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Mitchell Cohen v. Transportation Insurance Company

August 18, 2011

MITCHELL COHEN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TRANSPORTATION INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Glenn T. Suddaby, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION and ORDER

Currently pending before the Court in this diversity action for breach of contract and deceptive acts or practices, filed by Mitchell Cohen ("Plaintiff") against Transportation Insurance Company ("Defendant"), is Defendant's motion to dismiss the following portions of Plaintiff's Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6): (1) Plaintiff's claim under N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law § 349; (2) in the alternative, Plaintiff's demand for punitive damages on that claim; and (3) any claims asserted by Plaintiff pursuant to N.Y. Ins. Law § 2601 and 11 NYCRR § 216. (Dkt. No. 8, Attach. 6.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted in part and denied in part as moot.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

A. Plaintiff's Complaint

Plaintiff's Complaint asserts the following two claims against Defendant: (1) breach of contract pursuant to New York State common law; and (2) breach of New York State's prohibition against deceptive acts or practices in the conduct of any business pursuant to N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law § 349. (See generally Dkt. No. 1.)

In addition, Plaintiff's Complaint raises the specter of two other claims: (1) a claim that Defendant "has engaged in slanderous and libelous conduct toward the Plaintiff"; and (2) a claim that Defendant has violated N.Y. Ins. Law § 2601 and 11 NYCRR § 216. (Dkt. No. 1, ¶¶ 32, 44, 46.) However, the Court does not even liberally construe Plaintiff's Complaint as intending to assert these two additional claims. The Court reaches this conclusion for three reasons: (1) Plaintiff's allegation that Defendant "has engaged in slanderous and libelous conduct toward the Plaintiff" appears intended to merely support his claim that Defendant breached its contract with Plaintiff; (2) Plaintiff's allegation that Defendant has violated N.Y. Ins. Law § 2601 and 11 NYCRR § 216 appears intended to merely support his claim that Defendant violated N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law § 349; and (3) Plaintiff's counsel expressly states that "Plaintiff's complaint against the defendant alleges two separate and distinct causes of action [i.e., one for breach of contract and one for violation of N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law § 349]." (Id.; Dkt. No. 10 at 2.)

Generally, in support of his claims for breach of contract and breach of N.Y. Gen. Bus. Law § 349, Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that Defendant induced Plaintiff (through materially misleading statements) to renew a property insurance policy (the "Policy"), which Defendant subsequently breached by wrongfully denying Plaintiff's fire-loss insurance claim. (Id.) More specifically, Plaintiff alleges the following facts.

1. Allegations Regarding the Policy

Defendant advertised the Policy to Plaintiff as the "premier package," which covered an extensive list of potential causes. (Id.) The Policy was to protect property that served as Plaintiff's dental office. (Id.) Under the terms of the Policy, Defendant was to pay for the replacement cost, up to a specified limit, if a "covered cause of loss occurred." (Id.) However, Defendant was exempted from paying for a "covered cause of loss" if there were dishonest acts or fraud. (Dkt. No. 1, Attach 5.)

The Policy did not expressly state, nor did Defendant inform Plaintiff, that Defendant could take into consideration Plaintiff's financial condition in denying a claim. (See generally Dkt. No. 1.) Nonetheless, Defendant charged higher premiums based on Plaintiff's financial condition, with knowledge that Plaintiff's financial condition (e.g., any insolvency that he experienced) could also be used as circumstantial evidence to deny a loss under the policy. (Id.) Such policies are therefore deceptive and misleading to the public, and expose the public to potential harm. (Id.)

2. Allegations Regarding Insurance Claim

On January 13, 2009, a covered loss occurred by way of fire. (Id.) On that same day, Plaintiff submitted a claim with Defendant. (Id.)

Investigators believed the fire to be suspicious, but were unable to determine the identity of the responsible party. (Id.) In March 2009, Plaintiff underwent an "Examination Under Policy," where he was put under oath on two separate occasions. (Id.) Plaintiff provided voluminous financial documentation in addition to his statements. (Id.)

On December 21, 2009, Plaintiff was notified that he would receive a decision regarding his insurance claim within two weeks. (Id.) Five months later, Plaintiff received a decision denying the claim. (Id.) The stated basis for denial was that Plaintiff did not accurately reflect his knowledge and involvement in the cause of the fire. (Id.) However, Plaintiff's insolvency served as circumstantial evidence to deny his claim. (Id.)

Familiarity with the remaining factual allegations supporting these claims in Plaintiff's Complaint is assumed in this Decision and Order, which is intended ...


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