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Black v. American Family Mutual Insurance Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Iowa, Central Division

April 18, 2018

TYCHA BLACK, Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN FAMILY MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Leonard T. Strand, Chief Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This case is before me on a motion (Doc. No. 3) to dismiss, or in the alternative, motion for a more definite statement, by defendant American Family Mutual Insurance Company (American Family). Plaintiff Tycha Black (Black) has filed a resistance (Doc. No. 8) and American Family has filed a reply (Doc. No. 10). I find that oral argument is not necessary. See Local Rule 7(c).

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Black filed her petition on February 6, 2018, in the Iowa District Court for Webster County alleging breach of contract (Count I), fraud (Count II) and libel (Count III), arising out of the termination of her agency agreement with American Family. See Doc. No. 6.

         Black alleges she became an agent for American Family on September 26, 2008. See Doc. No. 6 at 1. She entered into an Agent Agreement (the Agreement) with American Family on September 28, 2008. Id. On December 4, 2017, American Family terminated the Agreement. Id. at 1-2. In its termination letter to Black, American Family stated it was terminating the Agreement because she “manipulated company systems in order to provide coverage for a relative's claim.” Id. at 13.

         Invoking federal diversity jurisdiction, American Family removed the case to this court on March 14, 2018, and filed its motion (Doc. No. 3) to dismiss the same day. It alleges Counts II (Fraud) and III (Libel) should be dismissed for failure to state a claim or, alternatively, that Black should be required to submit a more definite statement to which it can properly respond.

         III. APPLICABLE STANDARDS

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorize a pre-answer motion to dismiss for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The Supreme Court has provided the following guidance in considering whether a pleading properly states a claim:

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” As the Court held in [Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)], the pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require “detailed factual allegations, ” but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation. Id., at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286, 106 S.Ct. 2932, 92 L.Ed.2d 209 (1986)). A pleading that offers “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders “naked assertion[s]” devoid of “further factual enhancement.” Id., at 557, 127 S.Ct. 1955.
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., at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955. 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., at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955. The plausibility standard is not akin to a “probability requirement, ” but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Ibid. Where a complaint pleads facts that are “merely consistent with” a defendant's liability, it “stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of ‘entitlement to relief.' ” Id., at 557, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (brackets omitted).

Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009).

         Courts assess “plausibility” by “‘draw[ing] on [their own] judicial experience and common sense.'” Whitney v. Guys, Inc., 700 F.3d 1118, 1128 (8th Cir. 2012) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Also, courts “‘review the plausibility of the plaintiff's claim as a whole, not the plausibility of each individual allegation.'” Id. (quoting Zoltek Corp. v. Structural Polymer Grp., 592 F.3d 893, 896 n. 4 (8th Cir. 2010)). While factual “plausibility” is typically the focus of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, federal courts may dismiss a claim that lacks a cognizable legal theory. See, e.g., Somers v. Apple, Inc., 729 F.3d 953, 959 (9th Cir. 2013); Ball v. Famiglio, 726 F.3d 448, 469 (3d Cir. 2013); Commonwealth Prop. Advocates, L.L.C. v. Mortg. Elec. Registration Sys., Inc., 680 F.3d 1194, 1202 (10th Cir. 2011); accord Target Training Intern., Ltd. v. Lee, 1 F.Supp.3d 927 (N.D. Iowa 2014).

         When a complaint does not state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face, the court must consider whether it is appropriate to grant the pleader an opportunity to replead. The rules of procedure permit a party to respond to a motion to dismiss by amending the challenged pleading “as a matter of course” within 21 days. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1)(B). Thus, when a motion to dismiss highlights deficiencies in a pleading that can be cured by amendment, the pleader has an automatic opportunity to do so. When the pleader fails to take advantage of this opportunity, the question of whether to permit an amendment depends on considerations that include:

whether the pleader chose to stand on its original pleadings in the face of a motion to dismiss that identified the very deficiency upon which the court dismissed the complaint; reluctance to allow a pleader to change legal theories after a prior dismissal; whether the post-dismissal amendment suffers from the same legal or other deficiencies as the ...

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