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McCullough v. Peeples

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 5, 2015



KIM R. GIBSON, District Judge.

I. Synopsis

This diversity case arises from personal injuries sustained by Plaintiff Michael McCullough following a traffic accident. Presently before the Court is a motion to dismiss (ECF No. 9) Plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, filed by Defendants Derek Peeples and Horizon Freight System, Inc. (collectively "Defendants").[1] Defendants contend that Plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted for negligence, and, in the alternative, that the complaint fails to state a claim for punitive damages. ( See ECF No. 9). Plaintiff opposes the motion. ( See ECF No. 23). For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion to dismiss will be denied in part and granted in part.

II. Jurisdiction

The Court has diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Venue is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b).

III. Background

Plaintiff initiated this case after sustaining injuries from a multi-vehicle traffic accident that occurred on State Route 22 in Jackson Township, Cambria County, Pennsylvania. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 10). The Court accepts the following allegations from the complaint as true for the sole purpose of deciding the pending motion. On February 3, 2014, while Defendant Derek Peeples ("Peeples") was operating an 18 wheel semi-trailer truck owned by Defendant Horizon Freight System, Inc. ("Horizon") in a westbound lane of State Route 22, the truck "jackknifed, " blocking the westbound lanes of State Route 22. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 11).

Shortly after Defendant Peeples' truck jackknifed, Plaintiff, who was operating a snow plow owned by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, observed Peeples' truck jackknifed across the westbound lanes of State Route 22 and brought the snow plow to a complete stop. (Id. ¶ 12). Shortly after coming to a complete stop, Plaintiff's snow plow was struck in the rear by an 18 wheel semi-trailer truck operated by Defendant Randall McMurty ("McMurty") and owned by Defendant Theresa Jung t/d/b/a TJ Transport ("Jung"). (Id. ¶ 13). The force of the impact caused the snow plow to overturn. (Id. ¶ 14). As a result of the accident, Plaintiff sustained numerous injuries. (Id. ¶ 2).

On June 12, 2014, Plaintiff filed a four-count complaint, asserting a claim for negligence and a claim for punitive damages against each of the four defendants. (Id. ¶¶ 15-40). On August 8, 2014, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). (ECF No. 9). Defendants contend that Counts I and II of the complaint should be dismissed because Plaintiff has failed to allege proximate causation between Defendants' conduct and Plaintiff's injuries. (Id.). Alternatively, Defendants argue that the punitive damages claims in Counts I and II should be dismissed because Plaintiff's claims are for ordinary negligence. (Id.). Both parties have submitted briefs, and the matter is now ripe for disposition. ( See ECF Nos. 10, 23).

IV. Standard of Review

Defendants have moved to dismiss Counts I and II of Plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). ( See ECF No. 9). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that a complaint contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Rule 12(b)(6) allows a party to seek dismissal of a complaint or any portion of a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Although the federal pleading standard has been "in the forefront of jurisprudence in recent years, " the standard of review for a Rule 12(b)(6) challenge is now well established. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 209 (3d Cir. 2009).

In determining the sufficiency of a complaint, a district court must conduct a two-part analysis. First, the court must separate the factual matters averred from the legal conclusions asserted. See Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210. Second, the court must determine whether the factual matters averred are sufficient to show that plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief." Id. at 211 (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009)). The complaint need not include "detailed factual allegations." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

Moreover, the court must construe the alleged facts, and draw all inferences gleaned therefrom, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See id. at 228 (citing Worldcom, Inc. v. Graphnet, Inc., 343 F.3d 651, 653 (3d Cir. 2003)). However, "legal conclusions" and "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action... do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Rather, the complaint must present sufficient "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Sheridan v. NGK Metals Corp., 609 F.3d 239, 263 n.27 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

Ultimately, whether a plaintiff has shown a "plausible claim for relief" is a "context specific" inquiry that requires the district court to "draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. The relevant record under consideration includes the complaint and any "document integral or explicitly relied on in the complaint." U.S. Express Lines, Ltd. v. Higgins, 281 F.3d 383, 388 (3d Cir. 2002) (citing In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997)). If a complaint is vulnerable to dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the district court must permit a curative amendment, irrespective of whether a ...

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