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State National Insurance Co. v. County of Camden

October 13, 2009

STATE NATIONAL INSURANCE COMPANY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE COUNTY OF CAMDEN AND ASSISTANT COUNTY COUNSEL DONNA WHITESIDE, DEFENDANTS.
THE COUNTY OF CAMDEN, COUNTERCLAIMANT AND THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF,
v.
STATE NATIONAL INSURANCE COMPANY, COUNTERCLAIM-DEFENDANT AND NICHOLAS M. ANDERSON, THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT, AND SCIBAL ASSOCIATES, INC., THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANT AND THIRD-PARTY COUNTERCLAIMANT.
SCIBAL ASSOCIATES, INC., FOURTH-PARTY PLAINTIFF,
v.
DONNA WHITESIDE AND MEADOWBROOK INSURANCE GROUP, FOURTH-PARTY DEFENDANTS.
THE INSURANCE COMPANY OF THE STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA, INTERVENING PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE COUNTY OF CAMDEN AND SCIBAL ASSOCIATES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hillman, District Judge

OPINION

This matter concerns the determination of which entity or person is liable to pay for a multi-million dollar state court jury verdict in favor of a plaintiff who sued the County of Camden, New Jersey for injuries he sustained when he drove off the road and into a guardrail owned and maintained by the County. Presently before the Court are the motions of Assistant County Counsel Donna Whiteside and Meadowbrook Insurance Group to dismiss fourth-party plaintiff Scibal Associates, Inc.'s claims against them. Also before the Court is Whiteside's motion to stay discovery. For the reasons expressed below, Meadowbrook's and Whiteside's motions to dismiss will be granted, and Whiteside's motion to stay discovery will be denied.

BACKGROUND

On December 23, 2004, Nicholas Anderson was driving on Raritan Avenue in Waterford, New Jersey when he drove off the road and hit a guardrail. Anderson sustained serious injuries, including an amputated leg and nearly amputated arm. On December 20, 2006, Anderson filed suit in New Jersey state court against the County of Camden (the "County"), which owned and maintained the road and guardrail. Anderson claimed that the County's negligent maintenance of the road and guardrail were the proximate cause of his injuries. The case went to trial, and on October 17, 2008, the jury returned a $31 million verdict against the County.*fn1

On October 20, 2008, State National Insurance Company ("State National") filed a declaratory judgment action in this Court against the County, seeking a declaration that it does not owe coverage to the County for the Anderson lawsuit under an excess liability insurance contract. State National contends that the County's delay in notifying it of the lawsuit, its repeated representation that the case was within the County's $300,000 self-insured retention, its errors in investigating and defending the case, and its revaluation of the case four days into trial, breached the insurance contract's notice provision and the adequate investigation and defense condition to coverage. In a recently-filed amended complaint, State National also contends that Donna Whiteside, County counsel who handled the Anderson case, committed legal malpractice by not properly defending the County and State National's interests.*fn2

State National's declaratory judgment action has spawned numerous counterclaims, third-party and fourth-party complaints, and an intervening plaintiff complaint.*fn3 Presently before the Court are the motions of Donna Whiteside, County counsel, and Meadowbrook Insurance Group, claims administrator for State National, to dismiss the fourth-party complaint filed against them by Scibal Associates, Inc. ("Scibal"). Scibal is the County's claims administrator. Scibal filed suit against Whiteside and Meadowbrook based on its potential liability to the County. In the County's third-party complaint, the County asserts claims against Scibal for breach of its duties as the County's claims administrator. The County claims that pursuant to their Professional Services Agreement ("PSA"), Scibal agreed to perform services for the County, including reporting all claims to the County's excess carrier and reinsurers in accordance with those entities' reporting requirements and preparing and providing claim reports reasonably required by the excess insurance carriers. The County claims that Scibal breached these duties by failing to notify Meadowbrook that the Anderson lawsuit was filed.*fn4 The County also claims that should it be found liable to State National on its claims against the County, Scibal is partially or fully responsible based on the principles of contribution and indemnification due to Scibal's breach of the PSA.

Based on the County's claims against Scibal, Scibal advances its claims against Whiteside and Meadowbrook.*fn5 Scibal contends that Meadowbrook negligently failed to exercise the proper degree of care in administering the State National policy after Scibal notified it of the Anderson accident in June 2005, and that if Scibal is found liable to the County, Scibal's liability is either joint or secondary to Meadowbrook's liability. Similarly, Scibal contends that Whiteside was negligent in her defense of the Anderson case as well as in her reporting duties to Scibal and Meadowbrook. Scibal claims that if it is found liable to the County, its liability is either joint or secondary to Whiteside's liability. Accordingly, Scibal demands indemnification and contribution from Meadowbrook and Whiteside.

Meadowbrook and Whiteside have moved to dismiss Scibal's claims against them. Scibal has opposed both motions.

DISCUSSION

A. Jurisdiction

This Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 because there is complete diversity of citizenship between the parties and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.

B. Standard for Motion to Dismiss

When considering a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), a court must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 351 (3d Cir. 2005). It is well settled that a pleading is sufficient if it contains "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Under the liberal federal pleading rules, it is not necessary to plead evidence, and it is not necessary to plead all the facts that serve as a basis for the claim. Bogosian v. Gulf Oil Corp., 562 F.2d 434, 446 (3d Cir. 1977). However, "[a]lthough the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not require a claimant to set forth an intricately detailed description of the asserted basis for relief, they do require that the pleadings give defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Baldwin County Welcome Ctr. v. Brown, 466 U.S. 147, 149-50 n.3 (1984) (quotation and citation omitted).

A district court, in weighing a motion to dismiss, asks "'not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claim.'" Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1969 n.8 (2007) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhoades, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) ("Our decision in Twombly expounded the pleading standard for 'all civil actions' . . . ."); Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (stating that the "Supreme Court's Twombly formulation of the pleading standard can be summed up thus: 'stating ... a claim requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest' the required element. This 'does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage,' but instead 'simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary element"). A court need not credit either "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions" in a complaint when deciding a motion to dismiss. In re Burlington ...


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