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Skinner v. Colonial Claims LLC

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

June 4, 2018

WENDY SKINNER, Plaintiff,
v.
COLONIAL CLAIMS, LLC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          T. MICHAEL PUTNAM, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter is before the court on the defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings filed on October 12, 2017. (Doc. 54). The defendant, Colonial Claims Corporation (“Colonial”), [1] seeks to dismiss Counts III and IV of the plaintiff's Amended Complaint. (Doc. 54, p. 1). The motion has been fully briefed, and the parties have consented to dispositive jurisdiction by a United States Magistrate Judge in accordance with 28 U.S.C § 636(c).

         I. STANDARD FOR ASSESSING A MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS

         Colonial seeks dismissal of Counts III and IV[2] pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), which provides that “[a]fter the pleadings are closed - but early enough not to delay trial - a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” “Judgment on the pleadings is appropriate when there are no material facts in dispute, and judgment may be rendered by considering the substance of the pleadings and any judicially noticed facts.” Hawthorne v. Mac Adjustment, Inc., 140 F.3d 1367, 1370 (11th Cir. 1998). The court must “accept all facts in the complaint as true and view them in light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Cannon v. City of West Palm Beach, 250 F.3d 1299, 1301 (11th Cir. 2001); see also Stanton v. Larsh, 239 F.2d 104, 106 (5th Cir. 1956)[3] (“the fact allegations of the complaint are to be taken as true, but those of the answer are taken as true only where and to the extent that they have not been denied or do not conflict with those of the complaint”). To grant the motion, the moving party must be “entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Cannon, 250 F.3d at 1301.

         A Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings is guided by the same principles established to resolve a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. See Hawthorne, 140 F.3d at 1370 (applying the outdated standard for motions to dismiss as set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957), to a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings). The United States Supreme Court in Bell Atlantic v. Twombly abandoned the framework established in Conley and determined that:

While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the “grounds” of his “entitle[ment] to relief” requests more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.

550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations omitted). “[O]nce a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563 (2007). The Supreme Court emphasized, however, that “we do not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, but only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” 550 U.S. at 570.

         The Supreme Court expanded on the Twombly standard when it decided Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009), reiterating the Twombly determination that a claim is insufficiently pleaded if it offers only “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” The Court further explained:

Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice. . . . [O]nly a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss. Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will, as the Court of Appeals observed, be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense. But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not “show[n]”-“that the pleader is entitled to relief.”

Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79 (citation omitted). Accordingly, “the court must evaluate the Rule 12(c) motion in light of the Twombly [and Iqbal] standard, ” which “requires the court to examine and assume as true only the factual allegations set forth in the plaintiff's complaint to determine whether the undisputed factual allegations raise a plausible cause of action.” Floyd v. Corder, No. 2:09-cv-916-TMP, 2010 WL 11520487, at *2-*3 (N.D. Ala. Dec. 6, 2010).

         A. FACTS

         In her complaint, the plaintiff, Wendy Skinner, alleges that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) issued a flood insurance policy to insure her home on May 21, 2015. (Doc. 25, ¶¶ 19, 29; see also FEMA's Answer, doc. 48, ¶ 19). Colonial and FEMA identified the flood insurance policy as a Standard Flood Insurance Policy (“SFIP”) issued by FEMA under the National Flood Insurance Program (“NFIP”). (Doc. 31, ¶¶ 18-19; doc 48, ¶ 19).[4] The plaintiff paid all premiums owed on the policy.

         Later that year, on Christmas day, the plaintiff's home flooded and her personal belongings “were severely damaged as the result of” the flood and water intrusion. (Doc. 25, ¶ 23). After submitting her claim for benefits, Travis Allman, a claims adjustor for Colonial, contacted the plaintiff. FEMA admitted that Colonial “acted as an independent adjustor on [the] [p]laintiff's policy.” (Doc. 48, ¶ 18). Allman represented to the plaintiff that the flood insurance policy would pay her claim, and he directed her to take an inventory of damaged belongings and to remove the damaged belongings from her home. The plaintiff was “repeatedly assured [that] she would be fully compensated for all personal property damaged or lost” because of the flood. (Doc. 25, ¶ 32). However, on February 25, 2016, Allman informed the plaintiff that she would not be reimbursed for the flood damage to her personal property. After communicating with other Colonial agents, the plaintiff “received [a] partial payment for her contents claim under the” flood insurance policy. (Doc. 25, ¶ 37).

         B. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The plaintiff filed the original complaint in the above-styled action in the Circuit Court of Shelby County, Alabama, on December 14, 2016. Wright National Flood Insurance Company and Wright National Flood Insurance Services, LLC (collectively “Wright”), both former defendants, timely removed the complaint on January 20, 2017 (doc. 1), and contemporaneously filed a motion to dismiss (doc. 2).[5] ...


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