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Gregg v. Lonestar Transportation, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

June 12, 2015

JOAN F. GREGG, Executrix of the Estate of DONALD J. GREGG, SR., Deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
LONESTAR TRANSPORTATION, LLC, a Texas limited liability company, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

KIM R. GIBSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Joan F. Gregg, Executrix of the Estate of Donald J. Gregg, Sr. (“Gregg”), brought this complaint against Defendant LoneStar Transportation, LLC. (ECF No. 1 at 1). Presently before this Court is Defendant’s motion for partial dismissal of Plaintiff’s amended complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (ECF No. 19). Defendant asserts that Plaintiff’s amended complaint fails to allege facts to support claims of recklessness and for punitive damages, and that those claims should therefore be dismissed. (Id. at ¶ 23). For the reasons below, the Court finds that Defendant’s motion shall be granted.

II. BACKGROUND

a. Procedural background

The procedural background to this case was already laid out in this Court’s earlier memorandum opinion on Defendant’s first motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 17). The Court granted Defendant’s motion to dismiss and granted Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint. (Id. at 11). Plaintiff subsequently filed an amended complaint (ECF No. 18), and Defendant filed a second motion to dismiss (ECF No. 19).

b. Factual background

The Court already laid out in detail the factual background to this case in its earlier memorandum opinion. (ECF No. 17). The facts will be restated here only insofar as additional facts have been pled by Plaintiff in the amended complaint and insofar as they pertain to the instant motion to dismiss. Plaintiff asserts that as a direct result of Defendant’s conduct that was “intentional, willful, outrageous, reckless and deliberately indifferent” Gregg suffered injuries, death and other damages. (ECF No. 18 at ¶ 39). Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant and its agent had knowledge and/or had a subject appreciation of the risk of harm to which they exposed Gregg, and that they acted in conscious disregard of that risk. (Id. at ¶ 41). Plaintiff also asserts that Defendant and its agent’s appreciation of the risk was outrageous because of their reckless indifference to the rights and safety of Gregg, and that it was so outrageous as to demonstrate willful, wanton or reckless conduct. (Id. at ¶¶ 42-43).

Plaintiff further states that Defendant’s training of its employees was outrageous because of its reckless indifference to the rights and safety of motorists, including Gregg. (Id. at ¶ 50). Plaintiff claims that Defendant, acting through its duly authorized agents, engaged in intentional, willful, outrageous, reckless and deliberately indifferent conduct by training and instructing its employees, agents and/or drivers that the laws and regulations of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania “required said employees, agents and/or drivers to proceed from an area where no danger to motorists existed into an area where an extremely dangerous condition would exist for motorists [.]” (Id. at ¶ 48).

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

The Court already set out the motion to dismiss standard in its earlier memorandum opinion (ECF No. 17 at 4), and will therefore not restate it here.

IV. ANALYSIS

Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s amended complaint contained no new facts, but rather inserted “broad, conclusory averments, or ‘buzzwords.’” (ECF No. 20 at 8-9). Thus, Defendant asserts that the amended complaint “fails as a matter of law to allege facts sufficient to establish valid claims of recklessness and for punitive damages.” (Id. at 10).

As this Court noted in its earlier opinion, punitive damages are an “extreme remedy” available only in the most exceptional matters. Phillips v. Cricket Lighters, 883 A.2d 439, 445 (Pa. 2005). Under Pennsylvania law, “[p]unitive damages may be awarded for conduct that is outrageous, because of the defendant’s evil motive or his reckless indifference to the rights of others.” Feld v. Merriam, 485 A.2d 742, 747 (Pa. 1984), citing Chambers v. Montgomery, 192 A.2d 355 (Pa. 1963). Punitive damages “are proper only in cases where the defendant’s actions are so outrageous as to demonstrate willful, wanton or reckless conduct.” Hutchison ex rel. Hutchison v. Luddy, 870 A.2d 766, 770 (Pa. 2005). In order to support a claim for punitive damages, a plaintiff must establish that “(1) a defendant had a subjective appreciation of the risk of harm to which ...


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