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Baldwin v. Zurich American Insurance Co.

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, Austin Division

July 10, 2017




         Before the Court are Defendant's Motion to Dismiss and Motion to Deem Plaintiff Linda Baldwin a Vexatious Litigant. (Dkts. 13, 14). Having reviewed the parties' submissions, the case record, and the governing law, the Court issues the following order.


         Plaintiff Linda Baldwin is a former employee of Extended Stay America, where she worked as a Guest Service Registration attendant. Her duties included a number of tasks, including laundry, breakfast setup, accounting, and housekeeping, among others. Plaintiff alleges that, because of long hours standing on a concrete floor, she developed plantar fasciitis in both feet at some point in 2006 and was eventually required to undergo surgery on her left foot. Plaintiff states that she reported the injury to her supervisor, who allegedly did not take appropriate steps to report Plaintiff's injury or provide notice to the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers' Compensation at that time.

         Plaintiff's allegations concerning the time period after her injury are unclear. However, it appears that Plaintiff's employer notified its workers' compensation insurance provider, Defendant Zurich American Insurance Co., of Plaintiff's injury on or around March 13, 2012.[1] Defendant allegedly denied Plaintiff income benefit payments connected with her injury; Plaintiff asserts that this denial was made without an appropriate investigation. This apparently resulted in Plaintiff's filing a claim for coverage with the Division of Workers' Compensation. On October 19, 2016, following a benefit review conference, a hearing officer found that Plaintiff was not entitled to workers' compensation benefits. The Appeals Panel affirmed that decision on January 17, 2017.

         Plaintiff filed this action on February 27, 2017. She raises claims against Defendant for unfair settlement practices in the handling of her claim. This is not the first action Plaintiff has filed on the matter; she has previously filed several lawsuits in Texas state courts complaining of Defendant's denial of benefits. See Baldwin v. Zurich Am. Ins. Co., Cause No. D-1-GN-12-003139 (353rd Civ. Dist. Ct. Travis Cty. 2012); Baldwin v. Zurich Am. Ins. Co., D-1-GN-13-001281 (261st Civ. Dist. Ct. Travis Cty. 2013); Baldwin v. Zurich Am. Ins. Co., D-1-GN-13-002454 (53rd Civ. Dist. Ct. Travis Cty. 2013); Baldwin v. Zurich Am. Ins. Co., D-1-GN-17-000151 (98th Civ. Dist. Ct. Travis Cty. 2017).

         The four-year gap between her 2013 and 2017 suits can be explained by an order in the 2013 lawsuit deeming her a vexatious litigant pursuant to Chapter 11 of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code. (Dkt. 15-1). The order prohibited Plaintiff from filing any further lawsuits in state court without judicial approval. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 11.102 (setting out prerequisites to filing pro se complaint by vexatious litigant). After filing her 2017 suit against Defendant, the state court judge dismissed her claim on February 21, 2017, after declining to grant leave to proceed pursuant to section 11.102. (Dkt. 15-8). Plaintiff thereafter sought to file an additional complaint on February 26, 2017, but it was not assigned a cause number pursuant to the prior order forbidding new and unauthorized suits. (See Dkt. 15-7). The next day, Plaintiff filed the current suit in federal court, which the state court order did not preclude. (See Dkt. 15-1).

         Defendant moves to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). Defendant additionally seeks to have Plaintiff deemed a vexatious litigant, required to provide security, and enjoined from filing further litigation in the federal courts without prior judicial approval.


         1. Rule 12(b)(1)

         A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) calls into question the federal court's subject-matter jurisdiction. There are three avenues for a movant to demonstrate a lack of jurisdiction: (1) on the face of the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts in the record; and (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts and the court's resolution of disputed facts. Montez v. Dep't of Navy, 392 F.3d 147, 149 (5th Cir. 2004). The burden of demonstrating that jurisdiction exists rests at all times with the party invoking the court's jurisdiction. Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001).

         Where a jurisdictional challenge is raised, the court is generally “free to weigh the evidence and resolve factual disputes in order to satisfy itself that it has the power to hear the case.” Montez, 392 F.3d at 149. “However, where issues of fact are central both to subject matter jurisdiction and the claim on the merits, . . . the trial court must assume jurisdiction and proceed to the merits.” Id. at 150 (finding that the issue of respondeat superior was central to plaintiffs' negligence claim and inappropriate for resolution under Rule 12(b)(1)).

         2. Rule 12(b)(6)

         When evaluating a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) the complaint must be liberally construed in favor of the plaintiff and all facts pleaded therein must be taken as true. Leatherman v. Tarrant Cty. Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993); Baker v. Putnal, 75 F.3d 190, 196 (5th Cir. 1996). Although Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 mandates only that a pleading contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” this standard demands more than unadorned accusations, “labels and conclusions, ” “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” or “naked assertion[s]” devoid of “further factual enhancement.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Rather, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. ...

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