Bad Faith Cannot Be Presumed In UIM Claim, Federal Judge Rules

CSCC-Lawsuit-Dismissed

PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 17 – A federal judge in Pennsylvania has dismissed a bad faith claim against State Farm Insurance arising out of the handling of a UIM claim, ruling that neither the passage of time or the non-payment of the claim in themselves can establish a prima facie case of insurer bad faith under the Pennsylvania Bad Faith Statute.

In Sherman v. State Farm Ins. Co., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 190363, Judge Mark A. Kearney ruled that the Plaintiffs had not plausibly set forth a bad faith claim against State Farm arising out of a January 2013 auto accident involving Edward Sherman.  After settling with the tortfeasor following the accident,  the Shermans notified State Farm of their intent to pursue a UIM claim u nder their own auto policy in February 2015. 

The complaint alleged that State Farm investigated the claim between Febryary and July of 2015 but that State Farm failed to make any offer of payment.  After the Shermans sued State Farm in 2017, State Farm moved to dismiss statutory and common law bad faith claims  from the complaint.  In granting the motion to dismiss, Judge Kearney wrote:

“After July 1, 2015, we have no idea what happened. As of July 1, 2015, the parties were working together to address the Shermans’ UIM claim. Over two years later on September 27, 2017, the Shermans sued State Farm claiming it never provided the Shermans with UIM benefits…

Our court of appeals has consistently dismissed Section 8371 claims when the complaint lacks factual allegations of bad faith conduct, and only states conclusory allegations…

[The] Shermans allege communications evidencing responsive insurer conduct and then conclude, simply because they have not been paid since, State Farm is liable for bad faith. We have a gap of over two years with no allegation as to what happened. Bad faith is not presumed simply from a conclusory allegation  of no payment. In conclusory fashion, the Shermans allege State Farm failed to make an informed decision regarding their claims, failed to pursue a diligent investigation, and failed to act in good faith.  They also allege State Farm failed to make a settlement offer, and these actions were intentional, taken in bad faith, and aimed solely at reducing State Farm’s expenditures. These are the types of conclusory allegations which do not suffice. Failing to plead explanations or descriptions of what an insurer actually did, or why they did it, is fatal to a bad faith claim.  We cannot measure the reasonableness of the insurer’s conduct absent facts. Legal conclusions are insufficient.”

Judge Kearney also dismissed the Plaintiff’s Breach of Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing claims, and further  ruled that the Plaintiffs could not plead or recover attorneys’ fees on the remaining Breach of Contract claim.

Sherman v. State Farm Ins. Co., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 190363 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 17, 2017)(Kearney, J.)

Advertisements

UM/UIM Plaintiff Fails to State Bad Faith Claim, Federal Judge Rules

ACCIDENT

Philadelphia, Sept. 6 – A Pennsylvania federal judge has ruled that a UM/UIM insured has failed to state a bad faith claim against State Farm Insurance arising out of the handling of her UIM claim.  In Myers v.  State Farm Automobile Insurance Company, federal judge R. Barclay Surrick granted State Farm’s 12(b)(6) motion to the complaint, but granted the insured plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint.

The insured filed a UIM claim with her insurer after sustaining injuries in an auto accident.  After failing to reach agreement on the settlement of her UIM claim, the insured filed breach of contract and bad faith claims against State Farm in Philadelphia County Common Pleas Court.   In the complaint, the insured alleged State Farm’s failure to act with reasonable promptness or to act with reasonable fairness, as well as the failure to conduct a proper investigation.

State Farm removed the action to the Eastern District of Pa., and filed a motion to dismiss  the bad faith claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).  Judge Surrick, in granting the motion, observed that “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, [the insured’s] complaint must include factual allegations from which the Court may plausibly infer the unreasonable and intentional or reckless denial of benefits.”  The judge found the plaintiff’s allegations to be conclusory at best, observing that the complaint failed to describe the ways and means in which the insurer allegedly failed to properly investigate her claim.  The complaint also, Judge Surrick observed, failed to cite to any specific transactions or contact between the insured and the insurer which would factually make out a bad faith claim.

