MAY 2006 BAD FAITH CASES
TRIAL COURT CANNOT TAKE JUDICIAL NOTICE OF GUILTY PLEA BY INSURED IN DETERMINING MOTION TO DISMISS BAD FAITH CLAIM (Superior Court)
In Styers v. Bedford Grange Mutual Insurance Company, the insureds (parents and their son under 21 at the time of the incident) brought claims against their carrier for breach of contract, bad faith and consumer protection law violations. The carrier had refused to cover damages the son incurred for personal liability in causing damage to a fish hatchery. The Complaint omitted the fact that the son pleaded no lo contendere to criminal charges, and admitted the elements of the crimes in a signed guilty plea statement. The carrier asserted the guilty plea statement as the basis to deny coverage, and successfully moved to dismiss the case before the Court of Common Pleas of Clinton County, which took judicial notice of the criminal action and guilty plea statements. The Superior Court reversed, finding that a trial court could not take judicial notice of the criminal action, never mentioned in the Complaint, at the motion to dismiss stage; rather, these facts had to be asserted as an affirmative defense to which the plaintiff could respond.
Date of decision: May 23, 2006