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Kurz v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage

September 19, 2017


          OPINION [DKT. NO. 15]

          RENÉE MARIE BUMB, United States District Judge

         This matter comes before the Court upon the filing of a Motion to Dismiss [Dkt. No. 15] by Defendant State Farm Fire and Casualty Company (“State Farm” or “Defendant”). State Farm seeks to dismiss Plaintiffs John E. Kurz and Michelle Kurz's (the “Plaintiffs”) Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         The following facts are taken from Plaintiffs' Complaint and are accepted as true for the purposes of this review.

         Plaintiffs own the real property located at 397 Friendship Road (a/k/a 102 Harmony Road), Clarksboro, New Jersey (the “Property”) and have resided there at all times relevant to this case. (Compl. ¶ 1, 3, 8). On August 28, 2011, Hurricane Irene hit New Jersey, resulting in high wind speeds that damaged the Property. (Id. at ¶ 3). On October 29-30, 2012, just over a year after Hurricane Irene hit New Jersey, Hurricane Sandy struck the state. (Id. at ¶ 8). The winds from the Hurricane also caused damage to the Property. (Id.)

         At the time of each of these storms, Plaintiffs had a homeowner's insurance policy issued by Defendant, Policy Number 30-CD-3885-0 (the “Policy”). (Id. at ¶ 4, 9). The Policy was effective as of March 19, 2011, and had a one-year policy period subject to automatic annual renewal upon payment of the required premiums. (Id. at ¶ 14). Plaintiffs made claims under this policy after both Hurricane Irene (claim number 30-Y012-157) and Hurricane Sandy (claim number 30-3K75-117). (Id. at ¶ 5, 10). Defendant denied portions of both of these claims. (Id. at ¶ 5, 6, 11, 12).

         On October 11, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a six-count Complaint in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Civil Part, Gloucester County (Docket Number GLO-L-1232-16) seeking declaratory judgments as to coverage for the damage to the Property from Hurricane Irene (Count I) and Hurricane Sandy (Count II), and alleging breach of contract (Count III), breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing (Count IV), unjust enrichment (Count V), and “any and all additional causes of action as are permitted under the laws of the State of New Jersey, its statutes and common law” (Count VI). Plaintiffs' claims each boil down to the following contention: Defendant wrongly refused to provide Plaintiffs with the coverage to which they were entitled under the Policy.

         On November 21, 2016, Defendant removed the case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441 and 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). Defendant filed this Motion to Dismiss on February 1, 2017, seeking, under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), an Order dismissing Plaintiffs' Complaint in its entirety or, in the alternative, dismissing Counts IV, V, and VI, along with Plaintiffs' claims for consequential damages and attorney's fees. Plaintiffs filed their opposition on February 21, 2017.

         II. Legal Standard

         To withstand a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), “a 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 Atlantic 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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 662. “[A]n unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation” does not suffice to survive a motion to dismiss. Id. at 678. “[A] plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)).

         In reviewing a plaintiff's allegations, the district court “must accept as true all well-pled factual allegations as well as all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them, and construe those allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Bistrian v. Levi, 696 F.3d 352 n.1 (3d Cir. 2012). When undertaking this review, courts are limited to the allegations found in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and undisputedly authentic documents that form the basis of a claim. See In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997); Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993).

         Under New Jersey law, “determination of the proper coverage of an insurance contract is a question of law.” Cnty. of Gloucester v. Princeton Ins. Co., 317 Fed.Appx. 156, 159 (3d Cir. 2008). “[T]he first step in examining an insurance contract is to determine whether an ambiguity exists.” Pittston Co. Ultramar America Ltd. v. Allianz Ins. Co., 124 F.3d 508, 520 (3d Cir. 1997). An ambiguity exists when “the phrasing of the policy is so confusing that the average policyholder cannot make out the boundaries of coverage.” Weedo v. Stone-E-Brick, Inc., 81 N.J. 233, 247, 405 A.2d 788 (1979). In determining whether an ambiguity exists, it is also important to remember that insurance contracts are generally viewed as contracts of adhesion, and accordingly, ambiguities in their language are interpreted against the drafter. Cnty. of Gloucester, 317 Fed.Appx. at 161.

         “When the terms of an insurance contract are clear, [however, ] it is the function of a court to enforce it as written and not make a better contract for either of the parties.” Kampf v. Franklin Life Ins. Co., 33 N.J. 36, 43, 161 A.2d 717 (1960) (internal citation omitted). Moreover, “[a]bsent statutory [prohibitions], an insurance company has the right to impose whatever conditions it desires prior to assuming its obligations and such provisions should be construed in accordance with the language used.” Id.

         III. Analysis

         In support of its Motion to Dismiss, Defendant raises the following arguments:

(1) Any claims with respect to coverage for damage caused by Hurricane Irene (Counts I, III, IV, V) are time-barred by the “Suit Against Us” provision in the Policy;
(2) Any claims with respect to coverage for damage caused by Hurricane Sandy (Counts II, III, IV, V) are barred under the Policy because Plaintiffs failed to cooperate with Defendant and provide all required information, as mandated by the “Duties ...

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