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Inman v. Wesco Insurance Co.

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

June 12, 2013

Joseph R. Inman, Plaintiff,
v.
Wesco Insurance Company; Kathy Murphy; et al., Defendants.

ORDER

G. MURRAY SNOW, District Judge.

Defendant Kathy Murphy moves to Dismiss Plaintiff Joseph Inman's aiding-and-abetting claim against her. (Doc. 18.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies the Motion.[1]

BACKGROUND

Inman is a Nevada resident who worked for Sybrant Construction, LLC. (Doc. 1-1 ¶¶ 2, 11.) During the course of his employment, he fell off a cliff and suffered serious injuries. ( Id. ¶ 11.) He filed a claim for workers' compensation with Defendant Wesco Insurance Company.[2] ( Id. ¶ 12.) Wesco assigned Murphy to handle Inman's claim. ( Id. ) Inman claims that Murphy improperly adjusted his claim, which resulted in "ceasing and denying further medical and income benefits to Mr. Inman." ( Id. ) It appears that Wesco disputed several aspects of Inman's claimed injuries. ( Id., Exs. A-1, A-2.)

Inman hired an attorney and went to the Industrial Commission of Arizona. ( Id. ¶ 13.) The Industrial Commission apparently overruled Wesco's decision to deny those benefits and ordered payment. ( Id. ) Inman suffered physical and economic harm as a result of the delays. ( Id. ¶ 15.) He filed suit against the Defendants in Maricopa County Superior Court on October 4, 2012. (Doc. 1-1.) Defendants removed this case on November 26, 2012, (Doc. 1), and Murphy filed her Motion to Dismiss on January 25, 2013, (Doc. 18).

DISCUSSION

I. LEGAL STANDARD

To survive dismissal for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain more than "labels and conclusions" or a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action"; it must contain factual allegations sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). While "a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations... it must plead enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Clemens v. DaimlerChrysler Corp., 534 F.3d 1017, 1022 (9th Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The plausibility standard "asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. When a complaint does not "permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not shown-that the pleader is entitled to relief." Id. at 679 (internal quotation omitted).

When analyzing a complaint for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), "[a]ll allegations of material fact are taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Smith v. Jackson, 84 F.3d 1213, 1217 (9th Cir. 1996). However, legal conclusions couched as factual allegations are not given a presumption of truthfulness, and "conclusory allegations of law and unwarranted inferences are not sufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss." Pareto v. FDIC, 139 F.3d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1998).

II. ANALYSIS

Inman asserts a single claim against Murphy: aiding and abetting Wesco's allegedly tortious conduct. (Doc. 1-1 ¶¶ 29-36.) Murphy claims that Inman's Complaint suffers from two deficiencies: (1) he has failed to plead sufficient facts to support an aiding and abetting claim, and (2) no claim lies against an adjuster for aiding and abetting her employer, the insurer.

A. The Complaint's Factual Sufficiency

Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief...." The Supreme Court, in the Twombly and Iqbal decisions cited above, has read Rule 8 to require a plaintiff to plead sufficient factual content to make his claim for relief plausible. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570; Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79. Murphy claims that Inman simply sketches the skeletal elements of an aiding and abetting case without providing the necessary factual allegations. "Claims of aiding and abetting tortious conduct require proof of three elements: (1) the primary tortfeasor must commit a tort that causes injury to the plaintiff; (2) the defendant must know that the primary tortfeasor's conduct constitutes a breach of duty; and (3) the defendant must substantially assist or encourage the primary tortfeasor in the achievement of the breach." Wells Fargo Bank v. Ariz. Laborers, Teamsters & Cement Masons, 201 Ariz. 474, 485, 38 P.3d 12, 23 (2002). Inman has pled facts to support each of the elements.

Murphy does not contest the Complaint's sufficiency with regard to the first element, namely, that Wesco breached the duty of good faith and fair dealing. She does contest the remaining two. "Because aiding and abetting is a theory of secondary liability, the party charged with the tort must have knowledge of the primary violation, and such knowledge may be ...


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