Archive for the 'PA – Limitations Period' Category

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

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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.)

 

STATUTORY BAD FAITH CLAIM BARRED BY TWO-YEAR STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS; PUTATIVE COMMON LAW BAD FAITH BARRED BY TWO-YEAR CONTRACTUAL LIMITATION; NO COMMON LAW BAD FAITH IN FIRST PARTY CASES (Middle District)

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The insurer denied coverage on November 3, 2015. The insured sued for breach of contract and bad faith on September 20, 2019. The insurer moved to dismiss the contract claim based on a contractual two-year limitation period, and the bad faith claim under the controlling two-year statute of limitations. The relevant facts were evident on the face of the complaint. Therefore, the court could decide the issues on a motion to dismiss.

As to the contract claim, because the “policy had a 2-year suit limitation, there is no merit to plaintiff’s contention that Pennsylvania’s 4-year statute of limitations for contract claims under 42 Pa.C.S.A. §5501 should control in this case.” The insured nowhere alleged the insurer “led her to believe the two-year limitations period would not be enforced or that [the insurer] committed any actions that induced her to file her complaint after the two year deadline.” The contract claim was dismissed with prejudice.

As to the bad faith claim, “since ‘Plaintiff’s claim of bad faith is … based on Defendant’s denial of benefits to Plaintiff under the Policy, [the] Court can therefore consider the [November 3, 2015 denial of coverage letter] attached by Defendant to its Motion to Dismiss.” The court would not let the plaintiff escape the timing issue by simply leaving out the denial date and not attaching a document on which it relied in its complaint in pleading its case, where the defendant then attaches to its motion.

Further, the court found “[no] doubt that the two year statute of limitations for a bad faith suit begins to run when insured first learned that the insurance company was denying coverage.” Thus, the statutory bad faith claim was time barred.

[Note on statute of limitations triggers and the scope of the bad faith statute. The court observes that the two year bad faith statute of limitations begins to run at the time coverage is denied, and cites case law for this proposition, also phrased as when claims for benefits are denied. As noted previously on this blog, there are cases holding that the bad faith statute applies not only to coverage denial, but distinctly to various claims handling misconduct. Under this theory, the statute of limitations cannot begin to run at the time coverage is denied, because, e.g., no coverage may be due and bad faith is based solely on egregious claims handling failures. Does this mean that the statute of limitations case law makes clear that statutory bad faith must be based on a benefit denial, see one example here, and these bad faith claims handling cases are wrongly decided; or that there are other triggers for the two-year statute beginning to run wholly independent of a coverage denial?

The governing case on the statutory bad faith statute of limitations is the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision in Ash v. Continental Ins. Co., 932 A.2d 877 (Pa. 2007). In Ash, a clear majority of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court followed Chief Justice Cappy’s Toy v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. opinion. The Ash majority states: “The bad faith insurance statute, on the other hand, is concerned with “the duty of good faith and fair dealing in the parties’ contract and the manner by which an insurer discharge[s] its obligation of defense and indemnification in the third party claim context or its obligation to pay for a loss in the first party claim context.” See Toy v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 928 A.2d 186, 199 (Pa. 2007). It applies only in limited circumstances–i.e., where the insured first has filed ‘an action arising under an insurance policy’ against his insurer, see 42 Pa.C.S. § 8371–and it only permits a narrow class of plaintiffs to pursue the bad faith claim against a narrow class of defendants.” An article discussing Toy and Ash can be found here.]

The insured attempted to claim there was somehow a common law bad faith claim, subject to the four-year contract statute of limitations. Aside from the fact that the complaint alleged statutory bad faith, common law bad faith is solely contract based in Pennsylvania, and merges with the breach of contract claim. Thus, it would be subject to the same two-year contractual limitations period.

Finally, the court stated that in any event, common law bad faith did not apply to first party property damage claims, as were at issue in this case. The court relied on Judge Munley’s 2009 Bukofski decision on this point.

