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Peterson v. Johnston Rhodes Bluestone, Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

July 16, 2019

HAZEL V. PETERSON, Plaintiff/ Counterclaim Defendant
JOHNSTON & RHODES BLUESTONE, CO., Defendant/Counterclaim, Plaintiff



         Before the court for disposition is a motion to dismiss filed by Plaintiff/Counterclaim Defendant Hazel V. Peterson in this contract action case. The parties have briefed the pending motion, and it is ripe for disposition.


         In March of 2011, Hazel V. Peterson and Johnston & Rhodes Bluestone, Co. entered into a Lease Agreement (hereinafter “Agreement”). (Doc. 1, Compl. ¶ 4). The Agreement stated that Peterson would lease Johnston & Rhodes a quarry and ledge in the Southeast corner of Peterson's property, which was located in Equinunk, Wayne County, Pennsylvania. (Id. ¶ 4). The Agreement further stated that Johnston & Rhodes would pay Peterson $50, 000 per calendar year up until year 2021 for the use of her property. (Id. ¶ 6). Johnston & Rhodes began quarrying Peterson's land in 2011 and continued to pay Peterson in accordance with the Agreement until 2017. (Id. ¶ 5).

         In 2017, Peterson contends that Johnston & Rhodes paid her only $33, 535.41 of the $50, 000.00 due. Then, in March of 2018, Johnston & Rhodes stopped working at the quarry. (Id. ¶ 5). Johnston & Rhodes have not paid Peterson any money since 2017. (Id. ¶ 6). Peterson alleges that per the Agreement, Johnston & Rhodes owes her $16, 464.59 for the year 2017, and $50, 000.00 for each subsequent year up until the expiration of the Agreement in March of 2021. (Id. ¶ 8). Johnston & Rhodes have refused to compensate Peterson. (Id. ¶ 8). As such, Peterson filed the instant Complaint against Johnston & Rhodes on November 19, 2018, requesting a total of $216, 464.59 for the breached agreement. In addition, Peterson demands $200, 000 to properly close the quarry. (Id. ¶ 9). In total, Peterson requests $416, 464.59 in damages. (Id. ¶ 10).

         On January 16, 2019, Johnston & Rhodes filed a counterclaim against Peterson alleging unjust enrichment and quantum meruit claims. (Doc. 5, Answer ¶ 13, 17). Johnston & Rhodes alleges that it improved a roadway on Peterson's property, but is now unable to utilize that road. (Id. ¶ 6). According to Johnston & Rhodes, Peterson received a benefit from the improvement of the road and she knowingly and willingly accepted and retained that benefit. (Id. ¶ 10).

         On January 25, 2019, Peterson (hereinafter “Counterclaim Defendant”) filed a motion to dismiss the counterclaims against her. (Doc. 6). In the meantime, on February 14, 2019, the parties filed a joint motion to stay the proceedings so that the parties could attempt mediation. (Doc. 9). We granted that motion, and the case was stayed until April 24, 2019. (Doc. 16). On April 26, 2019, Johnston & Rhodes (hereinafter “Counterclaim Plaintiff”) filed its brief in opposition to Counterclaim Plaintiff's motion to dismiss, bringing this case to its present posture. (Doc. 17).


         The court has jurisdiction pursuant to the diversity statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Counterclaim Plaintiff Johnston and Rhodes Bluestone Co., is a New York corporation with its principal place of business also in New York. (Doc. 1, Compl. ¶ 2). Counterclaim Defendant Hazel V. Peterson is a citizen of the State of Florida. (Id. ¶ 2). Because complete diversity of citizenship exists between the parties and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000, we have jurisdiction over the case. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332. As a court sitting in diversity, the substantive law of Pennsylvania shall apply to the instant case. Chamberlain v. Giampapa, 210 F.3d 154, 158 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Erie R.R. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938)).

         Legal Standard

         Counterclaim Defendant filed her motion to dismiss Counterclaim Plaintiff's counterclaim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The court tests the sufficiency of the complaint's allegations when considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. All well-pleaded allegations of the complaint must be viewed as true and in the light most favorable to the non-movant to determine whether, “ ‘under any reasonable reading of the pleadings, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.' “ Colburn v. Upper Darby Twp., 838 F.2d 663, 665-66 (3d Cir. 1988) (quoting Estate of Bailey by Oare v. Cnty. of York, 768 F.2d 503, 506 (3d Cir. 1985)). The plaintiff must describe “ ‘enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' [each] necessary element” of the claims alleged in the complaint. Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)). Moreover, the plaintiff must allege facts that “justify moving the case beyond the pleadings to the next stage of litigation.” Id. at 234-35. In evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint the court may also consider “matters of public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and items appearing in the record of the case.” Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n. 2 (3d Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). The court does not have to accept legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences. See Curay-Cramer v. Ursuline Acad. of Wilmington, Del., Inc., 450 F.3d 130, 133 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997)).

         The federal rules require only that Counterclaim Plaintiff provide “a short and plain statement of the claim establishing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” a standard which “does not require detailed factual allegations, ” but a counterclaim plaintiff must make “a showing, rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief that rises above the speculative level.” McTernan v. N.Y.C., 564 F.3d 636, 646 (3d Cir. 2009) (citations and internal quotations and quotation marks omitted).


         Counterclaim Defendant seeks dismissal of Counterclaim Plaintiff's unjust enrichment and quantum meruit claims on the basis that that the counterclaims do not plead enough facts to state a plausible basis for relief. Counterclaim Defendant further argues that because the counterclaims arise from facts surrounding an alleged breach of contract claim, suggesting that a ...

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