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Thomas v. National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, PA

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Eastern Division

April 11, 2019

JABBAR THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
NATIONAL UNION FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY OF PITTSBURGH, PA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          W. KEITH WATKINS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This case, an insurance action under Alabama law, contains three claims: breach of contract, bad faith, and fraud. The breach of contract claim, as the name implies, is an action in contract. The bad faith and fraud claims sound in tort. Defendant moves to dismiss the fraud claim because it is based on no more than an alleged breach of the insurance policy. Thus, the court must decide whether Plaintiff may assert the tort of fraud solely based on Defendant's failure to pay insurance benefits. He may not. Plaintiff's fraud count thus does not state a claim.

         I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

         Defendant, a Pennsylvania citizen, removed this case to federal court on November 21, 2018, based on diversity. Plaintiff, an Alabama citizen, did not move to remand. The court finds that the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.

         Subject-matter jurisdiction is therefore proper under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441(a) and 1332 (removal and diversity). The parties do not contest personal jurisdiction or venue.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Although Defendant moved to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), it filed an answer first. (Doc. # 6.) That is not allowed under Rule 12. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b) (“A motion asserting any of these defenses must be made before pleading if a responsive pleading is allowed.”). Thus, the court construes Defendant's motion as one for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c). See Weeks v. Wyeth, Inc., 120 F.Supp.3d 1278, 1282-83 (M.D. Ala. 2015). The standards for assessing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion and a Rule 12(c) motion are identical. Id. at 1283.

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the complaint against Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. Rule 8 provides that the complaint must include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). When evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must take the facts alleged in the complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Resnick v. AvMed, Inc., 693 F.3d 1317, 1321-22 (11th Cir. 2012). However, the court need not accept mere legal conclusions as true. Id. at 1325.

         To survive a 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is also permitted “when on the basis of a dispositive issue of law, no construction of the factual allegations will support the cause of action.” Marshall Cty. Bd. of Educ. v. Marshall Cty. Gas Dist., 992 F.2d 1171, 1174 (11th Cir. 1993); see also Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326-27 (1989) (explaining that the rule allows a court “to dismiss a claim on the basis of a dispositive issue of law”).

         III. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Jabbar Thomas, a truck driver, injured his head when he was working on the underside of his tractor. He claimed benefits for medical expenses and lost wages under the policy he held with Defendant National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Defendant denied him those benefits. This lawsuit followed.

         Plaintiff sued for breach of contract, bad faith, and fraud. His fraud claim is based on Defendant's representations that if Plaintiff had “an accident during the policy period, he would be entitled to benefits under the policy, ” and that he “would receive benefits pursuant to the subject policy as a result of a covered loss.” (Doc. # 1-1, at 5, 6.) Since Defendant ended up denying Plaintiff's benefits claim, Plaintiff alleges that those representations were fraudulent.

         Defendant moved to dismiss the fraud claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim and Rule 9(b) for failure to plead fraud with particularity. (Doc. # 7.) Defendant argues that, under Alabama law, Plaintiff's fraud claim merely restates his breach of contract claim in different terms and is thus not independently actionable. Defendant is correct. Its motion to dismiss (Doc. # 7) will therefore be granted.

         IV. ...


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