Date of Decision: February 13, 2020

Mazzoni v. Travelers Home & Mutual Insurance Co., U.S. District Court Middle District of Pennsylvania CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:19-2169, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25513 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 13, 2020) (Mannion, J.)

BAD FAITH SUIT BARRED BY TWO-YEAR STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS: (1) DISCOVERY RULE INAPPLICABLE AND (2) CONTINUING BREACH THEORY REJECTED (U. S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit)

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In this case, the alleged bad faith conduct at issue occurred in 2011. The statutory bad faith suit was filed in 2019. The Third Circuit affirmed the trial court’s finding that the two-year bad faith statute of limitations barred the suit.

The Third Circuit rejected both a discovery rule argument, and an argument that there was a continuing breach that restarted the statute of limitations.

As to the first argument, the court upheld the finding that the insured and counsel witnessed the 2011 conduct at issue. The court quoted the principle: “’Where, however, reasonable minds would not differ in finding that a party knew or should have known on the exercise of reasonable diligence of his injury and its cause, the court determines that the discovery rule does not apply as a matter of law.’” Thus, the discovery rule did not toll the statute of limitations in this case.

On the second argument, the appellate court stated: “As to a continuing breach, in Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations runs when the first denial occurs, but continuing or subsequent denials do not newly trigger the statute of limitations.” (Emphasis in original) Thus, the statute ran in 2013.

Date of Decision: January 24, 2020

Feingold v. Brooks, U. S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit No. 19-1495, 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 2279 (3d Cir. Jan. 24, 2020) (Jordan, Rendell, Scirica, JJ.)

REASONABLENESS OF INVESTIGATION IS NOT SOLELY DETERMINED BY THE LENGTH OF TIME USED BY THE ADJUSTER TO REACH A CONCLUSION ON COVERAGE (Middle District)

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Through an unusual set of circumstances, the insureds’ electricity service at a vacation home was terminated by third parties, unbeknownst to the insureds. This led to the heating system’s not functioning, which in turn led to frozen pipes bursting, and significant water damage to their home. Their insurer denied coverage under a policy provision that required the insureds to take reasonable care in maintaining heat while the property was unoccupied, or in shutting down the water system.

The insureds brought claims for breach of contract, negligence, and bad faith. The negligence claim was dismissed under the gist of the action doctrine, as the claim was based on the breach of an insurance contract and any duties arose out of that contract. The breach of contract claim was dismissed as being initiated after the one-year contract period for bringing suit, expressly required in the insurance policy.

The court analyzed the bad faith came under both the common law and Pennsylvania’s Bad Faith Statute, 42 Pa.C.S. § 8371. One difference between the two claims is that common law bad faith permits recovery of compensatory and consequential damages, while statutory bad faith is limited to interest, punitive damages, legal fees and costs.

In this case, the common law bad faith claim was time barred, being subject to the same analysis as the breach of contract claim.

The statutory bad faith claim was based upon an allegedly unreasonable failure to investigate the facts as to the history of the termination of the insureds’ electric service as the cause of the loss. The insureds argued that the adjuster’s single day visit to “the property was insufficient to ascertain the information necessary to determine the cause of the damage, particularly in light of the adjuster’s failure to contact [other relevant parties] to determine what events led to the transfer and termination of electric service at the [insureds’] Pennsylvania vacation home.” The court, however, granted the insurer summary judgment on this issue.

While the “adjuster may not have pursued an investigation into the ultimate cause of the property damage to the extent the [insureds] desired, a single, one-day visit to the home was sufficient for the adjuster to ascertain that the property was vacant for an extended period of time, that electric service to the home had been shut off for a period of months resulting in a failure to maintain heat inside the home over an extended period of time, and that the cause of property damage was a freeze out. This information, together with that gathered by claims handlers—including, in particular, the [insureds’] failure to note over the course of several months that they were no longer being billed for electric service—was sufficient … to reasonably determine that the [insureds] had failed to use reasonable care to maintain heat in the home while it was vacant for several months of winter weather. Stated another way, we find that, based on the evidence adduced by the parties on summary judgment, viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, no reasonable jury could find that [the insurer’s] investigation was inadequate or that its denial of coverage was frivolous or unfounded.

