"[A] complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." For nearly half a century, this phrase from Conley v. Gibson represented the de facto pleading standard by which complaints were judged under Rules 8(a) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. It was memorized by first-year civil procedure students and regularly cited by lawyers and judges alike. Indeed, Conley's "no set of facts" language was so ubiquitous that it was cited in an average of 60 reported cases per month from January 1, 2000, until May 20, 2007. Then, on May 21, 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court announced, in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, that "this famous observation has earned its retirement." The Court replaced the familiar maxim with the requirement that a complaint contain "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face."
Two years later, the Court expounded on Twombly in Ashcroft v. Iqbal. Reviewing a complaint brought against former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft by Javaid Iqbal, a Pakistani citizen arrested and charged with fraud and conspiracy in the months following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Court explained two principles underlying its decision in Twombly. "First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.""Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Regarding the second principle, the Court noted:
"Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense. But where the well-pleaded facts do 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."
Relying on these principles, the Court then announced a two-step analysis for lower courts to follow when reviewing a complaint which is the subject of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. First, the court should identify and ignore conclusory allegations which are not entitled to a presumption of truth. Second, the court should accord a presumption of truth to the remaining, well-pleaded factual allegations and determine whether those allegations state a claim which plausibly entitles the plaintiff to relief. If they do, the complaint survives, but if they do not, the complaint—like the one at issue in Iqbal—must be dismissed.
Of course, Twombly and Iqbal have ramifications for just about every type of litigation, but they have particular application in the context of bad faith claims asserted against insurance companies. The principles announced in those cases provide the defense bar with a powerful mechanism for challenging the sufficiency of many such claims. This is because, in the author's experience, counsel for an insured disgruntled by an insurer's disclaimer of coverage will often tack a bad faith claim onto a declaratory judgment or breach of contract action without pleading any factual allegations—aside from the disclaimer itself—supporting the assertion that the insurer acted in bad faith. The following hypothetical cause of action is representative.
FOR A SECOND CAUSE OF ACTION
15. The allegations of the above paragraphs are realleged as if fully set forth herein verbatim.
16. The insurer's refusal to defend or indemnify its insured was unreasonable and in bad faith.
17. The Plaintiff is entitled to recover actual, consequential, and punitive damages from the insurer.
These allegations contain no factual matter but merely unsupported labels and conclusions. "Completely absent from the [allegations] are any facts that describe who, what, where, when, and how the alleged bad faith conduct occurred." They state little more than that the insurer's coverage position amounts to bad faith. However, that is insufficient under Rule 8(a) as interpreted and applied by Twombly and Iqbal.
Numerous cases from around the country—including the PGT Trucking case quoted above—have applied Twombly and Iqbal in the context of insurance bad faith claims. In many (if not most) of those cases, the insured's bad faith cause of action has been found wanting. For example, in one of the earliest cases, Hibbets v. Lexington Insurance Co., the insurer disclaimed or allegedly misadjusted a number of claims for property damage sustained by its insureds when Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana in 2005.
Two of those insureds filed a putative class action against the insurer, alleging, among other things, that it had violated Louisiana's insurance bad faith statutes. They asserted that the insurer "breached and continued to breach its duties of good faith and fair dealing, as well as its duty to fairly adjust claims," "breached and continues to breach its duty to timely adjust claims upon satisfactory proof of loss," and "misrepresented pertinent policy provisions," and that the insurer's actions were "arbitrary, capricious, and unsupported by any evidence" and "constitute bad faith."Relying on Twombly and Iqbal, the Fifth Circuit found that these allegations were "nothing more than labels and conclusions" and affirmed the district court's dismissal of the plaintiffs' bad faith cause of action because "[s]imply stating a conclusory allegation that [the insurer's] actions were arbitrary, or that [the insurer] breached a duty, without providing factual allegations in support is insufficient to state a claim."
Similarly, in Atiyeh v. National Fire Insurance Co. of Hartford, an insurer disclaimed coverage for water damages to an insured's building and personal property as the result of frozen pipes. Asserting that the insurer had handled his claim in bad faith pursuant to Pennsylvania law, the insured alleged the following:
"[T]hat [the insurer] (1) falsely and fraudulently represented that [the insured] had not performed routine maintenance on the premises; (2) unreasonably refused to indemnify [the insured] for his loss; and (2) breached its duty of good faith and fair dealing by: (a) failing to conduct a reasonable investigation, (b) denying benefits to [the insured] without a reasonable basis, (c) knowingly or recklessly disregarding the lack of a reasonable basis to deny [the insured’s] claim, or (d) asserting policy defenses without a reasonable basis."
On the insurer's motion for judgment on the pleadings, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania held these allegations were "merely conclusory legal statements and not factual averments" and that the plaintiff had provided "no factual support from which [the court could] conclude that [the insurer's] actions in investigating and evaluating plaintiff's claim were unreasonable." Accordingly, the court granted the insurer's motion and awarded it judgment on the pleadings.
