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National Specialty Insurance Co. v. Tunkhannock Auto Mart Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 17, 2017



          A. Richard Caputo United States District Judge.

         Presently before the Court is an Amended Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 11) filed by Defendant Tunkhannock Auto Mart, Inc. (“Tunkhannock”). In the instant action, Plaintiffs, National Speciality Insurance Company (“National”), Gemini Insurance Company (“Gemini”), JWB Logistics Corp. (“JWB”), TMD Logistics Corp. (“TMD”), and T.B. Choya Express, Inc. (“TB Choya”), seek contribution from Tunkhannock for a payment made to settle a state-court lawsuit. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiffs' Complaint (Doc. 1) will be dismissed without prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         I. Background

         The facts as alleged in Plaintiffs' Complaint (Doc. 1) are as follows:

         Plaintiffs' seek contribution from Tunkhannock for a payment made to settle a state-court lawsuit stemming from a motor vehicle accident that occurred on October 27, 2010. Around 11:37 p.m. on the night of the accident, non-party Thomas W. Punko, an employee of Plaintiff JWB, [1] was operating a tractor trailer while making a delivery to Tunkhannock. Pursuant to his delivery instructions, Mr. Punko was required to pull into Tunkhannock's parking lot, turn around in the rear of the building, and pull out of the parking lot in a forward facing position after making the delivery. However, at the time of the delivery, Mr. Punko was unable to pull into Tunkhannock's parking lot due to parked automobiles, orange cones, and/or concrete barriers that Tunkhannock had placed in the lot. As such, Mr. Punko was forced to back his tractor trailer into Tunkhannock's lot in order to make his delivery. While he was backing the tractor trailer into the lot, the trailer blocked the center turn lane and north bound travel lane of State Route 29. At this time, non-party Jesse L. Prebola was driving a 1998 Buick Century Sedan traveling northbound on State Route 29. Mr. Prebola struck Mr. Punko's tractor trailer blocking his lane of travel, causing Mr. Prebola to suffer permanent physical injuries.

         Following the accident, non-party Deborah Prebola, as Plenary Temporary Guardian of her son, Jesse Prebola, an incapacitated adult, filed suit in the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County (the “Prebola Action”). On October 24, 2012, Ms. Prebola filed an amended complaint, dismissing various defendants and adding the instant Defendant Tunkhannock as a defendant in the Prebola Action. The defendants named in the amended complaint were the instant Plaintiffs JWB, TMD, and TB Choya, Defendant Tunkhannock, and non-parties Mr. Punko; MFC Logistics, Inc.; Trucks on the Run Inc., a/k/a On the Run Delivery; River Street Idealease, LLC; Chopper Express, a/k/a Chopper 79; Chopper 79, LLC; Chopper 79 Logistics, LLC; Chopper Automotive, LLC; Chopper Express, Inc.; Chopper DDS, Inc.; and Chopper Express Transportation. (Ex. B, Doc. 7-2.)

         On April 16, 2013, the parties in the Prebola Action participated in a mediation which led to the full and final settlement of Prebola's claims. At the mediation, all of the defendants in the Prebola Action, through their insurers Plaintiffs National and Gemini, contributed to the settlement amount accepted by Prebola, except for Tunkhannock and its insurer, Zurich. On May 17, 2013, Prebola signed a Settlement and Release Agreement under which Prebola received a settlement payment of $6, 900, 000.00[2] in exchange for releasing all claims against all parties arising out of the accident.[3] (See Settlement and Release Agreement §§ 1, 2, Doc. 1-2.). On June 7, 2013, Prebola executed an Addendum to the Settlement and Release Agreement. The Addendum states in part: “At the time of the Mediation it was fully contemplated by all parties and counsel in attendance that, while the claims of Plaintiffs were being settled, the rights of the settling Defendants as against the non-settling Defendant Tuckhannock [sic] Auto Mart for contribution and or indemnification were being preserved.” (Addendum ¶ 3, Doc. 1-3.) The settling defendants in the Prebola Action were covered under insurance policies issued by instant Plaintiffs National and Gemini. The settlement proceeds were paid out of these insurance policies.

         On February 2, 2016, instant Plaintiffs National, Gemini, JWB, TMD, and TB Choya filed this diversity suit, alleging Tunkhannock's actions prohibited Mr. Punko from pulling the tractor trailer into Tunkhannock's parking lot and inhibited Mr. Punko's ability to turn the tractor trailer around in the back of the lot. As such, Plaintiffs' contend that Tunkhannock was negligent in failing to provide clear access to the parking lot, which ultimately caused the accident. Plaintiffs seek contribution from Tunkhannock in accordance with its proportionate share of liability in causing the accident. On June 3, 2016, Defendant filed an Amended Motion to Dismiss, raising multiple grounds for dismissal, including that Plaintiffs' Complaint fails to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The Motion has been briefed and is ripe for review.

         II. Legal Standard

         A. Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court's role is limited to determining if a plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of her claims. See Semerenko v. Cendant Corp., 223 F.3d 165, 173 (3d Cir. 2000). The Court does not consider whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail. Id. A defendant bears the burden of establishing that a plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim. See Gould Elecs. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).

         A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The statement required by Rule 8(a)(2) must “‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Detailed factual allegations are not required. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. However, mere conclusory statements will not do; “a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). Instead, a complaint must “show” this entitlement by alleging sufficient facts. Id. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 664 (2009). As such, “[t]he touchstone of the pleading standard is plausibility.” Bistrian v. Levi, 696 F.3d 352, 365 (3d Cir. 2012).

         The inquiry at the motion to dismiss stage is “normally broken into three parts: (1) identifying the elements of the claim, (2) reviewing the complaint to strike conclusory allegations, and then (3) looking at the well-pleaded components of the complaint and evaluating whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged.” Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011).

         Dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, a plaintiff has not pleaded “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, meaning enough factual allegations “‘to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of'” each necessary element. Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. ...

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