United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
Richard Caputo, United States District Judge.
before me is a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 13) filed by
Defendants Abdirizak Gure (“Gure”), YAYA
Transport, LLC (“YAYA”), and Young Stars
Transport, Inc. (“Young Stars”) (collectively,
“Defendants”). For the reasons that follow, the
motion to dismiss will be denied.
facts as alleged in the Amended Complaint are as follows:
approximately 3:50 a.m. on May 18, 2017, Gure was operating a
Freightliner hauling a Semi-Trailer. (See Doc. 5,
¶ 26). The tractor was owned by YAYA and the trailer was
owned by Young Stars. (See id. at ¶¶
27-28). At the time, Gure was accompanied by an individual in
violation of applicable Federal Regulations. (See
id. at ¶ 30). Gure's tractor-trailer was parked
on the right berm of Interstate 80 East in Snow Shoe
Township, Centre County, Pennsylvania in an area designated
“no parking.” (See id. at ¶¶
then attempted to enter the right hand lane, traveling at
approximately 40 mph in a 70 mph zone. (See id. at
¶¶ 33-34). Gure did not have any lights illuminated
on the trailer. (See id. at ¶ 34). At the same
time, Plaintiff Jonathan Shelton (“Shelton”) was
operating a tractor-trailer in the right travel lane on
Interstate 80 East. (See id. at ¶¶ 29,
35). Shelton observed Gure's tractor-trailer
unilluminated and traveling at a low speed. (See id.
at ¶ 36). Shelton unsuccessfully attempted to swerve
into the left lane to avoid Gure's tractor-trailer.
(See id. at ¶ 37). Shelton's vehicle struck
the rear of Gure's tractor-trailer, causing Shelton's
vehicle to go airborne. (See id. at ¶¶
38-39). Shelton suffered severe injuries as a result of the
collision. (See id. at ¶ 40).
on the foregoing, Shelton filed a Complaint against Gure,
YAYA, and Young Stars in this Court on May 15, 2019.
(See Doc. 1, generally). Shelton
subsequently filed his Amended Complaint on May 20, 2019.
(See Doc. 5, generally). On August 2, 2019,
Defendants moved to dismiss Shelton's allegations of
recklessness and his request for punitive damages.
(See Doc. 13, generally). The motion to
dismiss has now been fully briefed and is ripe for
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). “Under the ‘notice
pleading' standard embodied in Rule 8 of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure, a plaintiff must come forward with
‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that
the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Thompson
v. Real Estate Mortg. Network, 748 F.3d 142, 147 (3d
Cir. 2014) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)).
resolving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, “a court must
consider no more than whether the complaint establishes
‘enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that
discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary elements'
of the cause of action.” Trzaska v. L'Oreal
USA, Inc., 865 F.3d 155, 162 (3d Cir. 2017) (quoting
Connelly v. Lane Constr. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 789
(3d Cir. 2016)). In reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint,
a court must take three steps: (1) identify the elements of
the claim; (2) identify conclusions that are not entitled to
the assumption of truth; and (3) assume the veracity of the
well-pleaded factual allegations and determine whether they
plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief. See
Connelly, 809 F.3d at 787 (citations omitted). “To
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.'”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct.
1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d
motion to dismiss the allegations of recklessness and the
demand for punitive damages will be denied. For one, the
allegations are sufficient to support a finding of
recklessness. A defendant acts recklessly when “his
conduct creates an unreasonable risk of physical harm to
another [and] such risk is substantially greater than that
which is necessary to make his conduct negligent.”
Phillips v. Cricket Lighters, 883 A.2d 439, 445 (Pa.
2005). Here, Shelton asserts that Gure operated the the
tractor and attached trailer unilluminated and with a
passenger in violation of state and federal law, including
the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. A finding of
recklessness is plausible on these facts. See,
e.g., White v. Trybala, No. 19-14, 2019 WL
2119982, at *2-3 (M.D. Pa. May 15, 2019) (denying motion to
dismiss allegations of recklessness where the plaintiff pled
that tractor-trailer driver failed to stop at a red light).
Amended Complaint also sets forth enough facts to withstand
the instant motion to dismiss the punitive damages demand.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has stated that punitive
damages “may be awarded for conduct that is outrageous,
because of defendant's evil motive or his reckless
indifference to the rights of others, ” and because
punitive damages are penal in nature, they “are proper
only in cases where the defendant's actions are so
outrageous as to demonstrate willful, wanton, or reckless
conduct.” Hutchison ex rel. Hutchison v.
Luddy, 870 A.2d 766, 770 (2005). “Punitive damages
may be awarded in Pennsylvania for reckless conduct, - that
is, conduct less culpable than intentional or willful action,
” because “as the Hutchison court
implicitly acknowledged, ” “[a] plaintiff can sue
for negligence and prove recklessness, yet still be unable to
prove intent.” Brand Mktg. Grp. LLC v.
Intertek Testing Servs., N.A., Inc., 801 F.3d
347, 359 (3d Cir. 2015) (citing Hutchison, 870 A.2d
at 770-72). Therefore, “punitive damages may be awarded
in negligence cases if the plaintiff proves greater
culpability than ordinary negligence at trial, ”
because there is nothing in “in law or logic to prevent
the plaintiff in a case sounding in negligence from
undertaking the additional burden of attempting to prove . .
. that the defendant's conduct not only was negligent but
that the conduct was also outrageous,' such that it
warrants punitive damages.” Brand Mktg. Grp.,
801 F.3d at 358 (citing Hutchison, 870 A.2d at
772-73). “Punitive damages will be imposed where the
defendant knew or had reason to know of facts which create a
high degree of risk of physical harm to another, and
deliberately proceeded to act, or failed to act, in conscious
disregard of, or indifference to, that risk.”
Hutchison, 870 A. 2d. at 771 n.7.
stage in the litigation, and as explained above,
Plaintiffs' allegations of recklessness are sufficient.
As a result, Plaintiffs' request for punitive damages
will not be dismissed. See, e.g.,
White, 2019 WL 2119982, at *3-4; see also Holder
v. Suarez, No. 14-1789, 2016 WL 593620, at *8 (M.D. Pa.
Feb. 12, 2019) (denying motion for partial summary judgment
on the plaintiff's punitive damage claim where material
disputes of fact existed as to whether the defendant was
“operating his truck with inoperable lights” and
“whether the hazard lights were operational at the time
of the accident”). Moreover, allegations that a
defendant violated Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations,
“coupled with allegations of a conscious disregard for
the safety and rights of others, ” suffice to state
claims for recklessness and punitive damages. Delamarter
v. Couglar, No. 16-665, 2016 WL 3951663, at *2 (M.D. Pa.
July 21, 2016); see Burke v. TransAm Trucking, Inc.,605 F.Supp.2d 647, 655 (M.D. Pa. 2009) (denying
defendant's motion for summary judgment because violation
of FMCSRs presented material issue of fact on issue of
punitive damages). In the matter sub judice,
Defendants are alleged to have violated Federal Motor Carrier
Safety Regulation 395 “dealing with ...