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Lawson v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co.

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

May 15, 2015



KATHERINE P. NELSON, Magistrate Judge.

This action is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss Second and Third Causes of Action (Doc. 7) filed by Defendant State Farm Fire and Casualty Company ("State Farm"). State Farm moves for dismissal of these causes of action for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), or in the alternative for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1).

This motion has been fully briefed ( see Docs. 7, 18, 21) and is ripe for adjudication ( see Doc. 11). By the consent of the parties ( see Doc. 16), the Court has designated the undersigned Magistrate Judge to conduct all proceedings in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 73. ( See Doc. 20). Upon consideration, and for the reasons stated herein, the Court finds that the motion is due to be DENIED in part and GRANTED in part, with leave given to file an amended complaint, as set out.

I. Facts

On November 12, 2013, Plaintiff Teresa Lawson ("Lawson") was operating her vehicle at the intersection of Jupiter St. and Michigan Ave. in Foley, Alabama, and had brought her vehicle to a complete stop, when a vehicle traveling immediately behind her failed to stop at the intersection, thereby striking Plaintiff's vehicle in the rear. The vehicle then stopped and the occupants informed Lawson that they had called the police. After that, the occupants reentered their vehicle and drove off without providing Lawson with any information. Eventually Lawson learned that the police were never called. She eventually filed a police report, and made a claim with State Farm. On October 29, 2014, State Farm denied Lawson's claim for payment under her UM contract. State Farm stated, "Our investigation has determined that you did not comply with the policy provisions of filing a police report within 24 hours of the loss. Therefore, the Uninsured Motorist Coverage will not extend to this loss."[1]

II. Procedural History

On December 17, 2014, Lawson filed a complaint against State Farm in the Circuit Court of Baldwin County, Alabama, alleging claims for uninsured/underinsured motorist ("UM/UIM") coverage ("First Cause of Action")[2] and bad faith ("Second" and "Third Cause[s] of Action") arising from State Farm's failure to pay UM/UIM benefits to her pursuant to an insurance policy she held with State Farm. (See Doc. 1-1 at 2-6). On January 22, 2015, Defendant removed the case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441 and 1446. (See generally Doc. 1). Removal was timely pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1446, and the Court has original jurisdiction due to diversity pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. (Doc. 22).

Following removal, State Farm filed the present motion to dismiss Lawson's bad faith causes of action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or, alternatively, under Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (Doc. 7) Because this Court must first have subject matter jurisdiction before it can address the merits of Lawson's claims under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court will address State Farm's arguments under Rule 12(b)(1) first.

III. Analysis

A. Applicable Law

Before addressing the parties' substantive contentions, the Court must decide what substantive law governs the claims in this diversity action. "A federal court in a diversity case is required to apply the laws, including principles of conflict of laws, of the state in which the federal court sits." Manuel v. Convergys Corp., 430 F.3d 1132, 1139 (11th Cir. 2005) (citing Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Elec. Mfg. Co., 313 U.S. 487, 496 (1941)).

Alabama law follows the traditional conflict-of-law principles of lex loci contractus and lex loci delicti. See Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Wheelwright, 851 So.2d 466 (Ala. 2002). Under the principles of lex loci contractus, a contract is governed by the law of the jurisdiction within which the contract is made. Cherry, Bekaert & Holland v. Brown, 582 So.2d 502 (Ala.1991). Under the principle of lex loci delicti, an Alabama court will determine the substantive rights of an injured party according to the law of the state where the injury occurred. Fitts v. Minnesota Mining & Mfg. Co., 581 So.2d 819 (Ala.1991).

Lifestar Response of Alabama, Inc. v. Admiral Ins. Co., 17 So.3d 200, 213 (Ala. 2009) (footnote omitted).

Here, Lawson's injuries all appear to have occurred in Alabama. The parties apply Alabama law in their briefing, and neither has argued that the law of any other jurisdiction should apply to Lawson's claims. Therefore, the Court will apply Alabama law to the bad faith claims at issue.

B. Rule 12(b)(1) Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Ripeness

1. Standard of Review

As the Eleventh Circuit has explained the standard on motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction:

Attacks on subject matter jurisdiction under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) come in two forms. "Facial attacks" on the complaint "require the court merely to look and see if the plaintiff has sufficiently alleged a basis of subject matter jurisdiction, and the allegations in his complaint are taken as true for the purposes of the motion." Menchaca v. Chrysler Credit Corp., 613 F.2d 507, 511 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 953, 101 S.Ct. 358, 66 L.Ed.2d 217 (1980) (citing Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir.1977)). "Factual attacks, " on the other hand, challenge "the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in fact, irrespective of the pleadings, and matters outside the pleadings, such as testimony and affidavits, are considered." Id.
These two forms of attack differ substantially. On a facial attack, a plaintiff is afforded safeguards similar to those provided in opposing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion-the court must consider the allegations of the complaint to be true. Williamson v. Tucker, 645 F.2d 404, 412 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 454 U.S. 897, 102 S.Ct. 396, 70 L.Ed.2d 212 (1981). But when the attack is factual, the trial court may proceed as it never could under 12(b)(6) or Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Because at issue in a factual 12(b)(1) motion is the trial court's jurisdiction-its very power to hear the case-there is substantial authority that the trial court is free to weigh the evidence and satisfy itself as to the existence of its power to hear the case. In short, no presumptive truthfulness attaches to plaintiff's ...

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