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Liberty Mutual Ins. Co. v. Freightliner, LLC

United States District Court, Third Circuit

November 19, 2013




Plaintiff Liberty Mutual Insurance Company ("Liberty Mutual"), as a subrogee, brings this products liability and negligence action against defendants Freightliner, LLC, Daimler Trucks North America, Bergstrom, Inc., Bergstrom Climate Systems, LLC (together with Bergstrom, Inc., “Bergstrom”), Kissling Electrotec, Inc., Valeo, Inc., Valeo Climate Control Corp., Valeo Electrical Systems, Inc., Valeo Engine Cooling, Inc., and Valeo Compressor North America, Inc. The lawsuit involves a truck that caught fire while under lease to Liberty Mutual’s insured, Modern Mushroom Farms, Inc. (“Modern Mushroom”). Liberty Mutual paid the loss resulting from the vehicle fire and is now seeking recovery against the alleged defendant tortfeasors. The complaint consists of claims for: (1) strict products liability; (2) breach of express and implied warranty; (3) breach of implied warranty under the Pennsylvania Commercial Code and Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act; and (4) negligence.[1]


Defendant Bergstrom has moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. When deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draw all inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008); Umland v. Planco Fin. Servs., Inc., 542 F.3d 59, 64 (3d Cir. 2008). We must then determine whether the pleading at issue “contain[s] sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). This inquiry does “not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, but only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 569. There should be facts alleged that give rise to a reasonable expectation that discovery will yield evidence to support the plaintiff’s claim. See Id. at 556.

A claim must nonetheless do more than raise a “‘mere possibility of misconduct.’” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Under this standard, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. On a motion to dismiss, the court may consider “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) (citing 5A Charles Allen Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1357, at 299 (2d ed. 1990)).


The following facts for present purposes are accepted as true or taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. On October 11, 2010, Modern Mushroom leased a 2011 Freightliner Cascadia 125 truck equipped with a conventional sleeper cab from Penske Truck Leasing for use in its business. At the time of the events in this case, Bergstrom was a manufacturer and seller of cab climate systems for commercial trucks, including systems that were component parts of the truck in question in this case.

On July 18, 2011, while Alfred Taggart, the driver, was asleep in the truck at a pull off area on Interstate 76 in Pennsylvania, a fire ignited in the sleeper area of the cab. Mr. Taggart awoke to smoke in the cab and flames at the base of the work station behind the driver’s seat, the location of the auxiliary air conditioner. It was ultimately determined that the source of the fire was an “ignition sequence involving an unspecified electrical event at the auxiliary air conditioner and/or its associated components and wiring.” Other possible causes were ruled out using “objective standards of fire investigation.” At the time of the fire, Liberty Mutual insured Modern Mushroom. The truck was determined to be a total loss. Liberty Mutual paid Modern Mushroom $132, 900.48 under its policy. Additionally, Liberty Mutual seeks costs for “towing, salvage and storage charges.”


We turn first to Bergstrom’s argument that Liberty Mutual’s claims of breach of an implied warranty under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act should be dismissed because Liberty Mutual has not sufficiently averred that the auxiliary air conditioner is a “consumer product.” The Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act provides for damages and other relief to “a consumer who is damaged by the failure of a supplier, warrantor, or service contractor to comply with any obligation ... under a written warranty, implied warranty, or service contract.” 15 U.S.C. § 2310(d)(1). The statute defines a “consumer” as a

buyer ... of any consumer product, any person to whom such product is transferred during the duration of an implied or written warranty (or service contract) applicable to the product, and any other person who is entitled by the terms of such warranty (or service contract) or under applicable State law to enforce against the warrantor (or service contractor) the obligations of the warranty (or service contract).

Id. at 2301(3). A “consumer product” is “any tangible personal property which is distributed in commerce and which is normally used for personal, family, or household purposes.” Id. at 2301(1).

The parties do not cite any case directly on point, and we have found none, for the proposition that the auxiliary air conditioner of a commercial truck is a consumer product under the statute. We note that other courts have determined that a commercial truck as a whole is not “normally used for personal, family, or household purposes.” See, e.g., Kwiatkowski v. Volvo Trucks North America, Inc., 500 F.Supp.2d 875, 877 (N.D. Ill. 2007); Waypoint Aviation Servs. Inc. v. Sandel Avionics, Inc., 469 F.3d 1071, 1072 (7th Cir. 2006).[2]

In this case, Liberty Mutual has simply averred that the Freightliner truck and its auxiliary air conditioner are consumer products without pleading any facts to indicate that these items are “normally used for personal, family, or household purposes.” 15 U.S.C. § 2301(1). This “[t]hreadbare recital” is not enough. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Even considering the air conditioner system independently of the truck, Liberty Mutual has not pleaded a plausible claim for relief under the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. See Waypoint Aviation, 469 F.3d at 1073; Twombly, 550 U.S. at 569; 15 U.S.C. ...

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