Walker et al v. The Hartford Insurance Company et al

Filing 19

ORDER denying Defendants' 12 13 Motions to dismiss or substitute and amend the case caption. Plaintiffs granted 30 days to amend their complaint. Signed by U.S. District Judge John C Coughenour. (PM) cc: plaintiffs

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THE HONORABLE JOHN C. COUGHENOUR 1 2 3 4 5 6 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON AT SEATTLE 7 8 9 GLEN WALKER and PATRICIA B'HYMER, 10 CASE NO. C17-1201-JCC ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS Plaintiffs, 11 v. 12 THE HARTFORD INSURANCE COMPANY and HARTFORD EMPLOYEES, CARRIE STILL AND JANE JOHNSON, 13 14 15 Defendants. 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 This matter comes before the Court on Defendant the Hartford Insurance Company’s motion to dismiss or substitute and amend the caption (Dkt. Nos. 12) and Defendants Carrie Still and Jane Johnson’s motion to dismiss (Dkt. No. 13). Having thoroughly considered the parties’ briefing and the relevant record, the Court finds oral argument unnecessary and hereby DENIES Defendants’ motions for the reasons explained herein. I. BACKGROUND Plaintiffs Glen Walker and Patricia B’Hymer, acting pro se, filed a complaint in King County Superior Court on April 26, 2017 and an amended complaint on July 14, 2017, naming 25 as defendants the “Hartford Insurance Company” and employees Carrie Still and Jane Johnson. 26 Plaintiffs’ complaint alleges that the Harford Insurance Company falsely denied their insurance ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS PAGE - 1 1 claims for the theft and destruction of a number of their vehicles and acted in bad faith in doing 2 so, causing Plaintiffs emotional distress. (Dkt. No. 1-1 at 1.) The Washington State Insurance 3 Commissioner accepted service of the amended complaint on behalf of Twin City Fire Insurance 4 Company (“Twin City”). (Dkt. No. 13 at 2.) Defendants removed the case to federal court on 5 August 9, 2017 (Dkt. No. 3.) Defendants Still and Johnson now move to be dismissed as parties. 6 (Dkt. No. 13.) The Hartford Insurance Company moves to dismiss the complaint or to substitute 7 Twin City and amend the case caption to reflect this substitution. (Dkt. No. 12.) Plaintiff’s reply 8 requests and additional thirty days to retain an attorney and amend the complaint. (Dkt. No. 15.) 9 II. DISCUSSION 10 A. Rule 12(b)(6) Standard 11 A defendant may move for dismissal when a plaintiff “fails to state a claim upon which 12 relief can be granted.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). On a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court 13 accepts all factual allegations in the complaint as true and construes them in the light most 14 favorable to the non-moving party. Vasquez v. L.A. County, 487 F.3d 1246, 1249 (9th Cir. 2007). 15 To survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must cite facts supporting a “plausible” cause of 16 action. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555–56 (2007). A claim has “facial 17 plausibility” when the party seeking relief “pleads factual content that allows the Court to draw 18 the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. 19 Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 672 (2009) (internal quotations omitted). The Rule 8 pleading standard 20 “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations,’ but it demands more than an unadorned, the- 21 defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citation omitted). 22 Plaintiffs who proceed pro se “must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings 23 drafted by lawyers.” Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010). Additionally, pro se 24 litigants are entitled to notice of deficiencies in a complaint and leave to amend before a district 25 court can dismiss such a complaint. Ferdik v. Bonzelet, 963 F.2d 1258, 1261 (9th Cir. 1992). 26 ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS PAGE - 2 1 B. 2 Defendants move to dismiss claims against “Hartford Insurance Company,” asserting that 3 this company is not a legal entity in existence and did not issue the policy at issue. (Dkt. No. 12.) 4 In the alternative, Defendant asks the Court to substitute Twin Cities as the named defendant. 5 (Id.) Defendants’ corporate disclosure statement identifies Twin City as the underwriting 6 company that issued the policy. (Dkt. No. 4 at 1.) Twin City is owned by Hartford Fire Insurance 7 Company, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hartford Financial Services Group. (Id.) 8 Claims against Hartford Insurance Company The Court considers this motion in the context of the recent removal of the case to federal 9 court, and Plaintiffs’ current pro se status and request for time to amend the complaint. (Dkt. 10 Nos. 1, 15). In light of these circumstances, the Court will grant Plaintiffs leave to amend the 11 complaint and name a legal entity that may be sued. Plaintiffs have thirty (30) days from the 12 issuance of this order to amend the complaint. 13 C. Claims against Employees Carrie Still and Jane Johnson 14 Plaintiffs’ complaint names Defendants Carrie Still and Jane Johnson, who are employed 15 by the Hartford Fire Insurance Company and work respectively as an investigator and claims 16 team leader for Twin City. (Dkt. Nos. 5, 6, 13 at 2.) Still and Johnson assert they have not yet 17 been served in this action. (Dkt. No. 13 at 2.) 18 Defendants move to dismiss the complaint against them because it fails to state a claim 19 upon which relief can be granted and cannot be rectified by amendment. (Dkt. No. 13 at 3); see 20 Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(b)(6). The complaint alleges generally that Hartford Insurance falsely 21 denied Plaintiffs’ insurance claims in bad faith and caused them emotional distress by doing so. 22 (Dkt. No. 1-1.) The complaint does not put forward specific allegations against Still or Johnson, 23 other than stating that Walker met with Still and offered to provide evidence about his claim, 24 which Still stated she did not need at the time. (Id.) 25 26 Courts in this district have held that under Washington consumer protection and insurance fair conduct acts and tort law, when an employee adjuster of an insurance company ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS PAGE - 3 1 acts as an agent of the company and within the scope of employment, she is generally not subject 2 to liability for bad faith or negligence in the company’s denial of an insurance claim. See 3 International Ultimate, Inc. v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 87 P.3d 774, 786˗87 (Ct. App. 4 Wash. 2004); Garoutte v. American Family Mut. Ins. Co., Case No. C12-1787-MJP, Dkt. No. 23 5 at 3 (W.D. Wash. 2013). Plaintiffs’ complaint does not allege that Still or Johnson acted as more 6 than adjusters or agents of the insurance company and does not allege they took actions outside 7 the scope of their employment that would make them liable to Plaintiffs. (See Dkt. No. 1-1.) 8 9 Taking into account Plaintiffs’ pro se status and request for time to amend, the Court will grant Plaintiffs thirty (30) days in which to file an amended complaint either dismissing 10 Defendants Still and Johnson or stating a cognizable claim against Defendants. 11 III. 12 CONCLUSION For the foregoing reasons, Defendants’ motions to dismiss or substitute and amend the 13 case caption are DENIED (Dkt. Nos. 12, 13). Plaintiffs are GRANTED an additional thirty (30) 14 days from the issuance of this order to amend their complaint. If Plaintiffs fail to satisfactorily do 15 so, Defendants may renew their motion to dismiss. 16 DATED this 10th day of October 2017. 19 A 20 John C. Coughenour UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 17 18 21 22 23 24 25 26 ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS PAGE - 4

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