificity”, relying solely on conclusory allegations. Thus, the complaint could not survive a motion to dismiss.

As in Park, dismissal was without prejudice and with leave to amend. The court made clear, however, that “any amended complaint must specifically include facts to address who, what, where, when, and how the alleged bad faith conduct occurred.”

Among other cases, Judge Leeson relied on the following decisions in reaching his conclusion: MBMJ (which had virtually identical paragraphs in the bad faith count); Rosenberg; Fasano; and Alidjani.

Date of Decision: March 6, 2020

Shetayh v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co., U.S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania No. 5:20-cv-00693, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39036 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 6, 2020) (Leeson, J.)

 

BOILERPLATE BAD FAITH COMPLAINT FAILS; NO COMMON LAW BAD FAITH CLAIM RECOGNIZED (Philadelphia Federal)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

This bad faith case involved a first party property damage dispute. The insured alleged he fully cooperated in the insurer’s investigation, but the insurer wrongly denied his claim. He brought a breach of contract, common law bad faith, and statutory bad faith action. The insurer moved to dismiss both bad faith claims. The court found the insured’s bare bones and conclusory allegations did not meet federal pleading standards, and dismissed the complaint.

On the statutory bad faith claim, the insured did “nothing more than set forth a threadbare recital of the elements of this cause of action, alleging [the] denial of his claim ‘was unreasonable, baseless, without foundation, made in bad faith, and made without any basis in fact whatsoever.’”

The following alleged facts failed to make out a statutory bad faith claim:

  1. The insured had a policy with the insurer;

  2. His car was stolen, stripped and destroyed;

  3. He submitted a proof of loss, other documentation, and sat for a lengthy statement under oath;

  4. He was truthful throughout the investigation and engaged in no fraudulent commissions or omissions;

  5. He demanded an actual cash value payment; and

  6. The insurer denied the claim.

These allegations, however, allowed for no plausible inference that (1) the insurer lacked a reasonable basis to deny benefits or (2) the insurer knew or recklessly disregarded its lack of a reasonable basis.

Next, the court observed that there is no common law bad faith cause of action in Pennsylvania for refusing to pay benefits or as to claims handling. The insured did not oppose the motion to dismiss on this basis, and the common law count was dismissed as well. [Note: There is no discussion of any distinction between a tort-based common law claim, as rejected in D’Ambrosio, and the type of contractual common law bad faith claims permitted in cases like Cowden or Birth Center.]

Date of Decision: February 21, 2020

Diaz v. Progressive Advanced Ins. Co., U. S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania Case No. 5:19-cv-06052-JDW, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29708 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 21, 2020) (Wolson, J.)

FACTUALLY BEREFT COMPLAINT NOT SAVED BY ALLEGING BAD FAITH WILL BE SUPPORTED BY “SUCH OTHER ACTS TO BE SHOWN THROUGH DISCOVERY” (Philadelphia Federal)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Eastern District court dismissed this UIM bad faith claim because the pleading was devoid of factual support.

The insufficiently pleaded bad faith allegations consisted of “(a) failure to negotiate plaintiff’s underinsured motorist claim; (b) failure to properly investigate and evaluate plaintiff’s underinsured motorist claim; [and] (c) failure to request a defense medical examination of the plaintiff . . . .” The only other allegation putatively supporting the bad faith count was the claim would rest on “such other acts to be shown through discovery.” These allegations amounted to mere “legal conclusions bereft of factual support.”

The court relied on Judge Slomsky’s decision in Kiessling and Judge Leeson’s Krantz opinion for the general pleading failures, as well as Judge Baylson’s 2011 Eley opinion rejecting the “such other acts to be shown through discovery” type of allegation as a means to preserve the bad faith cause of action.

Date of Decision: January 21, 2020

Velazquez v. Progressive American Insurance Co., U. S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania CIVIL ACTION NO. 19-3665, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9311 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 21, 2020) (Joyner, J.)

MERELY RECITING THE ELEMENTS OF A BAD FAITH CLAIM WITHOUT SUPPORTING FACTS MERITS DISMISSAL; COMPENSATORY, CONSEQUENTIAL, AND INCIDENTAL DAMAGES NOT RECOVERABLE UNDER BAD FAITH STATUTE (Western District)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The insured and insurer disputed the amount of coverage due on a homeowner’s property loss claim. The insured brought breach of contract and bad faith claims. The insurer moved to dismiss the bad faith claim for (1) inadequate pleading and (2) seeking damages not available under the bad faith statute.

