Neutral As of: June 24, 2019 1:53 PM Z
Patrick v. Dutch Maid Logistics, Inc.
United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania
June 17, 2019, Decided; June 17, 2019, Filed
CIVIL ACTION NO. 1:18-cv-2166
2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 101671 *
SHANNON PATRICK, as Administratrix of the ESTATE OF ARQUIMIDES MANUEL FLORES, deceased, Plaintiff, v. DUTCH MAID LOGISTICS, INC. d/b/a DUTCH MAID and DOUG A. JONES, Defendants,
Prior History: Patrick v. Dutch Maid Logistics, Inc., 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 99885 (M.D. Pa., June 14, 2019)
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On November 14, 2019, Plaintiff, Shannon Patrick (“Patrick”), Administratrix of the Estate of Arquimides M. Flores (“Flores”), deceased, by and through her attorneys, instituted this action by the filing of a complaint against Defendants, Doug Jones (“Jones”) and Dutch Maid Logistics, Inc., d/b/a Dutch Maid (“Dutch Maid”). (Doc. 1). The facts, as alleged in Plaintiff’s complaint, are as follows: On Monday, July 2, 2018, while operating a tractor-trailer [*2] on Interstate 81 (I-81), Flores pulled to the right of the fog line and onto the berm to inspect one of the rear tires of the trailer. (Doc. 1, at 3-4). During this time, Doug Jones, while performing his job duties for Dutch Maid, was driving erratically in the southbound lanes of I-81. (Doc. 1, at 4). Witnesses observed Jones moving in and out of the right lane and onto the right berm of the southbound lane. (Doc. 1, at 5). While Flores was out of his vehicle and inspecting the rear of his trailer, Doug Jones lost control of his unit, crossed onto the berm, and struck Flores. The force of the impact killed Flores and caused the trailer of Doug Jones’s tractor-trailer to break loose and continue on the southbound berm of I-81. (Doc. 1, at 5).
Patrick brings claims pursuant to the Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Act, 42 Pa. C.S. § 8301 (Count I), and the Pennsylvania Survival Act, 42 Pa. C.S. § 8302 (Count II). (Doc. 1, at 8-10). Patrick alleges Dutch Maid is vicariously liable for the negligence, carelessness and gross recklessness Doug Jones, an employee of Dutch Maid. (Doc. 1, at 8).
On January 16, 2019, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Patrick’s claim for punitive damages and a motion for a more definite statement. [*3] (Doc. 7). Defendants submitted a brief in support of their motion on January 29, 2019. (Doc. 9). Patrick filed a brief in opposition to the motion to dismiss on February 13, 2019. (Doc. 10). Accordingly, Defendants’ motion to dismiss and motion for a more definite statement are fully brief and ripe for disposition.
II. MOTION TO DISMISS STANDARD
Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes a defendant to move to dismiss for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). “Under Rule 12(b)(6), a motion to dismiss may be granted only if, accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, a court finds the plaintiff’s claims lack facial plausibility.” Warren Gen. Hosp. v. Amgen Inc., 643 F.3d 77, 84 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007)). Although the Court must accept the fact allegations in the complaint as true, it is not compelled to accept “unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences, or a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Morrow v. Balaski, 719 F.3d 160, 165 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 195 (3d Cir. 2007)). Additionally, a court need not assume that a plaintiff can prove facts that the plaintiff has not alleged. Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal. v. California State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526, 103 S. Ct. 897, 74 L. Ed. 2d 723 (1983).
In Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009), the United States Supreme Court held that, when considering a motion to dismiss, a court should “begin by identifying pleadings that, because they [*4] are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
A. MOTION TO DISMISS PUNITIVE DAMAGES
Defendants assert that Patrick has not alleged facts sufficient to support a facially plausible claim for punitive damages, and that, at most, the claims are only for ordinary negligence. (Doc. 9, at 6-7). Under applicable Pennsylvania law, punitive damages are proper, “only in cases where the defendant’s actions are so outrageous as to demonstrate willful, wanton or reckless conduct.” Hutchison v. Luddy, 582 Pa. 114, 121, 870 A.2d 766 (2005). Although ordinary negligence will not support an award of punitive damages, “punitive damages are appropriate for torts sounding in negligence when the conduct goes beyond mere negligence and into the realm of behavior which is willful, malicious, or so careless as to indicate wanton disregard for the rights of the parties injured.” Hutchison, 582 Pa. at 120 (citing Restatement (Second) of Torts § 908 (1979). In making this determination “[t]he state of mind of the actor is vital.” Hutchison, 582 Pa. at 122 (internal citations omitted).
Patrick alleges [*5] that Jones acted in a “careless, reckless, and unsafe manner.” (Doc. 1, at 6). More specifically, Patrick alleges Jones’s conduct was outrageous, malicious, wanton and oppressive, with “reckless indifference to the rights and safety of the motoring public including Flores”. (Doc. 1, at 5-6). These allegations, if proven, may support a claim for punitive damages. Although discovery may establish that punitive damages are not warranted, and Defendants are without prejudice to raising this argument again later in this case, discovery is necessary to help make this determination. Dismissing plaintiff’s punitive damages claim now at the pleading stage would be premature. See King v. Hyundai Motor Mfg. Am., No. 1:18-CV-450, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1811, 2019 WL 458477, at *3 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 3, 2019), report and recommendation adopted, No. 1:18-CV-450, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17791, 2019 WL 450217 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 5, 2019); Young v. Westfall, No. 4:06-CV-2325, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14809, 2007 WL 675182, at *2 (M.D. Pa. March 1, 2007).1
As such, it is recommended that the motion to dismiss be denied as to Plaintiff’s claim of punitive damages.
B. MOTION FOR A MORE DEFINITE STATEMENT
Defendants also move for a more definite statement, specifically seeking to strike the language “but not limited to” from the Complaint. (Doc. 7, at 5-6). Under Rule 12(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a defendant [*6] may move “for a more definite statement of a pleading to which a responsive pleading is allowed but which is so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot prepare a reasonable response.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(e). Patrick does not contest the motion for a more definite statement and concurs with the Defendants’ request that the Court strike the phrase “but not limited to” from paragraph 20. (Doc. 10, at 10). Therefore, it is recommended that the language “but not limited to” be struck from paragraph 20 of Plaintiff’s Complaint.
Based on the foregoing, it is recommended that the Court DENY Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss and GRANT the Motion for a More Definite Statement, and STRIKE the language “but not limited to” from paragraph 20 of the Plaintiff’s Complaint.
Dated: June 17, 2019
/s/ Karoline Mehalchick
United States Magistrate Judge