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Benson v. Amguard Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. Delaware

June 21, 2017

JALEN BENSON, Plaintiff,
v.
AMGUARD INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          John S. Spadaro, JOHN SHEEHAN SPADARO, LLC, Smyrna, DE Attorney for Plaintiff.

          Thaddeus J. Weaver, DILWORTH PAXSON LLP, Wilmington, DE Attorney for Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          STARK, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court are: (i) Defendant Amguard Insurance Company's ("Defendant" or "Amguard") motion to dismiss Plaintiff Jalen Benson's ("Plaintiff or "Benson") complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) ("Motion to Dismiss"); and (ii) Defendant's motion to strike portions of Plaintiff s complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f) ("Motion to Strike"). (D.I. 4) For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Defendant's Motion to Dismiss and will grant in part and deny in part Defendant's Motion to Strike.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff was employed as a "bagger" at Seaford Ice, Inc., ("Seaford Ice") in May 2015. (See D.I. 1-1 Ex. 1 ¶¶ 3, 8) "In that capacity, [Plaintiffs] job duties required him to bag ice" in Seaford Ice's bagging room. (Id. ¶¶ 8, 10) Ordinarily, ice would flow to the bagging room from the gantry room. (See Id. ¶ 10) However, at times during "the normal course of operations ..., the flow of ice ... to the bagging room would ... be interrupted." (Id. ¶ 13) "When such interruptions occurred, it was not unusual for an employee working in the bagging room to enter the gantry room to determine why the flow of ice had stopped." (Id.) Employees entering the gantry room would walk on a closed metal grate that formed part of the gantry room's floor surface. (See Id. ¶ 12) The metal grate also covered "[a] large augur [that] turn[ed] beneath the floor of the gantry room." (Id.)

         On May 28, 2015, the gantry room's metal grate was left open, and the augur was still turning. (See Id. ¶ 18) Plaintiff "was working in the bagging room ... when the flow of ice from the gantry room to the bagging room was interrupted." (Id. ¶ 17) Thus, as per customary practice (see Id. ¶ 13), Plaintiff "entered the gantry room to determine why the ice flow had stopped" (id. ¶ 17). Unaware and unwarned of the open metal grate and the still-turning augur (see Id. ¶ 18), Plaintiff "proceeded through the gantry room [and] ... accidentally fell into the opening in the floor grate" (id. ¶ 19). "The still-turning augur caused ... injury to [Plaintiff], resulting in [the] amputations of both of [Plaintiffs] legs, along with soft tissue injury and injury to [Plaintiffs] back." (Id.) As a result of his injuries, Plaintiff "was rendered totally disabled from work." (Id. ¶ 20)

         Plaintiff submitted his workers' compensation claim to Defendant - Seaford Ice's insurer - on the same day he was injured. (See Id. ¶¶ 5, 23-26) Defendant denied Plaintiffs claim on July 9, 2015. (See Id. ¶¶ 26, 28) In its letter denying Plaintiffs claim, Defendant stated that Plaintiff was ineligible for benefits because "it appear[ed] that [Plaintiff] was not within the scope of his employment" at the time of his accident. (Id. ¶ 31) (internal quotation marks omitted)

         Plaintiff and Defendant litigated the denial of Plaintiff s workers' compensation claim before the Delaware Industrial Accident Board ('TAB"). (See Id. ¶¶ 16, 42) During the proceedings before the IAB, Defendant "abandoned" its argument that Plaintiff was not within the scope of his employment and instead argued "that [Plaintiffs] accident did not arise in the course of his employment." (Id. ¶ 39) (emphasis omitted) The IAB awarded Plaintiff workers' compensation benefits in October 2015. (See Id. ¶ 42) In doing so, the IAB rejected Defendant's argument, finding "no evidence" that Plaintiff was "working outside the course of his employment... at the time of his ... accident." (Id.) (internal quotation marks omitted)

         In the instant case, Plaintiff challenges Defendant's handling of his workers' compensation claim. (See Id. ¶ 21) Specifically, Plaintiff claims that Defendant's conduct during the claims process and IAB proceedings "evinced a profound indifference to [Plaintiffs] contractual rights, statutory rights, and general well-being, . . . caus[ing] [Plaintiff] egregious harm." (Id. ¶ 43) With respect to his contractual rights, in particular, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant acted in bad faith in arguing that Plaintiffs accident arose outside the course of his employment, because Seaford Ice neither officially nor unofficially barred employees from entering the gantry room. (See Id. ¶¶ 13-16, 53)

         Because of Defendant's allegedly wrongful conduct, Plaintiff filed suit against Defendant in Delaware Superior Court on February 29, 2016. (See Id. at 1, 17) Plaintiffs complaint alleges the following causes of action: declaratory judgment (Count I); bad faith breach of contract (Count II); a violation of the Delaware Consumer Fraud Act, Del. Code Ann. tit. 6, § 2513(a) (Count III); and intentional or reckless infliction of emotional distress (Count IV). (See Id. ¶¶ 48, 53, 56, 61)

         On March 28, 2016, Defendant removed the case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1441, and 1446. (D.I. 1) Subsequently, on March 29, 2016, Defendant filed the instant Motion to Dismiss Counts I and III of Plaintiff s complaint and the instant Motion to Strike portions of Plaintiff s complaint. (D.I. 4)

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Motion to Dismiss

         Evaluating a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) requires the Court to accept as true all material allegations of the complaint. See Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 223 (3d Cir. 2004). "The issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1420 (3d Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, the Court may grant such a motion to dismiss only if, after "accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true, and viewing them in the light most favorable to plaintiff, plaintiff is not entitled to relief." Maio v. Aetna, Inc., 221 F.3d 472, 482 (3d Cir. 2000) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         However, "[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a civil plaintiff must allege facts that 'raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).'" Victaulic Co. v. Tieman,499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal,556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). At bottom, "[t]he complaint must state enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of [each] ...


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