The court observed, among other principles, that “[m]ere restatements of the elements of a claim are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Similarly, the “generic invocation of statutory language is insufficient to satisfy [the] federal pleading burden.” Further, a plaintiff fails to state a plausible basis for recovery under the bad faith statute if the complaint is devoid of facts describing the “who, what, where, when, and how the alleged bad faith conduct occurred.” The insured’s complaint failed the test.

The complaint only set out “boilerplate legal conclusions such as [the insurer] failed to pay [the insured], failed to objectively and fairly evaluate the Claim, unreasonably withheld Policy benefits, acted unreasonably and unfairly, and denied the Claim without justification or good faith basis to deny the Claim.” Thus, the court dismissed the bad faith claim for failing to plead a plausible claim. It relied on the following cases, summarized previously on this Blog: Mondron, Myers, and Plummer.

Still, the dismissal was without prejudice, and the insured was given leave to amend her complaint.

On the other hand, the court dismissed with prejudice the insured’s statutory bad faith claims for compensatory, consequential, and/or incidental damages. Such damages are only available in common law bad faith cases, not for statutory bad faith claims.

Date of Decision: December 31, 2019

Bick v. State Farm Fire & Casualty, U. S. District Court Western District of Pennsylvania No. 2:19-cv-00821-CRE, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 222775 (W.D. Pa. Dec. 31, 2019) (Reed Eddy, M.J.)

PLAINTIFF CANNOT PLEAD ALTERNATIVELY THAT DEFENDANT IS AN INSURER OR AN HMO WITHOUT FACTUAL SUPPORT; BAD FAITH CLAIM INADEQUATELY PLEADED AS A WHOLE (Middle District)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The insured failed to plead adequately on two levels in this case.

First, the insured attempted to plead in the alternative that the defendant was either an insurer or an HMO. HMOs are not subject to the bad faith statute, so the difference is significant. Moreover, there were facts over which the court could take judicial notice indicating defendant was an HMO.

The court concluded that alternatively alleging the defendant was an insurer or an HMO amounted to mere legal conclusions. Without any supporting facts, the bare bones legal allegation that defendant might be an HMO was inadequate, resulting in dismissal on that basis.

Next, even assuming defendant was an insurer subject to the bad faith statute, plaintiff again only pleaded conclusory legal statements with no factual support. These inadequate allegations included:

  1. Defendant denied plaintiff’s “appeal of a denial of payment of certain benefits, thereby first communicating the results of its inadequate investigation . . . follow[ing] presentation of new evidence and persuasion that [defendant] should have paid coverage for certain benefits”.

  2. Defendant’s “inadequate investigation included a … determination that an appeal was untimely, when [defendant] [k]new that the appeal had been timely submitted”.

  3. Plaintiff was an insured of defendant.

  4. “[A]ll of the aforementioned acts, omissions, and malfeasance were motivated by [defendant’s] self-interest and ill will toward [plaintiff] and those similarly situated, and constitute bad faith”, and

  5. “[A]ll of the aforementioned acts, omissions, and malfeasance are outrageous.”

The court stated that “[e]ach of these assertions constitute unsupported conclusions that need not be credited on a motion to dismiss.”

In its order dismissing the case, the court did not provide the plaintiff with leave to amend the complaint, and directed that the case be closed.

Date of Decision: December 27, 2019

Brown v. Kaiser Found. Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States, Inc., U.S. District Court Middle District of Pennsylvania No. 1:19-CV-1190, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 221471 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 27, 2019) (Jones, III, J.)

BAD FAITH NOT ADEQUATELY PLEADED; NO PRIVATE ACTION FOR UIPA VIOLATIONS; ATTORNEY’S FEES NOT AVAILABLE FOR BREACH OF CONTRACT CLAIM (Middle District)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The court reiterates here that (1) bad faith claims must be pleaded with supporting factual allegations, (2) there is no private cause of action for UIPA or Unfair Claims Settlement Practices regulation violations, and (3) attorney’s fees are not recoverable under a breach of contract claim.

This is a UIM case for breach of contract and bad faith, as well as unfair claim settlement practices violations. The insurer moved to dismiss the bad faith claim as improperly pleaded. It moved to dismiss the unfair claim settlement count on the basis that the Unfair Insurance Practices Act (UIPA) and Unfair Claim Settlement Practices regulations do not provide for a private cause of action. Finally, the insurer moved to dismiss the attorney’s fee claims in the breach of contract count.

