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SUTTON v. ROYAL CHEVROLET-OLDSMOBILE-PONTIAC-BUICK

January 16, 2004.

DAVID SUTTON, Plaintiff
v.
ROYAL CHEVROLET-OLDSMOBILE-PONTIAC-BUICK, INC., Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES KELLY, Senior District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Presently before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss and for Judgment on the Pleadings filed by Defendant Royal Chevrolet-Oldsmobile-Pontiac-Buick, Inc. ("Royal Chevrolet") requesting dismissal of Plaintiff David Sutton's ("Plaintiff") claims made under the Federal Magnuson-Moss Warranty Improvement Act, Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, Uniform Commercial Code, and further seeking punitive damages. In the Complaint, Plaintiff, a purchaser of a van from a selling dealership, Royal Chevrolet, alleges, inter alia, that Royal Chevrolet breached its duties to exercise due care and to repair the van in a skilled and workmanlike manner, that the van's defects and nonconformities constitute a breach of Royal Chevrolet's contractual and statutory obligations, and that an award of punitive damages is warranted. Royal Chevrolet answers that, although Plaintiff may have had a valid claim against it at one time, Plaintiff's claims are now barred by a Settlement and Release Agreement (the "Release") that Plaintiff executed in Page 2 settlement of a previous suit filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas (the "Common Pleas suit"). In light of the Release, Royal Chevrolet seeks dismissal of Plaintiff's Complaint and also asks that this Court sanction Plaintiff pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 as it alleges Plaintiff's Complaint is frivolous, vexatious, and filed in bad faith. For the following reasons, Royal Chevrolet's Motion to Dismiss and for Judgment on the Pleadings is DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

  On or about August 22, 2001, Plaintiff purchased a new 2000 Chevrolet Express Conversion van (the "van"), Vehicle Identification Number 1GBFG15M1Y1208647. (Compl. ¶ 4.) As reflected by an invoice, Royal Chevrolet purchased the van from Glaval Corporation ("Glaval") before selling it to Plaintiff.*fn1 (Compl. Ex. C.) Plaintiff avers that Royal Chevrolet took possession of the van on or about March 29, 2000, sixteen months prior to Plaintiff's purchase. (Compl. Ex. C.) Plaintiff contends that Royal Chevrolet received correspondence from Glaval that Glaval ceased operations three months before Plaintiff's purchase, and that at the time of purchase, despite such prior knowledge of Glaval's ceased operations, Royal Chevrolet Page 3 represented to Plaintiff that the van was warranted by both General Motors Corporation ("GM") and Glaval. (Compl. ¶ 8.; Pl.'s Mem. in Support of Resp. to Def.'s Mot. at 1-2.)

  Plaintiff alleges that problems arose with the van shortly after taking possession of it, so Plaintiff brought it to Royal Chevrolet for automotive service. (Compl. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff further contends that although some of the repairs were covered by GM's warranty, those repairs not covered by GM's warranty would have been covered by Glaval's warranty. (Compl. ¶ 10.) Plaintiff avers that upon taking the van to Royal Chevrolet for service, he learned that repair of certain allegedly defective parts that should have been covered by Glaval's warranty would not be covered because Glaval had ceased operations. (Compl. ¶ 10; Pl.'s Mem. in Support of Resp. to Def.'s Mot. at 2.)

  Based in part on the van's allegedly ineffectively repaired parts and unfulfilled warranties, on March 8, 2002, Plaintiff commenced a lawsuit against GM and Glaval in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, captioned, David Sutton v. General Motors Corporation and Glaval Corporation, March Term, 2002 No. 2323, (the "Common Pleas suit"). (Def. Mot. To Dismiss Ex. C.) The Court of Common Pleas scheduled the suit for arbitration, but before the arbitration hearing, Plaintiff signed the Release which resolved all claims between the parties to that suit. (Def. Mot. To Dismiss Ex. F.) The Court of Common Pleas approved the Page 4 Release by entering an Order to Settle, Discontinue and End the matter before that court. (Def. Mot. To Dismiss Ex. E.)

  On March 26, 2003, about a year after initiating the Common Pleas suit, Plaintiff initiated this diversity action by filing a Complaint against Royal Chevrolet only, based upon circumstances surrounding his purchase and Royal Chevrolet's subsequent repairs of the van. (See Compl.) Royal Chevrolet filed its Answer to Plaintiff's Complaint and asserted, inter alia, the affirmative defense of release based upon the aforementioned Release. (Answer Sixth Defense; See Answer Ex. A.)

  In the instant motion, Royal Chevrolet contends that the Court need only look to the Release's plain language to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint because Plaintiff drafted, and contracted for, the Release in such a way as to clearly and unambiguously release and discharge Royal Chevrolet from every claim made by Plaintiff in this matter. In the alternative, Royal Chevrolet argues that Plaintiff's claims are barred by paragraph one of the Release, which provides for the release of any claims "alleged in or to be inferred from" allegations set forth in the Court of Common Pleas suit. (Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss ¶¶ 23-24; See Answer Ex. A.)

  II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

  As a federal court sitting in diversity, we must adjudicate Page 5 the case in accordance with applicable state law. Erie Railroad v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938); Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Cosenza, 258 F.3d 197, 202 (3d Cir. 2001). The parties do not dispute that Pennsylvania law governs the substance of this dispute. Procedurally, however, this case is governed by federal law. Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 473-74 (1965).

  Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) provides that "[a]fter the pleadings are closed but within such time as not to delay the trial, any party may move for judgment on the pleadings." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). The Court must review a Rule 12(c) motion under the same standard as a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), by accepting the nonmovant's well-plead averments of fact as true and viewing all inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Jablonski v. Pan American World Airways, Inc., 863 F.2d 289, 290-91 (3d Cir. 1988); Society Hill Civic Assoc. v. Harris, 632 F.2d 1045, 1054 (3d Cir. 1980); Abbdulaziz v. City of Philadelphia, Civ. A. No. 00-5672, 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16972, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 18, 2001). Judgment on the pleadings is appropriate only when the movant establishes, on the face of the pleadings alone, that he is entitled to judgment as a matter of law and "that no material issue of fact remains to be resolved" in order to ensure that "the rights of the nonmoving party are decided as fully and fairly on a rule 12(c) motion, as if there had been a trial." Society Hill Civic Assoc., Page 6 632 F.2d at 1054 (citations omitted); Saudi Basic Indus Corp. v. ExxonMobile Corp., 194 F. Supp.2d 378, 390 (D.N.J. 2002) (citations omitted); Pellegrino Food Products Co. v. City of Warren, 136 F. Supp. 391, 399 (W.D. Pa. 2000).

  III. DISCUSSION

 A. The Pleadings Before the Court

  Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 10, a copy of an instrument attached as an exhibit to a pleading is considered a part of that pleading for all purposes. Fed.R. Civ. R. 10(c). Thus, in determining the Motion to Dismiss, the Court will consider any of the ...


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