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Stahlnecker v. Morris

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 10, 2019

MICHELE A. STAHLNECKER and DALE C. STAHLNECKER, Plaintiffs,
v.
SANDRA L. MORRIS and D&F TRAVEL INC., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Matthew W. Brann United States District Judge

         I. BACKGROUND

         On May 17, 2019, Plaintiffs, Michele A. Stahlnecker and Dale C. Stahlnecker, hereinafter collectively “the Stahlneckers, ” filed a four-count complaint against Defendants, Sandra L. Morris and her employer D&F Travel Inc. The complaint alleges various injuries following an October 21, 2017 automobile accident between the Stahlneckers and Morris. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the punitive damages demand in Plaintiff's complaint, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. The motion is now ripe for disposition; for the reasons that follow, it is denied.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a defendant may file a motion to dismiss for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Such a motion “tests the legal sufficiency of a pleading” and “streamlines litigation by dispensing with needless discovery and factfinding.”[1] “Rule 12(b)(6) authorizes a court to dismiss a claim on the basis of a dispositive issue of law.”[2] This is true of any claim, “without regard to whether it is based on an outlandish legal theory or on a close but ultimately unavailing one.”[3]

         Beginning in 2007, the Supreme Court of the United States initiated what some scholars have termed the Roberts Court's “civil procedure revival” by significantly tightening the standard that district courts must apply to 12(b)(6) motions.[4] In two landmark decisions, Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, the Roberts Court “changed . . . the pleading landscape” by “signal[ing] to lower-court judges that the stricter approach some had been taking was appropriate under the Federal Rules.”[5] More specifically, the Court in these two decisions “retired” the lenient “no-set-of-facts test” set forth in Conley v. Gibson and replaced it with a more exacting “plausibility” standard.[6]

         Accordingly, after Twombly and Iqbal, “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'”[7] “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”[8] “Although the plausibility standard does not impose a probability requirement, it does require a pleading to show more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.”[9] Moreover, “[a]sking for plausible grounds . . . calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of [wrongdoing].”[10]

         The plausibility determination is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.”[11] No. matter the context, however, “[w]here a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'”[12]

         When disposing of a motion to dismiss, a court must “accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draw all inferences from the facts alleged in the light most favorable to [the plaintiff].”[13] However, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in the complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.”[14] “After Iqbal, it is clear that conclusory or ‘bare-bones' allegations will no longer survive a motion to dismiss.”[15] “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”[16]

         As a matter of procedure, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has instructed that:

Under the pleading regime established by Twombly and Iqbal, a court reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint must take three steps. First, it must tak[e] note of the elements [the] plaintiff must plead to state a claim. Second, it should identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Finally, [w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, [the] court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.[17]

         B. Facts Alleged in the Complaint

         The facts alleged in the complaint, which I must accept as true for the ...


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