JUNE 2015 BAD FAITH CASES: FIRST PARTY CONTRACTUAL BAD FAITH CLAIM ADEQUATELY PLEADED UNDER NEW JERSEY LAW; PENNSYLVANIA STATUTORY BAD FAITH CLAIM DISMISSED AFTER CONFLICT OF LAW ANALYSIS (New Jersey Federal)
In Bridgewater Wholesalers, Inc. v. Pennsylvania Lumbermens Mutual Insurance Company, the Court denied a motion to dismiss an insured’s bad faith claim under New Jersey law. However, after conducting a conflict of law analysis, it did dismiss plaintiff’s claims for relief under Pennsylvania’s bad faith statute.
In this case, the insured was a commercial supplier of goods that suffered losses in Hurricane Sandy. It settled a property damage claim with the insurer, but alleged that the insurer failed to make full payment on the loss of business income claim. The insurer “paid a limited amount and denied further liability despite [the insured’s] requests to obtain additional payment.” The insured subsequently sued the insurer, alleging breach of contract, violations of the implied duty of good faith (Count II), and violation of Pennsylvania’s Bad Faith Statute, 42 Pa. C.S. § 8371 (Count III).
The insurer filed a motion to dismiss Counts II and III. The Court refused to dismiss Count II, holding that it was “adequately pled and cannot be dismissed at this early stage.” The Court further reasoned that “additional discovery is necessary to determine whether [the insurer] had a reasonable basis for not adjusting the insurance claim.”
The insurer argued that Count III should be dismissed because the Pennsylvania statute was inapplicable, and New Jersey law governed the bad faith claim. The Court conducted a conflict of law/choice of law analysis, applying New Jersey’s legal principles as the forum state (the “most significant relationship” test). The first step was to determine if an actual conflict between the laws of Pennsylvania and New Jersey existed. The Court found that a genuine conflict existed because the Pennsylvania and New Jersey “bad faith” standards demonstrated a clear distinction.
After the Court established that a true conflict existed, it determined which state had the most significant relationship to the claim, which it found to be New Jersey. Hurricane Sandy caused direct physical damage to the insured’s New Jersey facility. The insurance claim was processed in New Jersey. New Jersey is the place where the insured is incorporated and has corporate headquarters, and where the insurer is an insurance carrier. Because the Court found that New Jersey’s interests prevailed, and its insurance laws applied to the bad faith claims, the court dismissed the insured’s Pennsylvania statutory claim.