Date of Decision: September 27, 2019

Pager v. Metro. Edison, U. S. District Court Middle District of Pennsylvania CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:17-cv-00934, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 166052 (M.D. Pa. Sept. 27, 2019) (Saporito, M.J.)

BAD FAITH STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS NOT TOLLED, OR RENEWED, BY CHANGE IN THE LAW ON COVERAGE; NO PLAUSIBLE CLAIM PLEADED; BAD FAITH POSSIBLE EVEN IF BENEFIT NOT DUE (Philadelphia Federal)

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This UIM case was stimulated by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s recent decision reversing precedent on the household vehicle exclusion. In dismissing the bad faith claim, the court found:

  1. The two-year statute of limitations was not tolled by a change in the law.

  2. The change in the law, which resulted in the insured renewing her demand for coverage, did not re-start the statute of limitations.

  3. Alternatively, the insured failed to plead sufficient facts to set forth a plausible bad faith claim; rather she only made a few conclusory allegations.

The court did have a significant footnote, which addresses the long-standing debate over whether there can be statutory bad faith where no coverage is due. Judge Pappert clearly comes down on the side that bad faith can still exist, noting that “a claim for bad faith pursuant to 42 Pa. C.S. § 8371 is a separate and distinct cause of action and is not contingent on the resolution of the underlying contract claim. … Thus, if bad faith is asserted as to conduct beyond a denial of coverage, the bad faith claim is actionable as to that conduct regardless of whether the contract claim survives.” As we have noted before on this blog, other courts dispute this view.

Date of Decision: July 3, 2019

O’Brien v. GEICO Employees Insurance Co., U. S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania CIVIL ACTION NO. 19-01920, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110914 (E.D. Pa. July 3, 2019) (Pappert, J.)

BAD FAITH CLAIM BROUGHT MORE THAN TWO YEARS AFTER NOTICE OF DENIAL DISMISSED ON STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS GROUNDS (Philadelphia Federal)

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A property loss coverage claim was dismissed under the policy’s two-year suit limitation provision, requiring that any suit be brought within two years of the date of loss. In dismissing this breach of contract claim, the court reiterated the Third Circuit’s holding that an insurer does not have to show prejudice in enforcing a suit limitation provision.

The insured also brought a statutory bad faith claim, and a breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing count. The insurer moved to dismiss the bad faith claim on statute of limitations grounds, arguing that the policy benefit was denied more than two years prior to suit. (It is well established that the bad faith limitations period is two years).

The insurer relied on a notice of denial, attached to its answer, in moving to dismiss. The insured asserted because this document was not attached to the complaint, it could not be considered on a motion to dismiss. Under the circumstances of this case, the court disagreed.

The court observed that courts handling motions to dismiss “may consider an undisputedly authentic document that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff’s claims are based on the document.” Absent this exception, plaintiffs with legally deficient claims could simply omit attaching a document to avoid dismissal of claims that should be dismissed.

The court found the denial referenced in the complaint to be based on this notice of denial  document, and so considered it on the motion to dismiss.  The notice of denial was issued over two years before suit. Thus, the bad faith claim was independently time barred, and was dismissed on that basis.

[Note: This court ruled two weeks earlier that a bad faith claim could proceed even when the underlying breach of contract was dismissed because of a suit limitations provision, i.e., the bad faith claim could proceed even though no coverage was due. A link summarizing that opinion, and the viability of bad faith claims when no coverage is due, can be found here.]

Finally, the court dismissed the breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing as being subsumed within the breach of contract claim.

Date of Decision: May 23, 2019

Mail Quip, Inc. v. Allstate Insurance Co., U. S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania CIVIL ACTION No. 19-223, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87923 (E.D. Pa. May 23, 2019) (Kenney, J.)

