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Bruer v. Phillips Law Group PC

United States District Court, D. Arizona

June 20, 2019

Jane Joyce Bruer, Plaintiff,
v.
Phillips Law Group PC, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          HONORABLE JOHN J. TUCHI UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         At issue is Defendant Sedgwick Claims Management Services, Inc.'s (“Sedgwick”) Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Doc. 73, Mot.), to which pro se Plaintiff Jane Joyce Bruer filed a Response (Doc. 87, Resp.) and Defendant filed a Reply (Doc. 95, Reply).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff was terminated from her employment with Phillips Law Group (“PLG”) in June 2017, after which she filed suit against several Defendants. (Doc. 44, Am. Compl. ¶ 228.) At issue here are the three Arizona state law claims that Plaintiff brought against Defendant Sedgwick for breach of good faith and fair dealing, invasion of privacy, and breach of fiduciary duty. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 564-653.) The Court addressed these claims as brought against a separate Defendant in its recent Order granting Defendant Ritsema & Lyon, P.C.'s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 109).

         Several months before her termination, Plaintiff suffered a work injury to her right knee. (Am. Compl. ¶ 252.) She filed an injury report, and a workers' compensation claim was opened with PLG's insurance carrier, Defendant American Family Insurance.[1] (Am. Compl. ¶ 257.) Sedgwick was the insurance adjuster on the claim. When Plaintiff was terminated soon after, her claim was closed. (Am. Compl. ¶ 258.) Plaintiff believed she was entitled to compensation and thus filed a request for a hearing with the Industrial Commission of Arizona. (Am. Compl. ¶ 260.)

         At times, it is difficult to decipher the facts as presented in Plaintiff's voluminous Complaint, as she alleges various misdeeds were undertaken by Sedgwick, American Family, and Ritsema & Lyon, P.C., but it is unclear whether Plaintiff alleges that all three Defendants were involved in all of the wrongdoing. As best as the Court can tell, Plaintiff alleges that she requested her personnel file for her Industrial Commission hearing, and both Sedgwick and its attorneys at Ritsema & Lyon were responsible for refusing to provide Plaintiff with her file. (Am. Compl. ¶ 259.)

         When Defendants did comply with this request, Plaintiff alleges that a Defendant (who appears to be an attorney employed by Ritsema & Lyon) “caused an unsecure .pdf file, with many pages containing the Plaintiff's social security number, address, phone number, date of birth and or account number, without first applying required redactions, to be transmitted via the internet without password protection.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 603.) It is this transmission of her information to her own email account that Plaintiff relies upon for her invasion of privacy claim. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 601-35.) Additionally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant breached its fiduciary duty to her by sending her information via email. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 636-53.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), “a party may move for judgment on the pleadings” after the pleadings are closed “but early enough not to delay trial.” A motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) challenges the legal sufficiency of the opposing party's pleadings. Westlands Water Dist. v. Bureau of Reclamation, 805 F.Supp. 1503, 1506 (E.D. Cal. 1992).

         A motion for judgment on the pleadings should only be granted if “the moving party clearly establishes on the face of the pleadings that no material issue of fact remains to be resolved and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Hal Roach Studios, Inc. v. Richard Feiner & Co., Inc., 896 F.2d 1542, 1550 (9th Cir. 1989). Judgment on the pleadings is also proper when there is either a “lack of a cognizable legal theory” or the “absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory.” Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1988). In reviewing a Rule 12(c) motion, “all factual allegations in the complaint [must be accepted] as true and construe[d] . . . in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Fleming v. Pickard, 581 F.3d 922, 925 (9th Cir. 2009). Judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) is warranted “only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations.” Deveraturda v. Globe Aviation Sec. Servs., 454 F.3d 1043, 1046 (9th Cir. 2006) (internal citations omitted).

         A Rule 12(c) motion is functionally identical to a Rule 12(b) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, and the same legal standard applies to both motions. Dworkin v. Hustler Magazine, Inc., 867 F.2d 1188, 1192 (9th Cir. 1989). Specifically, a complaint must include “only ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). While a complaint does not need to “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).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Breach of Good Faith and Fair Dealing

         Defendant argues that, while “the covenant of good faith and fair dealing is implied in every insurance contract, ” Defendant was not a party to any such agreement between Plaintiff and her insurer and thus the Court must grant judgment for Defendant on Plaintiff's bad faith claim. (Mot. at 5.) Plaintiff responds that claims adjusters like Defendant-even when they are ...


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