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Kempson v. American Honda Motor Co.

March 18, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Sylvia H. Rambo


Before the court is Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Plaintiffs' claims arise out of an automobile accident in which Plaintiffs were severely injured. The court will grant in part and deny in part Defendant's motion.

I. Background: Facts*fn1 and Procedural History

Plaintiffs seek damages based on injuries sustained in a automobile accident. On November 4, 2006, late in the morning, Plaintiff Debra Kempson was involved in a collision while driving a 2006 Honda Odyssey owned by Plaintiffs. (Doc. 1 ¶ 5.) The front of Kempson's car collided with the left rear quadrant of another vehicle, yet, according to Plaintiffs, the car's front airbags failed to deploy and the front driver's side seatbelt restraint malfunctioned. (Id.) Plaintiffs allege that these defects caused "permanent and severe personal injury." (Id.)

Plaintiffs, acting pro se, filed suit on November 5, 2008 in the Court of Common Pleas of York County, Pennsylvania based on theories sounding in negligence and products liability. (See Doc. 2 Ex. A.) Plaintiffs seek actual as well as punitive damages. (Id.) Defendant removed the case to federal court on January 20, 2009, based on diversity and an amount in controversy exceeding $75,000. (See Doc. 1.) It filed a motion to dismiss and supporting documents on January 26, 2009, arguing that the statute of limitation barred Plaintiffs' claims or, in the alternative, Plaintiffs failed to adequately allege negligence, products liability, and fraud claims. (Doc. 2.) Plaintiffs filed a brief in opposition on February 12, 2009. (Doc. 5.) No reply brief was filed. Accordingly, the motion is now ripe for disposition.

II. Legal Standard

Among other requirements, a sound complaint must set forth "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). This statement must "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). "Fair notice under Rule 8(a)(2) depends on the type of case-some complaints will require at least some factual allegations to make out a showing that the pleader is entitled to relief . . . ." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted). "[A] situation may arise where, at some point, the factual detail in a complaint is so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant the type of notice of claim which is contemplated by Rule 8." Id. A plaintiff must provide "more than labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" to show entitlement to relief. Twombly, 127 1965; see also Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 195 (3d Cir. 2007) (finding that courts are not "compelled to accept unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences or a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation") (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 351(3d Cir. 2005).

A defendant may attack a complaint by a motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), federal courts "are required to accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to plaintiff." Evancho, 423 F.3d at 350. If the facts alleged are sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level" such that the plaintiff's claim is "plausible on its face," a complaint will survive a motion to dismiss. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965, 1974; Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234; see also Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007); Stevenson v. Caroll, 495 F.3d 62, 66 (3d Cir. 2007). This requirement "calls for enough fact to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" necessary elements of the plaintiff's cause of action. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965.

"To decide a motion to dismiss, courts generally consider only the allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint and matters of public record." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993) (citations omitted); see also Sands v. McCormick, 502 F.3d 263, 268 (3d Cir. 2007). The court may consider "undisputedly authentic document[s] that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the [attached] document[s]." Pension Benefit, 998 F.2d at 1196. Additionally, "documents whose contents are alleged in the complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the pleading, may be considered." Pryor v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002); see also U.S. Express Lines, Ltd. v. Higgins, 281 F.3d 383, 388 (3d Cir. 2002) ("Although a district court may not consider matters extraneous to the pleadings, a document integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint may be considered without converting the motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment.") (emphasis in original) (internal quotation marks omitted). The court, however, may not rely on other parts of the record in making its decision. Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994).

III. Discussion

Defendant suggests several reasons for dismissing Plaintiffs' complaint. First, it argues that, under Pennsylvania law, the statute of limitations bars Plaintiffs claims. Second, it argues that Plaintiffs have failed to state claims "of Crashworthiness or Second Collision." Third, it argues that Plaintiffs have "failed to state a claim for punitive damages." Fourth, it argues that no claim for "gross negligence" exists under Pennsylvania state law. Last, it argues that Plaintiffs have failed to plead fraud with particularity. The court will review each of these arguments in turn.

A. Statute of Limitations

Defendant argues that Plaintiffs filed their complaint one day after the expiration of the statute of limitations for their claims. As a general rule, "a plaintiff must bring a claim before the applicable statute of limitations expires." Barnes v. Am. Tobacco Co., 161 F.3d 127, 149 (3d Cir. 1998). Federal courts sitting in diversity cases must apply the substantive laws of the states in which they sit, and courts consider statutes of limitation substantive. Van Buskirk v. Carey Canadian Mines, Ltd., 760 F.2d 481, 487 (3d Cir. 1985). Under Pennsylvania law, the statute of limitations for Plaintiffs' claims is two years. See 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 5524(2), (7). "A claim under Pennsylvania law accrues at 'the occurrence of the final significant event necessary to make the claim suable [sic].' " Barnes, 161 F.3d at 152 (quoting Mack Trucks, Inc. v. Bendix-Westinghouse Auto. Air Brake Co., 372 F.23d 18, 20 (3d Cir. 1966)). Generally, "a cause of action accrues when a plaintiff has suffered an injury" and the actor has become aware of "a casual relationship between the injury and the actor." Cetel v. Kirwan Fin. Group, Inc., 460 F.3d 494, 513 n.15 (3d Cir. 2006); Mest v. Cabot Corp., 449 F.3d 502, 510 (3d Cir. 2006). Most claims sounding in tort, including negligence and products liability claims, "accrue when the injury is sustained." Bohus v. Beloff, 950 F.2d 919, 924 (3d Cir. 1991). An exception applies when a plaintiff alleges fraud: "the statute begins to run on discovery of the wrong or of facts that reasonably should lead the plaintiff to inquire into the fraud." Id.

While the court and both parties agree that the claims alleged accrued on November 4, 2006, Defendant incorrectly argues that the statute of limitations bars Plaintiffs' claims because they filed the suit one day late, on November 5, 2008. In calculating dates for the purpose of determining a limitations period, Pennsylvania law provides that "[w]henever the last day of any such period shall fall on Saturday or Sunday, or on any day made a legal holiday by the laws of this Commonwealth or of the United States, such day shall be omitted from computation." Pa. R. Civ. P. 106. November 4, 2008 was an election day, a ...

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