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Mildren v. Watkins

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 11, 2019

BARBARA W. MILDREN and RAYMOND MILDREN, Plaintiffs
v.
GARRETT LEE WATKINS, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          Kane, Judge

         Before the Court are: (1) Defendant United Rentals, Inc.'s (“United Rentals”)[1] Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Third Amended Complaint Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (Doc. No. 34); and (2) Defendant SpringLine Excavating, LLC's (“SpringLine”) Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Third Amended Complaint Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) (Doc. No. 25). For the following reasons, the Court will grant the motions.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         Plaintiffs Raymond Mildren and Barbara W. Mildren (“Plaintiffs”) allege that their claims arise out of a motor vehicle collision occurring on Tuesday, November 22, 2016 “at the intersection of Interstate 81 traveling towards York and Maryland in Dauphin, Pennsylvania.” (Doc. No. 41 ¶ 8.) Plaintiffs allege that as Raymond Mildren was driving on Interstate 81, their car was struck by a pick-up truck operated by Defendant Garrett Lee Watkins (“Watkins”). (Id.) Plaintiffs allege that Watkins “suddenly without warning, failed to slow down and stop in traffic colliding hard with Plaintiff's vehicle.” (Id.) Plaintiffs allege that the pick-up truck driven by Watkins was owned by Defendant SpringLine, and at the time of the collision, Watkins was employed by Defendant Energy MAT Alliance, LLC (“Energy MAT”). (Id.) Plaintiffs allege that Raymond Mildren “was injured and continues to suffer injuries and damages from this incident, ” and that as a result of those injuries, Barbara W. Mildren “has suffered, and continues to suffer a loss of consortium and has suffered damages to her relationship with her husband.” (Id. ¶¶ 9-10.)

         On July 16, 2018, Plaintiffs filed a complaint in this Court asserting claims against Defendants Watkins and SpringLine arising out of the automobile collision. (Doc. No. 1.)[3]Several days later, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint. (Doc. No. 4.) After service of the amended complaint on Defendants Watkins and SpringLine, the parties filed a Stipulation (Doc. No. 15), on October 4, 2018, memorializing their agreement to permit Plaintiffs to file a Second Amended Complaint, which they filed on the same date (Doc. No. 16). Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint added a third defendant, Energy MAT. (Id.) Defendant Watkins filed an answer to the Second Amended Complaint on October 25, 2018 (Doc. No. 21), while Defendant SpringLine filed a motion to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint on October 24, 2018 (Doc. No. 19), based on an alleged lack of personal jurisdiction over it.

         On November 15, 2018, without seeking permission from the Court to do so, Plaintiffs filed a Third Amended Complaint purporting to add a fourth defendant, United Rentals.[4] (Doc. No. 22.) Defendant SpringLine filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' Third Amended Complaint on November 28, 2018. (Doc. No. 25.) Defendant Watkins filed an answer to the Third Amended Complaint asserting cross-claims against Defendant Energy MAT and proposed Defendant United Rentals. (Doc. No. 28.)

         On December 4, 2018, this Court issued an Order striking the Third Amended Complaint for failure to comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) and Local Rule 15.1 which governs amendment of pleadings. (Doc. No. 29.) The Court's Order granted Plaintiffs permission to file a motion for leave to file a Third Amended Complaint compliant with the relevant rules within fourteen (14) days. (Id.) On December 6, 2018, Plaintiffs filed a motion for leave to file a Third Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 31), with the proposed Third Amended Complaint attached as Exhibit A (Doc. No. 31-1), again purporting to add a fourth defendant, United Rentals. Subsequently Defendants SpringLine and Watkins filed a response indicating their lack of objection to the filing of a Third Amended Complaint. (Doc. No. 33.) Proposed Defendant United Rentals filed a motion to dismiss the Third Amended Complaint on December 12, 2018. (Doc. No. 34.)

         The Third Amended Complaint asserts the following claims against the various defendants: (1) negligence against Defendant Watkins (Count I); (2) negligent entrustment and negligent supervision against Defendant SpringLine (Counts II and III); (3) negligent entrustment, negligent supervision, and respondeat superior against Defendant Energy MAT (Counts IV, V and VI); and (4) negligent entrustment and vicarious liability “pursuant to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations” against United Rentals (Counts VII and VIII). (Doc. No. 41 at 3-7.)

         On December 12, 2018, Plaintiffs filed a motion to stay deadlines for responding to Defendant SpringLine's motion to dismiss (Doc. No. 36), maintaining that the Court should stay any further briefing (and any decision) on Defendant SpringLine's motion to dismiss for ninety (90) days to allow for the completion of basic discovery regarding Defendant SpringLine's potential role in the incident giving rise to this litigation, as well as its contacts with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (Id.) The defendants did not oppose the motion.[5]

         On January 3, 2019, the Court issued an Order that: (1) granted Plaintiffs' motion for leave to file a Third Amended Complaint, and deemed Plaintiffs' Third Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 41) filed as of that date; (2) deemed Defendant Watkins' answer (Doc. No. 28), and Defendants SpringLine and United Rentals' motions to dismiss (Doc. Nos. 25, 34), responsive to Plaintiffs' Third Amended Complaint; (3) granted Plaintiffs' motion to stay deadlines for responding to Defendant SpringLine's motion to dismiss and stayed further briefing on that motion, as well as Defendant United Rentals' motion to dismiss, for a period of forty-five (45) days, or until February 15, 2019, making Plaintiffs' briefs in opposition to the two motions to dismiss due fourteen (14) days after February 15, 2019. (Doc. No. 40 at 4.)