BAD FAITH CLAIM CAN PROCEED AFTER COVERAGE CLAIM DISMISSED AS UNTIMELY; PRO SE PLEADING ADEQUATE TO AVOID DISMISSAL (Philadelphia Federal)

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As we have discussed on this Blog for many years, case law is divided on whether statutory bad faith can exist if no coverage is due. We addressed this in some detail within this October 2018 post, summarizing a federal case where the court stated that Pennsylvania law allows for statutory bad faith even in the absence of any coverage obligation. In that October 2018 post, we additionally noted the presence of case law that would allow a bad faith claim to proceed where coverage is not due for procedural reasons, e.g., an otherwise covered claim is barred by a contractual limitations period. By contrast, this even more recent post summarizes an opinion, from the same federal court, finding there can be no bad faith if no coverage is due.

Linked here is a detailed article addressing whether Pennsylvania’s bad faith statute only addresses bad faith coverage denials and refusals to defend, and does not provide relief for poor claims handling or the like when these underlying benefits are not due. Under this view, poor claims handling or communications failures are evidence of statutory bad faith in denying benefits, but such conduct is not actionable (cognizable) statutory bad faith in itself.

BAD FAITH CLAIM CAN PROCEED EVEN IF COVERAGE NOT DUE UNDER CONTRACTUAL LIMITATIONS PROVISION

In the present case, arising out of the very same federal court as the aforementioned cases, the insured’s breach of contract claim was dismissed as time-barred by the policy’s suit limitation clause. The court, however, permitted the bad faith action to proceed. Specifically, the court stated: “Because Plaintiff asserts bad faith as to conduct beyond [the carrier’s] denial of coverage, the Court must consider the sufficiency of Plaintiff’s bad faith claim even though Plaintiff’s breach of contract claim is time-barred.”

The court quoted from footnote 3 of the 2017 Dagit case: “It is well established that a claim for bad faith brought against an insurer pursuant to 42 Pa. C.S. § 8371 is a separate and distinct cause of action and is not contingent on the resolution of the underlying contract claim. Thus, if bad faith is asserted as to conduct beyond a denial of coverage, the bad faith claim is actionable as to that conduct regardless of whether the contract claim survives.”

[Note: Dagit relies on cases such as Doylestown Electric Supply Co. v. Maryland Casualty Insurance Co., 942 F. Supp. 1018 (E.D. Pa. 1996), March v. Paradise Mutual Insurance Co., 646 A.2d 1254 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1994), and the Third Circuit’s unpublished opinion in Gallatin Fuels, Inc. v. Westchester Fire Ins. Co., 244 F. App’x 424 (3d Cir. 2007). As in the present case, Doylestown Electrical and March involved contractual suit limitations provisions barring coverage, and not lack of coverage under substantive policy provisions. Gallatin Fuels addressed the extraordinary situation where the policy was not in effect at the relevant time, but the court held the bad faith statute still applied because the insurer believed it had a policy in effect and acted poorly while holding that belief. These cases are addressed in the article linked here and above.]

INSURED ADEQUATELY PLEADS BAD FAITH

After finding the bad faith claim could proceed, the court still had to address the complaint’s adequacy. It found the bad faith claim adequately pleaded, stating:

[The insurer] argues that [the insured] does not provide any facts to support his allegation that [the insurer] acted in bad faith by denying him coverage under the insurance policy for the damage sustained to his home by the snowstorm. … To the contrary, [the insured] sets forth a myriad of facts to support his claim. For example, [the insured] alleges he was given contradictory information by [the insurer’s] agents as to the coverage of his policy and how he could collect under his policy and subsequently appeal [the insurer’s] denial of that coverage, which he relied upon to his detriment. … [The insured] also alleges that he was instructed to file multiple claims, which caused him to pay multiple deductibles and which ultimately discredited his claim. … In holding [the insured’s] Second Amended Complaint to a “less stringent standard,” as required of the Court in light of [his] pro se representation, the Court finds that [the insured] sufficiently alleged a claim for bad faith and Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss is denied as to this claim.

Date of Decision: May 10, 2019

Nguyen v. Allstate Insurance Co., U. S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania CIVIL ACTION NO. 18-5019, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79822 (E.D. Pa. May 10, 2019) (Kenney, J.)

