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Walls v. FTS International, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

May 16, 2018

DAVID C. WALLS, Individually and as Administrator of the Estate of David R. Walls, Plaintiff,


          Cathy Bissoon, United States District Judge

         Pending before the court is the Motion to Dismiss filed on behalf of FTS International, Inc. (“FTS International”), and FTS International Services, LLC (“FTS Services”) (collectively, “Defendants”), pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. 12). In an amended complaint filed August 21, 2017, David C. Walls (“Plaintiff”) asserts claims for negligence under Pennsylvania's Wrongful Death and Survival Acts, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 8301-8302, pertaining to the death of his son, David R. Walls (“Decedent”). (Doc. 10). Defendants argue that the claims against FTS Services are preempted by Pennsylvania's Worker's Compensation Act, 77 Pa. Stat. § 1 et seq., and that Plaintiff has failed to plead adequately a claim for gross negligence or negligence against FTS International. This court exercises subject-matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion will be granted.


         The following allegations appear in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. 10). Decedent was employed by FTS Services, a subsidiary of FTS International. (Id. 10 ¶¶ 7, 15). On June 24, 2014, Decedent was operating a commercial vehicle owned by FTS Services. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 8). When he departed Wintersville, Ohio, for Eighty Four, Pennsylvania, Decedent had already been on the job for fourteen hours without any significant breaks. (Id. ¶ 42). A coworker noted that Decedent was visibly tired, but supervisors failed to adhere to company policy, or state and federal regulations, when Decedent was required to complete the trip to Eighty Four. (Id. ¶¶ 9-15, 42). While en route, Decedent fell asleep behind the wheel, his vehicle left the road, and he died in the ensuing accident. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 13).

         FTS International had protocols in place to ensure the safety of drivers in these circumstances. (Id. ¶ 15). Employees of subsidiaries, such as FTS Services, received training pertaining to these policies. (Id. ¶ 15). FTS Services and its management allegedly broke safety protocols on a regular basis by placing drivers-like the Decedent-on the road without adequate rest, and without accurately logging hours already worked. (Id. ¶¶ 17-19). FTS International was purportedly aware of the practice and did nothing to correct it. (Id. ¶¶ 17, 42). Plaintiff believes that Defendants had a duty to provide Decedent with a safe work environment, and that the failure to do so constituted negligence. (Id. ¶ 17).

         A complaint was initially filed against Defendants in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. (Doc. 1-2). Defendants subsequently removed the case to this court, and the operative amended complaint followed. The motion to dismiss is fully briefed.


         As to Plaintiff's negligence claims against FTS Services, it is well-established that Pennsylvania's Worker's Compensation Act “provides the sole remedy ‘for personal injuries allegedly sustained during the course of employment.'” Matczak v. Frankford Candy and Chocolate Co., 136 F.3d 933, 940 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting Dugan v. Bell Tel. of Pa., 876 F.Supp. 713, 723 (W.D. Pa. 1994)). Thus, any claims for injury in this Court are barred. Hogan v. Raymond Corp., 536 Fed.Appx. 207, 210 (3d Cir. 2013) (citing Winterberg v. Transp. Ins. Co., 72 F.3d 318, 322 (3d Cir. 1995)). Plaintiff does not dispute the above recitation of the law; instead, he claims that the case should be allowed to proceed to discovery in order to uncover evidence of an exception to the exclusivity provision of the Worker's Compensation Act. (Doc. 14 at 3). Defendants deny that any exceptions are applicable, based upon the facts as pleaded. (Doc. 13 at 7-14).

         Plaintiff speculates that there may exist evidence that the “third party attack” exception applies to FTS Services, because Decedent may have been “purposefully placed onto the road by his supervisor who intended the harm that followed.” (Id.). No. such facts are alleged in the Amended Complaint. Neither does Plaintiff make mention of any exceptions in his pleadings. Discovery should not be utilized as a fishing expedition for facts to support the speculative pleading of a case, particularly when the pleading is so deficient as to justify dismissal. Onyx Ins. Co., Inc. v. N.J. Dep't of Banking and Ins. Div. (DOBI), 704 Fed.Appx. 110, 114 (3d Cir. 2017) (citing Zuk v. E. Pa. Psychiatric Inst. of Med. Coll., 103 F.3d 294, 299 (3d Cir. 1996)); see also Levey v. Brownstone Inv. Group, LLC, 590 Fed.Appx. 132, 137 (3d Cir. 2014) (citing Ranke v. Sanofi-Synthelabo, Inc., 436 F.3d 197, 204 (3d Cir. 2006)) (where a party has failed to meet the pleading standard, the court should not provide discovery in order to find a cause of action); Justiano v. G4S Secure Solutions, Inc., 291 F.R.D. 80, 83 (D.N.J. 2013) (“Discovery should not serve as a fishing expedition during which a party searches for evidence to support facts not yet pleaded.”). Accordingly, Plaintiff's claims against FTS Services will be dismissed.

         With respect to the negligence claims against parent company FTS International, Defendants do not argue that the Worker's Compensation Act bars Plaintiff's claims; Defendants contend instead that Plaintiff failed to plead facts illustrating that FTS International owed a duty to Decedent. (Doc. 13 at 14-16). A cause of action for negligence in Pennsylvania “requires a showing of four elements: (1) the defendant had a duty to conform to a certain standard of conduct; (2) the defendants breached that duty; (3) such breach caused the injury in question; and (4) the plaintiff incurred actual loss or damage.” Pyeritz v. Com., 32 A.3d 687, 692 (Pa. 2011) (citing Krentz v. Consol. Rail Corp., 910 A.2d 20, 27 (Pa. 2006)). Thus, the existence of a duty is integral to a negligence claim.

         Plaintiff is correct that § 323 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts was adopted by the courts in Pennsylvania, and provides that:

One who undertakes, gratuitously or for consideration, to render services to another which he should recognize as necessary for the protection of the other's person or things, is subject to liability to the other for physical harm resulting from his failure to exercise reasonable care to perform his undertaking, if
(a) his failure to exercise such care increases the risk of such harm, or
(b) the harm is suffered because of the other's reliance upon ...

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