The Court concluded that even if it took the averments  the insured’s complaint as true, it was unable to  “plausibly infer from those facts that [insurer] acted unreasonably and intentionally or recklessly in denying benefits to [the insured].”  The Plaintiff was granted leave to attempt to amend her complaint to allege sufficient factual support for her bad faith claims.

Myers v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co.,  No. 17-3509, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 143794 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 6, 2017) (Surrick, J.)

Oklahoma Supreme Court Permits Third Party To Sue State Farm for Bad Faith

PILLARS

Oklahoma City, June 22 – The Supreme Court of Oklahoma has reversed summary judgment for State Farm Insurance in a bad faith claim brought by a third party to an insurance contract  who bought the property in question from State Farm’s insured.

In Hensley v. State Farm Insurance, the Court ruled:

We hold buyer’s action in this case for breach of the implied-in-law duty of good faith by an insurer is based upon his status as an insured or third party beneficiary; and buyer’s equitable title to property arising from a contract for deed is insufficient by itself to confer upon him the status of an insured. We hold buyer presented facts on the issue whether he was an intended third party beneficiary, and these facts and their inferences were disputed by insurer. Whether buyer is a third party beneficiary and an insured under the policy based upon disputed facts and inferences is a matter for the trier of fact and summary judgment for insurer must be reversed.

The Court summarized the relationships of the parties as follows:

Kenneth Hensley and his wife owned real estate containing a mobile home in which they resided. They moved and sold the property to Douglas in May 2000 using a contract for deed. The contract for deed required Douglas to keep the premises insured, and the monthly payments made by Douglas to the Hensleys were required to include the premiums. The contract for deed specified any increase in insurance premiums during the term of indebtedness would be matched with a corresponding increase in monthly payments paid to the Hensleys. The Hensleys had an insurance policy with State Farm Fire & Casualty Company on the property and the Hensleys continued to make the premium payments and the policy continued to be renewed.

In 2008, Douglas reported a vandalism claim.  After the parties could not agree as to whether State Farm’s payment of the claim was adequate, both Douglas and Hensley sued State farm in state court.  State Farm sought and was granted summary judgment, in part on grounds that Douglas was not an insured, was a “stranger” to the insuring agreement, and therefore lacked standing to bring bad faith claims against State Farm.

In reversing the trial court’s ruling in State Farm’s favor, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that while Douglas’ equitable title to the property insured by State Farm did not create a bad faith right of action, Douglas should be entitled on remand to demonstrate he and is wife were intended third party beneficiaries of the insuring agreement between State farm and the Hensleys:

Douglas presented facts that State Farm construed the policy to include Douglas as an insured or beneficiary. Whether Douglas is a third party beneficiary and an insured under the policy is based upon an adjudication of disputed material facts. We are required to take all inferences in favor of the party opposing summary judgment, and when it appears that there are disputed material facts a summary judgment must be reversed.

Hensley v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 2017 OK 57, 2017 Okla. LEXIS 59 (Okla. June 20, 2017)

Insured’s Claims Conduct Dooms Bad Faith Claim, Federal Judge Rules

CSCC-Lawsuit-Dismissed

SCRANTON, May 30 – In Turner v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., No. 3:15-CV-906, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 81922 (M.D. Pa. May 30, 2017), U.S. District Judge Richard Conaboy dismissed the plaintiff’s bad faith case, finding that the insured, who was already paid nearly $350,000 for a fire property loss by State Farm, delayed and frustrated a disputed additional payment amount.

The parties disputed that the insured was entitled to more than $17,000 in landscaping charges.  The insurer had already paid $347,000 for other property loss.  And while the contract dispute over the landscaping fees was not resolved at summary judgment, the bad faith claim made by the insured was dismissed, Judge Conaboy finding it unthinkable” on the facts that a jury could find State Farm acted in bad faith.

