Abrams v. Nationwide Affinty Insurance Company of America
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER: IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Nationwide's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Petition, or in the Alternative, to Strike and/or for a More Definite Statement (Doc. 4 ) is DENIED. Signed by Magistrate Judge Shirley P. Mensah on 2/3/16. (ARL)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
MARK A. ABRAMS
NATIONWIDE AFFINITY INSURANCE
COMPANY OF AMERICA,
Cause No. 4:15-CV01445-SPM
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Petition, or in the
Alternative, to Strike and/or for a More Definite Statement, filed by Defendant Nationwide
Affinity Insurance Company of America (hereinafter “Nationwide”) (Doc. 4). The parties have
consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636. (Doc. 9). For the reasons stated below, the Court will deny Nationwide’s motion.
FACTUAL BACKGROUND 1
On February 21, 2014, Plaintiff Mark A. Abrams (“Plaintiff”) was injured in an
automobile accident caused by Mark Cox, who was operating his vehicle in a careless and
negligent manner. At the time of the accident, Plaintiff was an insured person under a policy of
automobile liability insurance issued by Defendant Nationwide. The policy included
Underinsured Motorists Coverage that obligated Nationwide to pay compensatory damages to an
insured person for bodily injury damages caused by the negligent operation of an underinsured
vehicle. At the time of the accident, Mr. Cox was the operator of an underinsured motor vehicle
The facts in this section are taken from Plaintiff’s Petition and are accepted as true for purposes
of the instant motion.
as defined by the policy. In July of 2014, Plaintiff submitted a demand for Underinsured
Motorist benefits under his policy to Nationwide in the amount of $100,000, accompanied by his
medical records and bills associated with the aforementioned accident and documentation of his
future medical expenses. Plaintiff alleges that Nationwide has unreasonably, unjustifiably, and
vexatiously refused to meet Plaintiff’s demand.
On August 14, 2015, Plaintiff filed a petition in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis,
State of Missouri, praying for judgment in the amount of $100,000, together with appropriate
penalties, interest, costs, and reasonable attorney’s fees pursuant to Mo. Rev. Stat. § 375.420.
(Doc. 3). On November 21, 2015, Defendant removed the case to this Court. (Doc. 1). On
September 28, 2015, Defendant Nationwide filed the instant motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s petition
for failure to state a claim under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). In the alternative, Defendant moves for
a more definite statement pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(e). 2 Plaintiff opposes Nationwide’s
A. Motion to Dismiss
Nationwide moves to dismiss Plaintiff’s petition on a single ground: that Plaintiff failed
to allege sufficient facts to state a claim of vexatious refusal under Mo. Rev. Stat. § 375.420.
Defendant argues that Plaintiff does not allege facts, but only legal conclusions. After review of
Plaintiff’s allegations, the Court disagrees and finds Plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts to state a
claim for vexatious refusal to pay.
Although Nationwide indicates in the headings of its motion that it also moves to strike
Plaintiff’s petition, Nationwide makes no arguments in support of striking any part of the
Petition and does not cite or discuss the rules applicable to a motion to strike. Thus, to the extent
that Nationwide is seeking to strike any part of the petition, the motion is denied.
When ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true all of the
factual allegations in the complaint, but it need not accept legal conclusions. Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient
factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Id.
(quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim satisfies the plausibility
standard “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. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S.
“To establish a claim for vexatious refusal to pay pursuant to Section 375.420, the
plaintiff must show that the insurance company’s refusal to pay the loss was willful and without
reasonable cause or excuse.” Merseal v. Farm Bureau Town & Country Ins. Co. of Mo, 396
S.W.3d 467, 473 (Mo. App. E.D. 2013) (citing Watters v. Travel Guard Intl., 136 S.W.3d 100,
108 (Mo. App. E.D. 2004)). Plaintiff alleges that he suffered injuries covered by his Nationwide
insurance policy, that he demanded payment along with supporting documentation, and that
Nationwide has “unreasonably, unjustifiably, and vexatiously refused to meet Plaintiff’s
demand.” Those facts are sufficient to plausibly suggest that Nationwide’s refusal to pay was
willful and without reasonable cause or excuse. Indeed, it is unclear what additional facts a
plaintiff in his situation could plead at this stage, prior to discovery that would shed light on the
insurer’s specific reasoning and motivations.
Because Plaintiff’s allegations, taken as true, are sufficient “to state a claim to relief that
is plausible on its face” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, Defendant Nationwide’s Motion to Dismiss
will be denied.
B. Motion for a More Definite Statement
In the alternative to its motion to dismiss, Nationwide argues that the Court should order
Plaintiff to file a more definite and certain statement of his claim against Nationwide. It argues
that Plaintiff fails to sufficiently identify the “who, what, when, where, and how” of the alleged
vexatious refusal, leaving the claim so ambiguous that Nationwide cannot reasonably respond.
After review of the petition, the Court disagrees and will deny the motion.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e) states that a party may move for a more definite
statement if a pleading “is so vague or ambiguous that a party cannot reasonably prepare a
response.” The party filing the motion “must point out the defects complained of and the details
desired.” Greater St. Louis Const. Laborers Welfare Fund v. Johnson Flatwork & Finishing,
Inc., No. 4:08-CV-1408 CAS, 2009 WL 1383849, 1 (E.D. Mo. May 14, 2009).
As discussed above, a Plaintiff alleging vexation refusal under Missouri law must show
that “the insurance company’s refusal to pay the loss was willful and without reasonable cause or
excuse.” Merseal, 396 S.W.3d at 473. To competently respond to an alleged vexatious refusal
claim, an insurance company need merely show reasonable cause or excuse for the refusal to
pay. Plaintiff alleges that he is insured under a particular insurance policy, that he was injured in
an accident on a particular date, that he submitted a demand related to those injuries under the
policy (with supporting documentation) to Nationwide on a particular date, and that Nationwide
unreasonably and unjustifiably refused to meet the demand. These allegations are not “vague or
ambiguous,” and they are certainly sufficient to permit Defendant to respond to the petition—for
example, by showing that there was a reason for not meeting the demand. The Court therefore
will deny Nationwide’s motion for a more definite statement.
As discussed above, Plaintiff has alleged facts sufficient to state a claim against
Nationwide, and his allegations are not so vague or ambiguous that Defendant cannot reasonably
prepare a response to them. Accordingly,
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Nationwide’s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Petition,
or in the Alternative, to Strike and/or for a More Definite Statement (Doc. 4) is DENIED.
SHIRLEY PADMORE MENSAH
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Dated this 3rd day of February, 2016.
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