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State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Hanson

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

February 3, 2017

STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY and STATE FARM FIRE AND CASUALTY COMPANY, Plaintiffs,
v.
PETER J. HANSON, P.C. D/B/A HANSON CHIROPRACTIC and PETER J. HANSON, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION TO DISMISS COUNTERCLAIMS

          Robert S. Lasnik, United States District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter comes before the Court on plaintiffs' motion to dismiss[1] defendants' counterclaims (Dkt. #18) for lack of factual sufficiency.

         For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants plaintiffs' motion.

         II. BACKGROUND

         In July 2016, plaintiffs filed a federal complaint alleging defendants had submitted false, misleading, and/or fraudulent claims. Dkt. #1 at 1-2, ¶ 1. In essence, plaintiffs contend defendants' care of patients who had been in motor vehicle collisions amounted to predetermined courses of treatment without regard for the patients' actual needs. Dkt. #1 at 2-3, ¶¶ 2-4. Plaintiffs allege these practices resulted in $300, 000 in wrongful billings. Dkt. #1 at 3, ¶ 5.

         Defendants answered the complaint and alleged numerous counterclaims. The claims include violations of Washington's Consumer Protection Act, libel, interference with business expectancy, infliction of emotional distress, and a request for declaratory relief. Dkt. #17 at 10-14. This motion followed.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate if a pleading “does not allege enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ebner v. Fresh, Inc., 838 F.3d 958, 962-63 (9th Cir. 2016) (internal brackets omitted). The Court accepts “all factual allegations in the complaint as true and constru[es] them in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Id. at 962. The inquiry is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. at 963 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009)).

         Plaintiffs argue “defendants' counterclaims are facially defective because they contain only a handful of conclusory factual assertions and a rote recitation of the elements of the asserted claims for relief.” Dkt. #18 at 2. Defendants respond[2] that between the incorporation of the facts of plaintiffs' complaint, the exhibits attached to the counterclaims, and the specific conduct alleged in their answer, their counterclaims are facially plausible under federal pleading standards. Dkt. #21 at 3-4. The specific conduct alleged includes:

• That plaintiffs “intentionally and/or negligently acted to deny [defendants] payment for legitimate chiropractic care by using a systematic program to harass and intimidate Dr. Hanson.”
• That plaintiffs “systematically instructed its insureds and attorneys representing its insureds in third party actions from pursuing claims against third party tortfeasors and from pursuing subrogation claims in order to maintain its cause of action against Dr. Hanson.”
• That plaintiffs “systematically told Dr. Hanson's patients that he committed fraud and that they have no basis to seek damages for medical care rendered by Dr. Hanson from third party tortfeasors.”
• That plaintiffs “refused to accept subrogation payments in cases involving third party tortfeasors in order to maintain its cause of action against Dr. Hanson.”
• That plaintffs informed third party tortfeasors as well as defendant tortfeasors and their attorneys “that Dr. Hanson's treatment was not reasonable or necessary.”

Dkt. #17 at 11-12, ΒΆΒΆ 2-8. Defendants attached two exhibits to their answer. One is a communication from a State Farm claims specialist to an attorney seeking subrogation on behalf of State Farm for services rendered by defendants. Dkt. #17-1. The claims specialist informs the attorney of ongoing civil litigation and requests that the attorney suspend subrogation efforts until further notice. The other is a communication between a State Farm claims specialist and Dr. Hanson denying a bill from Dr. Hanson in light of this litigation. Dkt. #17-2. The claims specialist puts Dr. Hanson on notice that State Farm ...


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