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Laskowski v. Brown Shoe Company, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 20, 2015

KAREN LASKOWSKI, et al., Plaintiffs
v.
BROWN SHOE COMPANY, INC. et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

KAROLINE MEHALCHICK, Magistrate Judge.

Pending before this Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss portions of Plaintiff's complaint. (Doc. 8). For the reasons stated herein, this Court will grant in part Defendants' motion to dismiss.

I. BACKGROUND

The instant action was initiated by the filing of a complaint in this matter on September 16, 2014. (Doc. 1). Plaintiffs Karen and Charles Laskowski filed this action under theories of strict product liability, negligence, breach of warranty, misrepresentation, and violations of consumer protection laws, alleging that a pair of Avia A9995WWSL "toning shoes, " manufactured by Defendants Brown Shoe Company, Inc., and American Sporting Goods Corporation, caused Plaintiff Karen Laskowski injury. (Doc. 1, at 3). Specifically, the complaint alleges that Plaintiff purchased a pair of toning shoes at the Boscov's Store located in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in February, 2013. (Doc. 1, at 3). She claims she purchased the shoes because of advertisements toting certain health benefits. (Doc. 1, at 3). On April 22, 2013, while wearing the shoes, she lost her balance and sustained a bimalleolar fracture and Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome. Plaintiffs allegedly have incurred medical bills, lost wages, lost earning capacity, pain and suffering and lost enjoyment of life, which are permanent in nature.

On November 11, 2014, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, (Doc. 8), together with a brief in support of the motion to dismiss. (Doc. 9). On December 2, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a brief in opposition to the motion to dismiss. (Doc. 10). On December 15, 2014, Defendants filed a reply brief. (Doc. 11). Having been fully briefed, this matter is ripe for disposition.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes a defendant to move to dismiss for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). "Under Rule 12(b)(6), a motion to dismiss may be granted only if, accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, a court finds the plaintiff's claims lack facial plausibility." Warren Gen. Hosp. v. Amgen Inc., 643 F.3d 77, 84 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007)). Although the Court must accept the allegations in the complaint as true, it is not compelled to accept "unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences, or a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Morrow v. Balaski, 719 F.3d 160, 165 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 195 (3d Cir. 2007)).

Under Rule 12(b)(6), the defendant has the burden of showing that no claim has been stated. Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991); Johnsrud v. Carter, 620 F.2d 29, 32-33 (3d Cir. 1980); Holocheck v. Luzerne County Head Start, Inc., 385 F.Supp.2d 491, 495 (M.D. Pa. 2005). In deciding the motion, the Court may consider the facts alleged on the face of the complaint, as well as "documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial notice." Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007).

III. DISCUSSION

A. PLAINTIFFS' FIRST CAUSE OF ACTION - CLAIM FOR PUNITIVE DAMAGES

Defendants seek dismissal of Plaintiffs' claim for punitive damages on the ground that punitive damages are unavailable for claims that sound in ordinary negligence. (Doc. 9, at 5). In response, Plaintiffs argue that Defendants solely rely on cases involving motions for summary judgment or "appeals of verdicts where the evidence has been flushed out and the issues are more defined, " whereas procedurally, this case has not developed beyond the instant motion to dismiss. (Doc. 10-1, at 2).

Under Pennsylvania law, punitive damages are only available to compensate "for conduct that is outrageous, because of the defendant's evil motive or his reckless indifference to the rights of others." Cobb v. Nye, No. 4:14-CV-0865, 2014 WL 7067578, at *3 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 12, 2014) (quoting Hutchinson ex rel Hutchinson v. Luddy, 870 A.2d 766, 770 (Pa.Super. Ct. 2005)). "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." Hutchison, 870 A.2d at 770 (citing SHV Coal, Inc. v. Continental Grain Co., 587 A.2d 702, 704 (1991); Feld v. Merriam, 485 A.2d 742, 747-48 (Pa. 1984); Chambers v. Montgomery, 192 A.2d 355, 358 (Pa. 1963); Restatement (Second) of Torts ยง 908, comment b).

Punitive damages "are awarded only for outrageous conduct, that is, for acts done with a bad motive or with a reckless indifference to the interests of others." Calhoun v. Van Loon, No. 3:12-CV-458, 2014 WL 3428876, at *2 (M.D. Pa. July 11, 2014) (quoting SHV Coal, Inc., 587 A.2d at 705. "Ordinary negligence, involving inadvertence, mistake or error of judgment will not support an award of punitive damages." Hutchinson, 876 A.2d at 983-84. Under Pennsylvania law, an award of punitive damages is justified only where the plaintiff has established that the defendant acted "in an outrageous fashion due to either the defendant's evil motive or his reckless indifference to the rights of others." Fedor v. Van Note-Harvey Associates, No. CIV.A. 09-4932, 2011 WL 1043817, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 18, 2011); citing Phillips v. Cricket Lighters, 883 A.2d 439, 445-46 (Pa.2005); see also Boring v. Google Inc., 362 Fed.App'x 273, 282 (3d Cir.2010), citing Feld v. Merriam, 485 A.2d 742, 747-48 (Pa.1984) ("Pennsylvania law provides that a defendant must have engaged in outrageous' or intentional, reckless or malicious' conduct to sustain a claim for punitive damages."); Hutchinson v. Lundy, 582 Pa. 114, 121, 870 A.2d 766, 770 (Pa.2005)(internal citation omitted) ("[P]unitive damages are appropriate for torts sounding in negligence when the conduct goes beyond mere negligence and into the realm of behavior which is willful, malicious, or so careless as to indicate wanton disregard for the rights of the parties injured.")."Ordinary negligence, involving inadvertence, mistake or error of judgment will not support an award of punitive damages." Id.; citing Hutchinson v. Penske Truck Leasing Co., 876 A.2d 978, 983-84 (Pa.Super.Ct.2005). A punitive damages claim "must be supported by evidence sufficient to establish that (1) a defendant had a subjective appreciation of the risk of harm to which the plaintiff was exposed and that (2) he acted, or failed to act, as the case may be, in conscious disregard of that risk." Hutchison v. Luddy, 870 A.2d 766, 772 (Pa.2005), citing Martin v. Johns Manville Corp ., 494 A.2d 1088, 1087-98 (Pa.1985).

In this case, the complaint alleges that "[d]espite the fact that Defendants knew or should have known that the toning shoes posed a significantly increased risk of falls... Defendants continued to market the toning shoes as a safe and healthy alternative to regular tennis shoes. Therefore, the Defendants recklessly and/or negligently failed in their duty to exercise reasonable care...." (Doc. 1, at 4). The complaint further alleges that "[i]n taking the actions and omissions that caused these damages, ...


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