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Derek Piester and Semah Zavareh, H/W v. John M. Hickey and Potamkin Hyundai

March 20, 2012

DEREK PIESTER AND SEMAH ZAVAREH, H/W, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
JOHN M. HICKEY AND POTAMKIN HYUNDAI, INC., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lynne A. Sitarski United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM

Currently pending before the Court is the Motion of Defendants John M. Hickey and Potamkin Hyundai, Inc. to Dismiss Punitive Damages Pursuant to F.R.C.P. 12(b)(6) (Doc. No. 16) and Plaintiffs' Reply to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Punitive Damages Claim (Docs. Nos. 20-21). The question before the Court is whether Plaintiffs have alleged facts in their Complaint sufficient to proceed on a claim for punitive damages in an action for damages stemming from an automobile accident. (Doc. No. 16). Plaintiffs oppose the motion on the grounds that the facts alleged in the Complaint could allow a jury to conclude that punitive damages are appropriate. (Docs. Nos. 20-21).

As more fully set forth herein, Defendants' motion will be granted.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On August 5, 2009, Derek Piester ("Piester") was driving his motor vehicle when he was rear-ended on the U.S. Route 1 South exit off of Interstate 476 in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, by John M. Hickey ("Hickey"). (Doc. No. 1). Hickey's Ford F-150, owned by Potamkin Hyundai, Inc. ("Potamkin") (collectively with Hickey, "Defendants"), collided with the car driven by Piester when Hickey allegedly "looked at" and/or "used" his cellular telephone. Compl. ¶¶ 8, 9. Piester and his wife Semah Zavareh ("Zavareh") ("Plaintiffs") claim that Hickey and Potamkin were "negligent, careless, and reckless" and their actions were "willful, wanton, and reckless." Id. at ¶¶ 9-12. Plaintiffs allege that Hickey failed to operate his vehicle safely because he "looked at" or "used" his cellular telephone while driving. Plaintiffs further allege that Potamkin failed to train Hickey how to drive safely, and allowed Hickey to use his cellular telephone while driving Potamkin's vehicle. Id. at ¶¶ 9-10. Plaintiffs claim that they have suffered injuries and damages because of Defendants' actions, including serious and perhaps permanent physical injuries, indefinite economic expenditures, emotional damages, and a loss of consortium. Pls.' Compl. ¶¶ 14-20.

Defendants admit that Hickey collided with Piester on August 5, 2009, but Defendants maintain that Hickey operated his vehicle in a reasonable manner. (Doc. No. 7). Defendants further aver that Plaintiffs have not stated a claim upon which relief may be granted. See Answer.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Defendants filed an Answer and Affirmative Defenses to Plaintiffs' Complaint on October 26, 2011 (Doc. No. 7). Thereafter, on February 10, 2012, Defendants also filed the present Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' punitive damages claim pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6(Doc. No. 16).

Defendants argue that Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim for punitive damages upon which relief can be granted. Defs.' Mot. Dismiss ¶ 9. Defendants argue that a claim for punitive damages must allege actions by a defendant which "create a high degree of risk of physical harm to another, and deliberately proceed[] to act, or fail[s] to act, in conscious disregard of[,] or indifference to, that risk." Id. at ¶ 15 (quoting Martin v. Johns-Manville Corp., 494 A.2d 1088, 1097 (Pa. 1985)). Punitive damages cannot be awarded, Defendants argue, for "conduct which constitutes ordinary negligence such as 'inadvertence, mistakes or errors of judgment.'" Id. at ¶ 14 (quoting Feld v. Martin, 485 A.2d 742, 748 (Pa. 1984)). According to Defendants, even construing the Complaint in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs, the Complaint does not allege any facts that would allow Plaintiffs' recovery of punitive damages. Id. at ¶ 10.

Plaintiffs contend that Hickey's use of a cellular telephone was "willful, wanton and reckless." Pls.' Mem. Supp. Reply to Defs'. Mot. Dismiss 2. Plaintiffs contend that, under the federal rules' notice pleading standards, they have alleged enough facts to warrant denial of Defendants' motion. Id. at 2-4. Plaintiffs argue that a reasonable jury, underthese standards and the facts alleged, could conclude that Hickey created a high degree of risk of physical harm to another by using his cellular telephone immediately before colliding with Piester, thus allowing punitive damages to be awarded. Id.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard.

According to the federal rules, "[a] motion asserting [a failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted] must be made before pleading if a responsive pleading is allowed."

Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b). Once the responsive pleading, such as Defendants' Answer, is made asserting a defense of a failure to state a claim, the appropriate motion to be made is a motion for judgment on the pleadings. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c); see Dukes ...


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