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Karen G. Burke v. John L. Glanton

December 5, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Arthur J. Schwab United States District Judge



I. Introduction

Currently before the Court is Defendant Boyd Bros. Transportation's ("Boyd's") Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 19) Plaintiff Karen Burke's ("Plaintiff's") Complaint. The parties' dispute revolves around Plaintiff's husband's 2010 fatal car accident on Interstate 79. Plaintiff's Complaint contains four counts of wrongful death against various Defendants under different theories of liability. Count I alleges vicarious liability against Defendants John L. Glanton ("Glanton") and ABF Carrier, Inc. ("ABF"). Doc. No. 1, ¶¶ 19-23. Count II alleges direct liability against Defendant ABF. Id., ¶¶ 24-29. Count III alleges direct liability against Defendant Boyd.. Id., ¶¶ 30-35. Count IV alleges direct liability against Defendant Arcelor Mittal USA, Inc ("Arcelor"). Id., ¶¶ 36-39. The Complaint includes a request for punitive damages against Boyd. Id. After careful consideration of Boyd's Motion to Dismiss and Brief in Support thereof (Doc. Nos. 19 and 20), Plaintiff's Response in Opposition and Supplement (Doc. Nos. 24 and 29), and Boyd's Reply (Doc. No. 27 ), and for the reasons set forth below, Boyd's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 19) will be GRANTED in PART and DENIED in PART.

II. Factual Background

When reviewing a Motion to Dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court accepts all factual allegations in the Complaint as true and draws all reasonable inferences in Plaintiff's favor. See Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). Taking Plaintiff's factual allegations to be true solely for the purposes of this Memorandum Opinion, the facts of this case are as follows:

On or about August 16, 2010, Defendant John L. Glanton was operating a tractor trailer for his employer, Defendant ABF. Doc. No. 1, ¶¶ 10, 23. He was transporting rebar for Defendant Arcelor on a flat-bed trailer leased from Defendant Boyd. Id., ¶¶ 18, 37. The trailer had not been properly maintained and had insufficient warning lighting, reflectors, and signage. Id., ¶ 32. Plaintiff's husband was driving north on Interstate 79 in Washington County, Pennsylvania. Id., ¶ 37. At that time, Defendant Glanton was pulling a flat bed trailer which was loaded with rebar in the right lane near Mr. Burke's vehicle. Id., ¶¶ 10-11. The rebar was extending out beyond the back of the flat-bed trailer by at least eleven feet. Id. Subsequently, Mr. Burke entered into the right lane behind Defendant Glanton, and when the truck slowed, he crashed into the protruding rebar. Id., ¶ 15. The impact of the accident caused rebar to penetrate the windshield, killing Mr. Burke. Id.

III. Standard of Review

In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, federal courts require notice pleading, as opposed to the heightened standard of fact pleading. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) requires only "'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds on which it rests.'" Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)).

Building upon the landmark United States Supreme Court decisions in Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit explained that a District Court must undertake the following three steps to determine the sufficiency of a complaint:

First, the court must "tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim." Second, the court should identify allegations that, "because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Third, "whe[n] there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief." This means that our inquiry is normally broken into three parts: (1) identifying the elements of the claim, (2) reviewing the Complaint to strike conclusory allegations, and then (3) looking at the well-pleaded components of the Complaint and evaluating whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged.

Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675, 679).

The third step of the sequential evaluation requires this Court to consider the specific nature of the claims presented and to determine whether the facts pled to substantiate the claims are sufficient to show a "plausible claim for relief." Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210. "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a Complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Id. at 210-11; see also Malleus, 641 F.3d at 560.

This Court may not dismiss a Complaint merely because it appears unlikely or improbable that Plaintiff can prove the facts alleged or will ultimately prevail on the merits. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563 n.8. Instead, this Court must ask whether the facts alleged raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary elements. Id. at 556. Generally speaking, a Complaint that provides adequate facts to establish "how, when, and where" will survive a Motion to ...

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