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Ortiz v. Porte Reve Transportation, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 6, 2015

DARLENE ORTIZ, Administratrix of the Estate of AMY LORRAINE JOYCE, Deceased, Plaintiff


Sylvia H. Rambo United States District Judge.

In this wrongful death action, Plaintiff brings claims on behalf of the estate of her deceased daughter arising out of an automobile accident with a tractor trailer that resulted in her daughter’s death. Plaintiff alleges that the driver of the tractor trailer was negligent and reckless in operating the tractor trailer, and that the driver’s employer was negligent and reckless in both failing to properly train the driver as well as allowing an untrained driver to operate a tractor trailer it owned. Presently before the court is Defendants’ motion to strike references to “grossly reckless conduct” and dismiss Plaintiff’s claims for punitive damages from the complaint. (Doc. 5.) For the reasons stated herein, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

“As a general matter, a district court ruling on a motion to dismiss may not consider matters extraneous to the pleadings.” In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997). Thus, for purposes of the motion sub judice, the court only considers the allegations contained in the complaint (Doc. 3-2), and will accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations contained therein.[1] See Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, Inc. v. Mirage Resorts, Inc., 140 F.3d 478, 483 (3d Cir. 1998) (citing Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501 (1975)).

A. Facts

In the early morning hours of June 9, 2013, Plaintiff’s daughter, Amy Lorraine Joyce (“Joyce”), was driving southbound on Interstate-81 within the Middle District of Pennsylvania. (Doc. 3-2, ¶ 10.) Defendant Robert D. Morris (“Defendant Morris”) was operating a tractor trailer at the direction of, and owned by, his employer, Defendant Port Reve Transportation, Inc. (“Defendant Port Reve” and, together with Defendant Morris, “Defendants”). (Id. ¶¶ 7-9.) At approximately 3:35 a.m., Defendant Morris caused the tractor trailer to collide with Joyce’s vehicle, forcing the vehicle off of the road and up an embankment. (Id. ¶ 13.) The collision caused fatal injuries to Joyce, who died the same day. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 16.)

B. Procedural History

Joyce’s mother, Darlene Ortiz (“Plaintiff”), initiated this action by filing a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania on April 17, 2015, pursuant to Pennsylvania’s Wrongful Death Act, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8301, and Survival Statute, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8302. (Doc. 3-2.) In her complaint, Plaintiff claims that Defendants’ negligent and reckless conduct wrongfully caused her daughter’s death. (Id., ¶ 16.) Defendants removed the case to the Middle District of Pennsylvania on May 15, 2015 (Doc. 1), and filed the instant motion to dismiss and strike the claims for punitive damages, as well as a brief in support thereof, on May 18, 2015 (Docs. 5 & 6).

Plaintiff filed its opposition on June 11, 2015 (Doc. 9), [2] and Defendants filed a reply on June 23, 2015 (Doc. 10). Thus, this matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for consideration.

II. Legal Standard

Defendants’ motion challenges Plaintiff’s complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and 12(f). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the sufficiency of the complaint against the pleading requirements of Rule 8(a), which requires that a complaint contain a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief “in order to ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.’” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S 41, 47 (1957)). While a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, it “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

Thus, when adjudicating a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court must view all of the allegations and facts in the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and must grant the plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can be derived therefrom. Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir. 2005)). However, the court need not accept inferences or conclusory allegations that are unsupported by the facts set forth in the complaint. See Reuben v. U.S. Airways, Inc., 500 F. App’x 103, 104 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678); Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009) (stating that district courts “must accept all of the complaint’s well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions”).

Ultimately, the court must determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a “plausible claim for relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679; see also Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). The “plausibility standard” requires “more than a sheer possibility” that a defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. Reuben, 500 F. App’x at 104 (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Rather, the complaint must show the plaintiff’s entitlement to relief with its facts. Steedley v. McBride, 446 F. App’x 424, 425 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Fowler, 578 F.3d at 211). “[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged – but it has not ‘show[n]’ – ‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.’” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)) (alterations in original). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

To evaluate whether allegations in a complaint survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the district court must initially “tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.” Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010) (alteration in original) (citation omitted). Next, the court should identify allegations that “are no more than conclusions” and thus, “not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id. Lastly, “where there are well-pleaded factual ...

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