The Court ruled that the issue of delay could be analyzed first by a review of the insuring agreement itself.  Judge Conaboy found that the policy placed a duty on the insured to advance his claim by providing information supporting the claim.  The insured in this case, the Court observed, delayed production of supporting documentation for over a year:

“To succeed on a bad faith claim, a Plaintiff must demonstrate “(1) that the insurer lacked a reasonable basis for denying benefits; and (2) that the insurer knew or recklessly disregarded its lack of reasonable basis.” Verdetto v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Company, 837 F.Supp 2d. 480, 484 (M.D.Pa. 2011), affirmed 510 Fed. Appx. 209, 2013 W.L. 175175 (3d. Cir. 2013)(quoting Klinger v. State Farm Mutual Insurance Company, 115 F.3d 230, 233 (3d. Cir. 1997). In addition, a Plaintiff must demonstrate bad faith by clear and convincing evidence. Polselli v. Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Company, 23 F.3d 747, 751 (3d. Cir. 1994). For an insurance company to show that it had a reasonable basis to deny or delay paying a claim it need not demonstrate that its investigation yielded the correct conclusion, or that its conclusion more likely than not was accurate. Krisa v. Equitable Life Assurance Company, 113 F.Supp 2d. 694, 704 (M.D.Pa. 2000). The insurance company is not required to show that ‘the process by which it reached its conclusion was flawless or that the investigatory methods it employed eliminated possibilities at odds with its conclusion.’ Id. Instead, an insurance company must show that it conducted a review or investigation sufficiently thorough to yield a reasonable foundation for its action. Id. ‘The ‘clear and convincing’ standard requires that the Plaintiff show ‘that the evidence is so clear, direct, weighty and convincing as to enable a clear conviction without hesitation, about whether or not the defendants acted in bad faith,’  citing J.C. Penney Life Insurance Company v. Pilosi, 393 F.3d 356, 367 (3d. Cir. 2004)…. In short, Plaintiffs’ failure to perform their reporting duty under the contract impeded, wittingly or unwittingly, [the insurer’s] investigation of their claim. Thus, the delay in payment for the value of their personal property was a direct result of Plaintiffs’ failure to perform their contractual duties and, as such, may not serve as an appropriate basis for a finding of bad faith on Defendant’s part. Stated another way, Plaintiffs may not now seek to profit due to their lack of action.”

Turner v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., No. 3:15-CV-906, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 81922 (M.D. Pa. May 30, 2017) (Conaboy, J.)

 

 

Pa. Judge: Bad Faith Case Severed, Jury To Hear Common Law Bad Faith Claims

Witness_stand_in_a_courtroom

Pennsylvania’s  Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas has denied a motion to stay of discovery in a  bad faith case pending completion of a UIM case, but has also ordered severance of trial of the bad faith claims under which common law bad faith claims will be tried by a jury, and statutory bad faith claims will be tried by the judge.

In Madeja v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co., No. 5493 of 2016 (C.P. Westmoreland Co. April 11, 2017 Scherer, J.), the plaintiffs advanced both common law bad faith claims and statutory bad faith claims,  The trial court ordered those claims severed from the underlying UIM claim.  In a bit of a quirk, however, the court ruled that depending on the verdict returned on the UIM claim,  the common law bad faith claims would be heard with the same jury that determined the UIM claim while the court would hear the statutory bad faith claim on a non-jury basis.

A copy of the trial court order can be found here.

Editor’s note:  The trial court order in this case points out the somewhat unique nature of bad faith law in Pennsylvania — it is a two-headed creature with both a common law component and a statutory law component.  In this writer’s experience, trials of both statutory and common law bad faith claims is not the norm — statutory bad faith claims are usually singly tried to the bench in state court.  The court order in question sets up for a potentially unruly and cumbersome bad faith trail, given the likelihood of overlapping evidence presented on the common law and statutory bad faith claims.   The Court might streamline the process by simply taking evidence in a single bad faith proceeding, and then letting the jury render a verdict on the common law claims, with the Court issuing a decision on the statutory bad faith claims. 

The ruling could serve as an incentive to the plaintiffs’ bar to not only plead common law bad faith claims, but seek trial of those claims in an effort to work around what has traditionally been the province of the trial judge in bad faith cases. 

 

 

.

