Insurance companies always want to litigate cases in Federal Court. The Judges and rules related to proceedings tend to skew in favor of insurance companies. Here is a 2020 opinion where the insured actually got a favorable ruling. The opinion is from the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, and is styled, Caramba, Inc. v. Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Company.
Caramba is the named insured under a Nationwide policy.
Caramba filed a claim for damages after Hurricane Harvey in August 2017. On August 27, 2020, Nationwide filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c).
Rule 12(c) provides that “after the pleadings are closed — but early enough not to delay trial — a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” This Rule is enforced by a 2019, 5th Circuit opinion. The standard for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) is the same as that for dismissal for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6). The motion should not be granted unless the plaintiff would not be entitled to relief under any set of facts that he could prove consistent with the complaint.
Caramba filed this lawsuit in Texas state court, subject to Texas pleading requirements. Nationwide filed an Answer while the case was pending in state court,asserting a general denial and a single affirmative defense. Specifically, Nationwide asserted the defense that “Plaintiff failed to give proper notice under Texas Insurance Code, Section 542A.003, precluding or limiting any right Plaintiff may have to recover attorney’s fees. Nationwide did not challenge the sufficiency of the allegations in Caramba’s state court Petition.
Following removal to federal court, the parties filed a Joint Discovery/Case Management Plan. In response to the question asking each party to identify any “threshold issues that are or likely will be asserted by each party,” Nationwide stated “Nationwide denies that it has breached any duty to Plaintiff, contractual or otherwise, and denies that it is liable for any damages claimed by Plaintiff in this lawsuit.” Nationwide did not identify the adequacy of Caramba’s pleading as an issue it was likely to assert.
On November 13, 2019, Nationwide filed its First Amended Answer. Although Nationwide asserted sixteen affirmative defenses, none challenged the sufficiency of Caramba’s allegations under Rule 12(b)(6) or Rule 12(c).
On August 27, 2020, Nationwide filed the pending Motion challenging for the first time the adequacy of the allegations in Caramba’s pleading. At that point, Nationwide had designated relevant experts and conducted discovery. The parties’ Joint Pretrial Order was due in less than two months, and docket call was scheduled for October 29, 2020. The Joint Pretrial Order deadline and the docket call setting have been extended twice as a result of Nationwide’s pending motions, with docket call currently scheduled for January 20, 2021. Rule 12(c) requires that a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings be filed “early enough not to delay trial.” If the Court were to grant Nationwide’s Rule 12(c) Motion, it would permit Plaintiff to amend its pleading. As a result, the Motion was filed at a time when it would necessarily delay trial. As a result, the Court denies Nationwide’s 12(c) Motion.
A small win in Federal Court by the insured.