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Alicia A. Guerra v. New Prime

July 20, 2012

ALICIA A. GUERRA,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEW PRIME, INC., AND CHRISTOPHER L. COPPOLA,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terrence F. McVerry United States District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Presently before the Court are the following:

(1) Plaintiff's MOTION TO AMEND THE AD DAMNUM CLAUSE OF PLAINTIFF'S AMENDED COMPLAINT (Doc. No. 24); and

(2) Defendants' MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Doc. No. 26). The motions are fully briefed (Doc. Nos. 25, 27, 33, 34); and the parties have developed their respective positions by submitting concise statements of material fact and numerous exhibits (Doc. Nos. 28, 29, 32). The motions are ripe for disposition.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On the night of March 11, 2009 a tractor trailer, operated and driven by Defendant Christopher L. Coppola ("Coppola"), an employee of Defendant New Prime, Inc. ("New Prime"), collided with the rear end of a vehicle being operated by Plaintiff Alicia A. Guerra ("Plaintiff"), on Interstate 70 in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. Plaintiff alleges that she sustained various serious injuries as a result of the accident.

On December 8, 2010 Plaintiff initiated this lawsuit by filing a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. Coppola and New Prime (collectively "Defendants"), removed the case to this Court in January 2011. Subsequently, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint in Civil Action. (Doc No. 9). The Amended Complaint alleges that the accident was a direct and proximate result of the negligence, carelessness, and recklessness of Coppola, who at the time of the accident was acting within the course and scope of his employment by New Prime.

On March 6, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Amend the Ad Damnum Clause of her Amended Complaint to include a request for punitive damages. Plaintiff alleges that discovery has revealed evidence which shows that Defendants acted with a conscious disregard of the rights of Plaintiff, and that such action warrants the imposition of punitive damages. Defendants oppose Plaintiff's motion and argue that the Amended Complaint does not contain sufficient facts to support a claim for punitive damages and that the evidence Plaintiff obtained through discovery does not warrant the imposition of punitive damages.

On April 4, 2012, Defendants filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment in which they request the Court to: (a) grant summary judgment to both Defendants on Plaintiff's claims for punitive damages; and (b) grant summary judgment to Defendant New Prime on Plaintiff's claims for negligent hiring, retention, monitoring, training, and supervision.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure state that a party may amend its pleading by motion to the Court, and that the Court should freely grant such motions "when justice so requires." Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2). However, it is within the district court's discretion to grant or deny a motion to amend, and a court could justify denial of a motion to amend on grounds of undue delay, bad faith, dilatory motive, prejudice, or futility. Id. "In inquiring as to when [an] amendment would be futile, the Court applies the same standard used in a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." Schneider v. Arc of Montgomery Cnty., 497 F.Supp.2d 651, 659 (E.D. Pa. 2007). In other words, the court must examine the record to determine whether the record supports the amendment being requested.

In Pennsylvania, the ad damnum clause of a complaint may be amended to include a claim for punitive damages, provided that the complaint demonstrates a basis for such damages. Dept. of Transp. v. Pennsylvania Industries for the Blind and Handicapped, 886 A.2d 706, 715 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2005). Such an amendment is allowed because "[t]he right to punitive damages is a mere incident to a cause of action -- an element which the jury may consider in making its determination -- and not the subject of an action in itself." Daley v. John Wanamaker, Inc., 317 Pa. Super. 348, 360 (1985) (quoting Hilbert v. Roth, 395 Pa. 270, 276 (1959)).

Similarly, under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court must examine the record to determine whether summary judgment should be granted or denied. Summary judgment is proper "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A fact is "material" if proof of its existence or nonexistence would affect the outcome of the lawsuit under the substantive law applicable to the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Levendos v. Stern Entertainment Inc., 860 F.2d 1227, 1233 (3d Cir. 1988). An issue of material fact is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could render a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 257; McGreevy v. Stroup, 413 F.3d 359, 363 (3d Cir. 2005). Furthermore, "[i]n determining whether a genuine issue of fact exists, a court must resolve all factual doubts and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party." Burke v. TransAm Trucking, Inc., 605 F.Supp.2d 647, 650 (M.D. Pa. 2009) (citing Conoshenti v. Public Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 364 F.3d 135, 140 (3d Cir. 2004)).

DISCUSSION

Jurisdiction of this Court in the case at bar is based on diversity of citizenship pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). The underlying claims are based on Pennsylvania law; therefore, Pennsylvania substantive law will determine whether punitive damages will be permitted in this case. Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938); Gasperini v. Center for Humanities, Inc., 518 U.S. 415, 427 (1996); Burke,605 F.Supp.2d at 651, n. 2 (M.D. Pa. 2009).

A. General Principles Regarding Claims For Punitive Damages

In Hutchinson v. Luddy, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court explained the standard for an award of punitive damages:

The standard governing the award of punitive damages in Pennsylvania is settled. Punitive damages may be awarded for conduct that is outrageous, because of the defendant's evil motive or his reckless indifference to the rights of others. As the name suggests, punitive damages are penal in nature and are proper only in cases where the defendant's actions are so outrageous as to demonstrate willful, wanton, or reckless conduct. The purpose of punitive damages is to punish a tortfeasor for outrageous conduct and to deter him or other[s] like him from similar conduct. Additionally, this Court has stressed that, when assessing the ...


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