  1. Bare-bones bad faith claims dismissed without prejudice

The court dismissed the bad faith claim, without prejudice, because the insureds only pleaded conclusory bare-bones allegations. The complaint did not include any factual allegations supporting the conclusory pleadings.

These inadequate bare-bones allegations were as follows:

Delay. Even after determining that Plaintiffs had a right to the insurance proceeds claimed, the Defendant has delayed paying Plaintiffs their policy proceeds for unknown reasons.

Forcing Insured to Seek Legal Redress. By delaying payment of Plaintiffs’ claim, Defendant Progressive Corporation, knowing that it had no legal justification for doing so, purposefully forced Plaintiffs to file this Complaint in order to obtain the insurance proceeds to which they are entitled. Defendant, Progressive Corporation, forced Plaintiffs to seek legal redress for unknown reasons.

Deception. Defendant realizing that it had no legal grounds for denying or delaying payment of Plaintiffs’ claim, and/or engaged [sic] in deceptive acts relating to Plaintiffs’ policy for the purposes of creating an apparent reason for denying the Plaintiffs’ claim where no such reason existed.

False Accusations. Defendant realizing that it had no legal grounds for denying or delaying payment of Plaintiffs’ claim, made false statements to the Plaintiffs’ representatives and/or other persons for the purposes of creating an apparent reason for denying the Plaintiffs’ claim where no such reason existed.

Oppressive Demands. In the course of adjusting Plaintiffs’ claim, Defendant made oppressive demands of the Plaintiffs for the purposes of delaying payment of Plaintiffs’ claim.

The court looked to the following decisions in supporting this result: Myers, Peters, Sowinski, Moran, and Grustas.

  1. There is no private cause of action under the UIPA or under Pennsylvania’s Unfair Claim Settlement Practices Regulations

The insureds relied upon the Supreme Court’s 1981 D’Ambrosio decision in asserting causes of action for UIPA and Unfair Claim Settlement Practices violations. They contended the Supreme Court’s 2017 Rancosky decision superseded D’Ambrosio, and created these private causes of action. The court rejected this argument, observing that Rancosky simply observed that the 1989 bad faith statute superseded D’Ambrosio to the extent it created a new statutory bad faith cause of action years after D’Ambrosio was decided. Rancosky, however, still recognized D’Ambrosio’s holding there is no private UIPA cause of action.

The insurer “therefore did not err in relying on D’Ambrosio for the proposition that there is no private cause of action under UIPA. It remains the case that neither UIPA nor the regulations governing unfair claim settlement practices allow a plaintiff to bring a private cause of action.” The “unfair claim settlement practices claim will accordingly be dismissed with prejudice because there is no private cause of action for unfair claim settlement practices under Pennsylvania law.”

The court looked to the recent Excel and Neri cases in reaching this decision.

3. Attorney’s fees cannot be recovered under a breach of contract theory

Litigants are responsible for their own attorney’s fees and legal costs absent a statute authorizing fees, a contractual provision for fees, or some other recognized exception to the general rule. None of these circumstances applied to the insureds’ breach of contract claim. The court rejected the argument that fees were allowed because attorney’s fees may be permitted during the pendency of litigation for dilatory, obdurate, vexatious or bad faith conduct in the course of litigation. This was irrelevant as neither party filed a sanctions motion, and such behavior was not part of the actual case pleaded.

Date of Decision: December 17, 2019

Kline v. Progressive Corp., U.S. District Court Middle District of Pennsylvania Civil No. 1:19-CV-00676, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 216258 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 17, 2019) (Wilson, J.)

DISAGREEMENT WITH AN EXPERT’S CONCLUSIONS, STANDING ALONE, IS NOT BAD FAITH (Philadelphia Federal)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The insured claimed lost wages resulting from an auto accident that reduced his ability to work full time. The insurer’s examining physician concluded the insured could work full time. The insurer denied the claim.

The insured brought suit. The insurer moved to dismiss all claims. The court analyzed each of the potential claims in the complaint, including a bad faith claim.

The court observed the two elements of statutory bad faith, i.e., a knowing or reckless decision to unreasonably deny benefits. The court also apparently included a showing of self-interest or ill will as a third element. [Per the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s 2017 Rancosky decision, however, a showing of self-interest or ill will may be evidence of the second bad faith element, but is not itself a third required element.]

The court found that the insured failed to set out a bad faith claim. The complaint alleged “the insurer relied on the findings of its own medical professional that [the insured] was able to return to work full time. While [the insured] might disagree with the doctor’s assessment, that does not mean his insurer acted without a reasonable basis when it denied [the] work loss benefits. Accordingly, the facts plead in the Complaint, without more, fail to show [the] insurer acted in bad faith when it denied his claim.”