More recently, in Felsenthal v. Travelers Prop. Cas. Ins. Co., the U.S District Court for the Northern District of Illinois relied on Twombly and Iqbal in dismissing an action brought under an Illinois statute authorizing the recovery of attorneys' fees and statutory damages against insurers which have engaged in "vexatious and unreasonable" conduct. Borrowing terminology from Iqbal, the court held that the insured's "threadbare" recitation of the elements of the cause of action was insufficient because it provided "almost no factual support for its claim, and only conclusorily allege[d] that [the insurer's] denial of [the insured's] claim [was] unreasonable." Likewise, in Vance v. Nationwide Ins. Co., the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee dismissed a statutory bad faith claim because all the insured offered in support of the claim were "statements that [the insurer] has refused to pay the claim under the policy and that [the insurer] acted in bad faith." The court found that "[the insured's] statement that [the insurer] acted in bad faith is no more than a legal conclusion that is insufficient to state a claim for relief."
Many other courts have reached conclusions similar to those in PGT Trucking, Hibbets, Atiyah, Felsenthal, and Vance. See, e.g., Martinez v. Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co., 911 F. Supp. 2d 331, 337 (E.D.N.C. 2012) (holding that, after stripping away her conclusory allegations, the insured at most alleged an honest dispute with her insurer's interpretation of applicable law, an allegation which did not plausibly constitute bad faith); Palmisano v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 2:12-cv-00886-NBF, 2012 WL 3595276 at *13 (W.D. Pa. Aug. 20, 2012) ("There is simply no factual support for Plaintiffs' conclusory allegations concerning [the insurer's] alleged bad faith conduct and their averments surely do not suffice to allege a plausible claim that could sustain their burden at trial."); Hudgens v. Allstate Texas Lloyd's, 4:11-cv-02716-MH, 2012 WL 2887219 at *7 (S.D. Tex. July 13, 2012) (noting that the insured failed to "provide any facts that show that [the insurer's] liability was reasonably clear, that her claims were covered under particular provisions of the policy, what [the insurer] knew at the time it denied her claims, any proposed settlement within the policy limits that [the insurer] failed to effectuate, why and how [the insurer's] payments were unreasonably delayed, or where its investigation was not reasonable"); Miracle Temple Christian Acad. v. Church Mut. Ins. Co., 2:12-cv-00995-RB, 2012 WL 1286751 at *3 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 16, 2012) ("[The insured] has provided no factual allegations indicating that [the insurer] lacked a reasonable basis for denying the policy benefits[.]"); Schlegel v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 3:11-cv-02190-ARC, 2012 WL 441185 at *7 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 10, 2012) ("Plaintiffs' allegations are legal conclusions that [the insurer] has generally acted unreasonably and without good faith. Yet, there are no facts in the Complaint to indicate what [the insurer] specifically did to lead to those conclusions[.]"); Blasetti v. Allstate Ins. Co., 2:11-cv-06920-TNO, 2012 WL 177419 at *4 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 23, 2012) (dismissing the insureds' bad faith claim due to a lack of sufficient factual allegations and noting that the insureds "would have [the court] infer reckless indifference from the mere fact that [the insurer] denied their request for coverage"); Eley v. State Farm Ins. Co., 2:10-cv-05564-MMB, 2011 WL 294031 at *5 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 31, 2011) (dismissing the insureds' bad faith cause of action on the grounds they had alleged no facts from which the court could infer the insurer had "no reasonable basis" for denying coverage); Littlefield v. Concord Gen. Mut. Ins. Co., 2:10-cv-00007-WKS, 2010 WL 5300814 at *3 (D.Vt. Dec. 22, 2010) (holding that the insured's complaint contained "no facts, merely an absence of facts, to support the notion that [the insurer] lacked a reasonable basis to deny the claim" and that the insured had failed "to state a claim for insurance bad faith that is plausible on its face"); Johnson v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 3:10-cv-00494-MLC-DEA, 2010 WL 2560489 at *2 (D.N.J. June 24, 2010) ("Lacking any factual support, the plaintiff's claim of bad faith stands alone as a bare averment that she wants relief and is entitled to it.").
Insurers and their insureds often disagree regarding the coverage provided by policies of insurance. Insureds are understandably displeased when claims are denied. However, despite negative depictions of insurance companies by politicians and in popular culture, it is the author's informed opinion that relatively few disclaimers are the result of bad faith. In those instances where an insurer's conduct rises to that level, the insured and her counsel should have little trouble pleading facts sufficient to state a plausible claim for relief. However, when insureds—as they often do—fail to specify how the insurer's actions were unreasonable, Twombly, Iqbal, and their progeny provide a powerful tool for stopping bad faith claims in their tracks.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of The DefenseLine, a publication of the South Carolina Defense Trial Attorneys Association.
 355 U.S. 41 (1957).
 550 U.S. 544 (2007).
 Id. at 563.
 Id. at 570.
 556 U.S. 662 (2009).
 Id. at 678.
 Id. at 679 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).
 Id. (citations omitted).
 See id.
 See id.
 Liberty Ins. Corp. v. PGT Trucking, Inc., 2:11-cv-151-TFM, 2011 WL 2552531 at *4 (W.D. Pa. Jun. 27, 2011).
 377 F. Appx. 352 (5th Cir. 2010).
 Id. at 355-56.
 Id. at 356.
 742 F. Supp. 2d 591 (E.D. Pa. 2010).
 Id. at 599.
 Id. at 599-600.
 Id. at 600.
 1:12-cv-07402-AJS, 2013 WL 1707931 at *2 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 19, 2013).
 Id. at *4.
 2:13-cv-00160-LJ, 2013 WL 4647154 at *2 (E.D. Tenn. Aug. 29, 2013).
 Id. at *3.