Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Whitfield v. Liberty Mutual Group Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 8, 2019

CHARLINE WHITFIELD, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
LIBERTY MUTUAL GROUP INC., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          George L. Russell, III United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant Stanley Steemer International, Inc.'s (“Stanley Steemer”) Motion to Dismiss the Complaint for Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief Can Be Granted (ECF No. 13) and Defendant Liberty Mutual Group Inc.'s (“Liberty Mutual”)[1] Motion to Dismiss the Complaint (ECF No. 14). The Motions are ripe for disposition, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2018). For the reasons outlined below, the Court will grant Defendants' Motions and grant Plaintiff Charline Whitfield leave to amend the Complaint for the limited purpose of amending her breach of contract claim against Liberty Mutual as detailed below.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         On an unspecified date, Whitfield obtained a homeowner's insurance policy (the “Policy”)[3] through Liberty Mutual. (Compl. ¶ 9, ECF No. 1-3; Liberty Mutual's Mot. Dismiss Compl. [“Liberty Mutual's Mot.”] Ex. 2 [“Policy”], ECF No. 14-2).[4] The Policy covered “losses caused by water that overflowed from a sump pump, including but not limited to mold remediation.” (Compl. ¶ 9; see Policy at 22, 33-34). Whitfield owns the home covered under the Policy, located at 5604 Gwynndale Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland. (Compl. ¶ 8). Plaintiff Curtis Nelson has lived with Whitfield in her home since November 28, 2014. (Id.). Whitfield and Nelson invested time, money, and effort into finishing the basement in Whitfield's home, creating “their own private day spa of sorts, ” complete with a Jacuzzi. (Id. ¶ 29).

         On April 6, 2017, heavy rainfall caused the sump pump in Whitfield's basement to overflow. (Id. ¶ 10). The same day, Whitfield alerted Liberty Mutual to the water damage and “requested immediate assistance.” (Id. ¶ 11). Liberty Mutual instructed Stanley Steemer to “extract the water from the basement and dry the area, ” and it did so that night. (Id.). On April 7, 2017, Defendant Roto-Rooter Services Company (“Roto-Rooter”) “attempted to install a new sump pump” in the home but installed it in such a way that it did not function properly. (Id. ¶¶ 12-13).

         On May 5, 2017, heavy rainfall again caused water to overflow from the sump pump and flood the basement. (Id. ¶ 15). The flooding was “extensive” and resulted in “substantial property damage and mold growth.” (Id. ¶ 16). Nelson first noticed the flooding three days later, on May 8, 2017, and contacted Liberty Mutual. (Id. ¶ 17).[5] On or about May 23, 2017, Liberty Mutual instructed Stanley Steemer to investigate mold growth in the basement. (Id. ¶ 23). The next day, Stanley Steemer inspected the basement and confirmed that there was “extensive mold growth throughout the entire basement.” (Id. ¶ 24).

         Stanley Steemer began mold remediation efforts at the end of May 2017, which lasted until approximately September 7, 2017. (Id. ¶¶ 28, 31). The remediation efforts were “very invasive.” (Id. ¶ 28). Stanley Steemer “set up fans that ran [twenty-four] hours each day” and “workers constantly walked in and out of the house randomly several days per week” during the remediation process. (Id.). As a result of the second flood, Plaintiffs sustained approximately $15, 374.00 in property damage, paid $648.00 for a third-party to remove damaged property from the house, and spent approximately $35, 000.00 to fully restore the basement to its former state. (Id. ¶¶ 26-27, 35-36).

         On May 23, 2018, Plaintiffs filed suit against Liberty Mutual, Stanley Steemer, and Roto-Rooter in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, Maryland, (ECF No. 1-3), alleging: negligence against Liberty Mutual, Stanley Steemer, and Roto-Rooter (Count I); and breach of contract against Liberty Mutual (Count II). (Compl. ¶¶ 37-43). Plaintiffs seek money damages and attorney's fees and costs. (Id. at 11). Liberty Mutual removed the case to this Court on July 10, 2018. (ECF No. 1).

         On July 24, 2018, Stanley Steemer filed its Motion to Dismiss the Complaint for Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief Can Be Granted. (ECF No. 13).[6] Plaintiffs filed an Opposition on July 31, 2018. (ECF No. 15). Stanley Steemer filed a Reply on August 13, 2018. (ECF No. 17).

         On July 26, 2018, Liberty Mutual filed its Motion to Dismiss the Complaint. (ECF No. 14). Plaintiffs filed an Opposition on August 9, 2018. (ECF No. 16). Liberty Mutual filed a Reply on August 23, 2018. (ECF No. 23).

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         The purpose of a motion made under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is to “test[ ] the sufficiency of a complaint, ” not to “resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” King v. Rubenstein, 825 F.3d 206, 214 (4th Cir. 2016) (quoting Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999)). A complaint fails to state a claim if it does not contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), or does not “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (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.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Though the plaintiff is not required to forecast evidence to prove the elements of the claim, the complaint must allege enough facts to establish each element. Goss v. Bank of America, N.A., 917 F.Supp.2d 445, 449 (D.Md. 2013) (quoting Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012)), aff'd sub nom., Goss v. Bank of America, NA, 546 Fed.Appx. 165 (4th Cir. 2013).

         In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must examine the complaint as a whole, consider the factual allegations in the complaint as true, and construe the factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Lambeth v. Bd. of Comm'rs, 407 F.3d 266, 268 (4th Cir. 2005) (citing Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)). But, the court need not accept unsupported or conclusory factual allegations devoid of any reference to actual events, United Black Firefighters v. Hirst, 604 F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir. 1979), or legal conclusions couched as factual allegations, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         B. Analysis

         Stanley Steemer and Liberty Mutual contend that Plaintiffs fail to state negligence claims against them. Liberty Mutual also maintains that Plaintiffs fail to state a claim for breach of contract. Plaintiffs counter that they have adequately pled both their negligence and breach of contract claims. The Court addresses Plaintiffs' claims in turn.

         1. Negligence

         Under Maryland law, [7] to state a claim for negligence, the plaintiffs must allege: (1) “a duty owed by the defendant[s] to the plaintiff”; (2) “a breach of that duty”; and (3) “injury proximately resulting from that breach.” Shilling v. Thomas, No. PWG-16-2696, 2017 WL 1035854, at *6 (D.Md. Mar. 16, 2017) (alteration in original) (quoting Barclay v. Briscoe, 47 A.3d 560, 574 (Md. 2012)). Without a duty, “there can be no negligence.” Id. (quoting Premium of America, LLC v. Sanchez, 73 A.3d 343, 354 (Md.Ct.Spec.App. 2013)). As a result, “when analyzing a negligence action it is customary to begin with whether a legally cognizable duty exists.” I ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.