The claims were dismissed without prejudice, with leave to amend.

Date of Decision: December 9, 2019

Elansari v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Co., U. S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania Case No. 2:19-cv-03404-JDW, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 211369, 2019 WL 6698209 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 9, 2019) (Wolson, J.)

A BAD FAITH PLAINTIFF MUST DESCRIBE WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, AND HOW THE ALLEGED BAD FAITH CONDUCT OCCURRED (Philadelphia Federal)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The insurer denied a property damage claim arising out of a leak in a home heating oil tank making the home uninhabitable. The insured brought suit for breach of contract and bad faith. The carrier moved to dismiss the bad faith claim on the basis it only set out bare bones allegations, and failed under the Twombly/Iqbal pleading standards. The court agreed, but gave the insured leave to amend her complaint.

The court observes that the insured’s complaint fails to “allege facts regarding the terms of her insurance policy, when she submitted a claim to [the insurer], the investigation that [the insurer] performed, or any communications between herself and [the insurer].” Despite the absence of any factual allegations, the insured still claims the inspection was substandard and hasty, the insurer refused to provide additional living expenses contrary to the policy, and her claim was “improperly denied.”

The litany of bare bones conclusory allegations failing to make out a claim includes assertions that the insurer “(1) sent a false denial letter; (2) failed to adequately investigate the loss before claiming it was not covered by the policy; (3) failed to pay a fair and reasonable amount for the claim; (4) asserted policy provisions without a reasonable basis; and (5) misrepresented facts and policy provisions.” These “threadbare recitals” did not allege, e.g., “how [the insurer] failed to investigate and evaluate the claim in a fair manner.”

The court refused to infer bad faith absent facts regarding the insured’s claim itself, and the insurer’s “accompanying investigation, negotiations, or communications in support of the contention that [its] conduct was unreasonable and reckless….” A plaintiff must “describe who, what, where, when, and how the alleged bad faith conduct occurred.”

The insured was given 14 days to amend her complaint.

Date of Decision: December 4, 2019

Biela v. Westfield Insurance Co., U. S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania CIVIL ACTION v. NO. 19-04383, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 209418 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 4, 2019) (Pappert, J.)

 

CONCLUSORY PLEADINGS INSUFFICIENT TO STATE BAD FAITH CLAIM; MERE REFUSAL TO PAY SUM DEMANDED IS NOT BAD FAITH PER SE (Philadelphia Federal)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

In this UIM case, the tortfeasor’s insurer settled for $15,000, and the injured insured demanded the $300,000 UIM policy limits from his own carrier. The insurer did not accede to that demand, and the husband and wife insureds sued for breach of contract and bad faith. Judge Schiller dismissed the bad faith claim with leave to amend, if a plausible claim could be pleaded.

Plaintiff failed to allege sufficient facts to state a plausible claim. The insureds’ conclusory allegations included “failing to evaluate Plaintiff’s claim objectively and fairly; failing to complete a prompt and thorough investigation of Plaintiff’s claim… [and] unreasonably withholding policy benefits[.]” There are, however, no specific facts pleaded supporting these conclusions. “Courts consistently hold that bare-bones allegations of bad faith such as these, without more, are insufficient to survive a motion to dismiss. Indeed, conclusory allegations that an insurer ‘unreasonably withheld the payment of [UIM] benefits under the policy…failed to engage in good faith negotiations… [and] failed to perform an adequate investigation’ are insufficient to state a claim for bad faith.”

Similarly, the complaint alleges the insurer “failed to conduct a fair and reasonable investigation into his claim but does not plead any facts related to that investigation.” The court further found the insured could not state a claim on the basis that the insurer “did not pay [the insured’s] claims even when he provided the same information that led [the tortfeasor’s insurer] to tender the limits of its policy.” The court observes that “the failure to immediately accede to a demand for the policy limit cannot, without more, amount to bad faith.” [Though the court does not so state, there appears to be no explanation in the complaint why providing information leading to a $15,000 payment automatically requires an additional $300,000 payment.]

The court provided the insureds “may file an amended complaint to add a bad faith claim, but only if they can plausibly do so.” (Emphasis in original)

Date of Decision: October 4, 2019

Doyle v. Liberty Mutual Ins., U. S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania No. 19-3460, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 172581, 2019 WL 4917123 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 4, 2019) (Schiller, J.)