BAD FAITH CLAIM TIME BARRED WHEN WRIT OF SUMMONS WAS NOT PROPERLY SERVED (Philadelphia Federal)

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The issue in this case involved a federal court determining the validity of service under Pennsylvania state law governing writs of summons. The court had to rule on whether service was effected before the two year bad faith statute of limitations expired. The court found that proper service was not made, but permitted the pro se plaintiff to file an amended complaint in which “she will need to show either that she properly served, or made good faith efforts to serve” the insurer.

Date of Decision: March 22, 2019

Shearer v. Allstate Insurance Co., U.S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania CIVIL ACTION No. 18-3277, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 47770, 2019 WL 1317635 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 22, 2019) (Pratter, J.)

NO NEW BAD FAITH ACTS ALLEGED THAT COULD RE-START THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS PERIOD (Philadelphia Federal)

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This case addresses when a bad faith cause of action accrues, or can be re-started, for statute of limitations purposes.

The bad faith statute of limitations is two years. The claim accrues with the initial coverage denial. Repeated denials of the same claim are merely continuations of an existing harm, and do not constitute new actionable events triggering a new statute of limitations period. Only if the subsequent bad faith act is separate, distinct, and unrelated to the original bad faith denial, can a new limitations period begin to run.

In this case, the alleged bad faith conduct occurred in 2011. The present suit was filed in 2019. The court would not accept bald allegations that events “have taken place and continued over a period of years up to the present day” to re-start the statute of limitations, as no facts were alleged “suggesting a basis for claims within the limitations period.” The complaint was dismissed without leave to amend.

Date of Decision: February 1, 2019

Feingold v. Brooks, U. S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania CIVIL ACTION NO. 19-CV-0291, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16606, 2019 WL 415575 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 1, 2019) (Tucker, J.)

OCTOBER 2018 BAD FAITH CASES: INSURANCE FRAUD CLAIMS NOT TIME BARRED SIMPLY BECAUSE INSURER HAD BEGUN INVESTIGATION OVER TWO YEARS BEFORE FILING SUIT, WHERE ALLEGED FRAUD WAS COMPLEX AND CONCEALED (Philadelphia Federal)

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The insurer brought claims under Pennsylvania’s Insurance Fraud Act, 18 Pa.C.S. § 4117, and common law fraud, among others, seeking to recover allegedly fraudulent payments to medical providers.

The medical providers argued on summary judgment that the statutory fraud claims were time barred. They made extensive arguments concerning a variety of fact patterns to support its claim that the insurer was on notice of the fraud prior to the statute of limitations running, and there should be no tolling. The court analyzed each set of facts closely, but concluded that even though the insurer had been investigating a potential fraud, there was an argument that it did not know there was an actual fraud, and thus tolling might be permitted.

Thus, the court found that “whether the two-year statute of limitations period for Plaintiffs’ statutory insurance fraud claim should be tolled is genuinely disputed. Here, a reasonable factfinder could find that despite Plaintiffs’ reasonable diligence in discovering their injury, they did not discover the alleged fraud until … after reviewing hundreds of Defendants’ records with the assistance of an expert medical reviewer and counsel.” Ordinarily, factual issues about notice and the plaintiff’s diligence are jury questions, and such genuine issues of material fact as to when the statute of limitations runs preclude summary judgment.

The court observed that tolling could be proper if the “Plaintiffs were unable to discover the alleged fraud as a result of the scheme’s complexity and Defendants’ efforts to conceal it.”

On the common law fraud claim, the defendants argued for similar reasons that the insurer could not have justifiably relied on the insureds’ misrepresentations because of its alleged knowledge of the insureds’ fraudulent representations. Again, this made for disputed issues of fact that could not be resolved on summary judgment.

Date of Decision: September 28, 2018

State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Stavropolskiy, U. S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania CIVIL ACTION NOS. 15-05929 and NO. 16-01374, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 167425, 2018 WL 4680241 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 28, 2018) (Joyner, J.)