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Rapchak v. Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 18, 2013

BONNIE RAPCHAK, Executrix of the Estate of John E. Borzik, Deceased and WANDA BORZIK, Plaintiffs,
v.
FREIGHTLINER CUSTOM CHASSIS CORPORATION, HALDEX BRAKE PRODUCTS CORPORATION, SAF-HOLLAND USA, INC., GULF STREAM COACH, INC. and TOUR MASTER RECREATIONAL VEHICLES, INC., [1] Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT

TERRENCE F. McVERRY, District Judge.

Pending before the Court is a PARTIAL MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFFS' PUNITIVE DAMAGES CLAIM (ECF No. 17) filed by Gulf Stream Coach, Inc. ("Gulf Stream") and Tour Master Recreational Vehicles Inc. ("Tour Master") with brief in support (ECF No. 18);and a MOTION FOR PARTIAL JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS (ECF No. 35) filed by Freightliner Custom Chassis Corporation ("Freightliner") with brief in support (ECF No. 37). Plaintiffs filed briefs in opposition (ECF No. 39, 42). Accordingly, the motions are ripe for disposition.

I. Background

The following background is drawn from the Complaint, and the factual allegations therein are accepted as true for purposes of this Memorandum Opinion. As the law requires, all disputed facts and inferences are resolved in favor of Plaintiffs, the non-moving parties.

A. Factual Background

This case arose out of the tragic death of John E. Borzik while inspecting the undercarriage of his 2008 Tour Master recreational motor home to check for a leak of anti-freeze. At that time, Plaintiff positioned himself near the right side of the rear axle lying supine on a creeper under the structure when it unexpectedly descended, trapped him, compressed his chest and caused him to asphyxiate over a period of time which eventually led to his death. Plaintiffs allege that "the structure of the motor home descended because the height control valves and/or dump valves in the suspension system of the chassis malfunctioned and did not perform as intended or expected by permitting air to escape from the rear." (ECF No. 1 at 8). According to Plaintiffs, an air leak through a port in the front-mounted dump valve was detected soon after the decedent's body was found.

Defendants designed, manufactured, assembled, and/or sold the motor home, its chassis, and the air suspension system. Plaintiff Rapchak is the Executrix of decedent's estate; Plaintiff Wanda Borzik is his mother. As Plaintiffs aver, Ms. Borzik observed her son shortly after the accident and "perceived that [he] was seriously injured or in the process of dying." Id. at 21.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiffs initiated this action on September 6, 2013 by filing a five-count Complaint in this Court in which they allege various product liability claims and a negligent and/or intentional infliction of emotional distress claim at Count Five.[2] Plaintiffs seek damages pursuant to a Pennsylvania Survival Action, 42 P.S. § 8302 and the Wrongful Death Act, 42 P.S. § 8301. Additionally, Plaintiffs claim they are entitled to an award of punitive damages.

A variety of responsive filings followed. Freightliner filed an Answer (ECF No. 11) on November 8, 2013 and a motion for partial judgment on the pleadings (ECF No. 35) on December 11, 2013; Saf-Holland, Inc. ("Saf-Holland") filed an Answer (ECF No. 12) on November 11, 2013; Gulf Stream and Tour Master filed an Answer (ECF No. 16) and a partial motion to dismiss (ECF No. 17) on November 25, 2013; and Haldex filed an Answer on November 27, 2013. Plaintiffs filed briefs in opposition to what they call "Partial Motion[s] for Summary Judgment to Dismiss" on December 13, 2013 and December 17, 2013. Compare Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) & (c) with Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. The Court now turns to the pending Rule 12 motions, which it will address in tandem. Allah v. Hayman, 442 F.App'x 632, 635 (3d Cir. 2011) ("The standards governing Rule 12(c) motions are the same ones that govern motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6)") (citing Spruill v. Gillis, 372 F.3d 218, 223 n.2 (3d Cir. 2004)).

II. Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the legal sufficiency of a complaint, which may be dismissed for the "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) Upon review of a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all well-pleaded facts and allegations, and must draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in favor of the plaintiff. Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d 212, 220 (3d Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 132 S.Ct. 1861 (2012) (citing In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litig., 618 F.3d 300, 314 (3d Cir. 2010)). However, as the Supreme Court of the United States has made clear in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, such "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." 550 U.S. 554, 555 (2007). The Supreme Court later refined this approach in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, emphasizing the requirement that a complaint must state a plausible claim for relief in order to survive a motion to dismiss. 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Nevertheless, "the plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, '" but requires a plaintiff to show "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

Accordingly, the Court must separate the factual and legal elements of the claim and "accept the factual allegations contained in the Complaint as true, but [] disregard rote recitals of the elements of a cause of action, legal conclusions, and mere conclusory statements." James v. City of Wilkes-Barre, 700 F.3d 675, 679 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79; Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-57; Burtch, 662 F.3d at 220-21). The Court "must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a plausible claim for relief.' In other words, a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief. A complaint has to show' such an entitlement with its facts." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 211 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Iqbal 556 U.S. at ...


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