 

Disagreement Over ACV Estimate Insufficient To Support Bad Faith Claim, Judge Rules

arson

PITTSBURGH, March 2  —  An ACV basis estimate upon which a homeowners’ claims offer was made by State Farm Insurance  did not lack a reasonable basis, a federal judge ruled in dismissing the homeowners bad faith claim.  In Randy Gowton v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon dismissed Gowton’s bad faith claim against State Farm, finding that the  insured  failed to show that his insurer’s offer to settle “was not supported by a thorough and even-handed investigation.”

Gowton sustained damage to his home in a fire, and submitted an estimate from his contractor to State Farm for a replacement cost benefit of $293,911.80.  After performing its own inspection, State Farm offered just $112,694.50, based on a replacement cost estimate of $187,874.50, less  depreciation of $75,180.15.  Gowton’s policy was payable on an “actual cash value benefits” basis.

Gowton sued State Farm in the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas, and after removing the case to federal court, State Farm moved to dismiss the bad faith count.  A breach of contract count had previously been dismissed by Judge Bissoon on statute of limitations grounds.

Judge Bissoon held that mere disagreement on the value of a claim following a reasonable investigation could not support a claim for bad faith:

“Gowton has failed to allege any facts to suggest that State Farm’s settlement offer lacked a reasonable basis or was not supported by a thorough and even-handed investigation… Significantly, Gowton’s response brief reiterates that he is not alleging that State Farm was dilatory, failed to communicate, performed an unsatisfactory or biased investigation or unreasonably delayed in considering his claim.  Rather, Gowton simply alleges that State Farm’s estimate was per se unreasonable for no other reason than that it differed from his own.. In the absence of any supporting facts from which it might be inferred that the company’s investigation was biased or unreasonable, this type of disagreement in an insurance case is ‘not unusual,’ and ‘cannot, without more, amount to bad faith.”

“This conclusion is bolstered by an examination of the exhibits referenced throughout Gowton’s Amended Complaint.  State Farm performed an initial inspection of the property only two days after the damage occurred and provided a detailed, 38-page estimate within a month thereafter.  State Farm’s estimate contains a room-by-room assessment of the damage; detailed measurements; design drawings; materials analysis; and line by line estimates of the cost and depreciation of the construction materials necessary to rebuild the home.  This is precisely the type of thorough and adequate investigation that vitiates a claim of bad faith.”

Randy Gowton v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., et al., No. 15-1164, W.D. Pa., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29390 (Bissoon, J.)

Breach of Contract, Bad Faith Cases Dismissed In Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH, Feb. 5 – Chief District Magistrate Judge Maureen Kelly has dismissed breach of contract and bad faith claims against State Farm by an insured contractor, finding that the underlying allegations of damage caused by the contractor fell outside of policy period.

Reginella Construction was insured under a contractor’s liability policy with State Farm between July 2004 and May 2006.  In 2013, a homeowner filed suit against Reginella complaining of problems with the floor, caused by poor materials and workmanship.  The homeowner subsequently won the underlying case against Reginella.  State Farm denied defense and indemnity to Reginella in February 2014, claiming that the occurrence per the suit against Reginella fell outside of the policy period(s).

After Reginella sued State Farm in Allegheny County, Pa. in 2015, State Farm removed the case to federal court and filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to F.R.C.P. 12(b)(6).

“Although the cause of the damages to the Eck home was arguably within the coverage period, ‘the cause of injury . . . has no special relevance to determining the date an insurance policy is triggered, unless specifically required by the language of the applicable policy of insurance.’ Where, as here, there is no policy language requiring the cause of injury to be identified, Pennsylvania courts apply the ‘first manifestation rule’ to occurrence policies; that is, the court looks to when injury is ‘reasonably apparent,’ i.e., when it is first manifested.”

Judge Kelly granted State Farm’s motion to dismiss, based on the first manifestation rule and the allegations of the underlying complaint against Reginella, the damage caused by Reginella’s conduct fell outside of the applicable policy period.

Because the Court found that State Farm’s coverage position was supported by a “plain reading” of the policy provisions, it dismissed bad faith claims against State Farm as well.

Reginella Construction Co., Inc. v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., (W.D. Pa. Feb 5. 2016)(Kelly, C.M.J.)