         On February 22, 2019, Defendants Watkins and SpringLine filed a response to Defendant United Rentals' motion to dismiss, indicating that they do not oppose Defendant United Rentals' motion.[6] (Doc. No. 43.) Plaintiffs did not file a brief in opposition to Defendant United Rentals' motion. Accordingly, the Court deems Defendant United Rentals' motion to dismiss unopposed. However, on March 1, 2019, Plaintiffs did file a brief in opposition to Defendant SpringLine's motion to dismiss (Doc. No. 44), with a supporting affidavit (Doc. No. 45). On March 14, 2019, Defendant SpringLine filed a reply brief in further support of its motion to dismiss (Doc. No. 51), with supporting exhibits (Doc. Nos. 51-1 to 51-3).

         Also on March 14, 2019, Defendant Watkins filed a Stipulation to withdraw his crossclaims asserted against Defendant Energy MAT. (Doc. No. 48.) Defendant Energy MAT filed its Answer and Affirmative Defenses to Plaintiffs' Third Amended Complaint (Doc. No. 49) on the same date. The pending motions to dismiss are ripe for disposition.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         A. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)

         A motion filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the complaint's factual allegations. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” in order to “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal quotation marks omitted) (interpreting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)). Generally, a court considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) must determine whether the complaint contains sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         Consistent with the Supreme Court's rulings in Twombly and Iqbal, the Third Circuit requires district courts to engage in a two-part analysis when reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion: (1) first, a court should separate the factual and legal elements of a claim, accepting well-pleaded factual matter and disregarding legal conclusions; (2) second, a court should determine whether the remaining well-pled facts sufficiently demonstrate that a plaintiff has a “plausible claim for relief.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Facial plausibility exists when the plaintiff pleads factual content “that allows the court to draw a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (internal citations omitted).

         In conducting its analysis, a court must accept all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint as true for purposes of determining whether the complaint states a plausible claim for relief, and must view the factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Phillips v. Cty of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 234, 231 (3d Cir. 2008). The court's determination on Rule 12(b)(6) review is not whether the non-moving party “will ultimately prevail, ” but whether that party is “entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.” United States ex rel. Wilkins v. United Health Grp., Inc., 659 F.3d 259, 302 (3d Cir. 2011) (internal citations omitted). The court's analysis is a context-specific task requiring the court “to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663-64.

         In ruling on a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, “a court must consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents.” Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993)). A court may also consider “any ‘matters incorporated by reference or integral to the claim, items subject to judicial notice, matters of public record, orders, [and] items appearing in the record of the case.'” Buck v. Hampton Twp. Sch. Dist., 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006) (quoting 5B Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1357 (3d ed. 2004)).

         B. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2)

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) permits a defendant to bring a motion challenging the court's right to exercise personal jurisdiction over it. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(2). Once “the defendant raises the question of personal jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, facts sufficient to establish personal jurisdiction.” Carteret Sav. Bank, FA v. Shushan, 954 F.2d 141, 146 (3d Cir. 1992). At the pleading stage, a plaintiff is required only to establish a prima facie case of personal jurisdiction over the defendant, and the court must accept the plaintiff's allegations as true and construe disputed facts in the plaintiff's favor. See Metcalfe v. Renaissance Marine, Inc., 566 F.3d 324, 330 (3d Cir. 2009); Carteret Sav. Bank, 954 F.2d at 146. Further, a court may consider the parties' affidavits and other evidence when making determinations regarding personal jurisdiction. See Metcalfe, 566 F.3d at 330; Connell v. CIMC Intermodal Equip., No. 1:16-cv-714, 2016 WL 7034407, at *1 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 2, 2016).

         “A federal court may assert personal jurisdiction over a nonresident of the state in which the court sits to the extent authorized by the law of the state.” Carteret Sav. Bank, 954 F.2d at 144-45 (quoting Provident Nat'l Bank v. Cal. Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 819 F.2d 434, 436 (3d Cir. 1987)). Pennsylvania's long-arm statute permits the Court to exercise personal jurisdiction “to the fullest extent allowed under the Constitution of the United States.” 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5322(b). Therefore, in its exercise of personal jurisdiction, this Court is constrained only by the Due Process Clause of the United States Constitution, which requires that a defendant has “certain minimum contacts with [the forum state] such that maintenance of the suit does not offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.” See O'Connor v. Sandy Lane Hotel Co., Ltd., 496 F.3d 312, 316 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)). Requiring “minimum contacts” between the defendant and the forum state gives “fair warning” to a defendant that he or she may be called to defend a lawsuit in that state. See Marten v. Godwin, 499 F.3d 290, 296 (3d Cir. 2007) (quotation omitted).

         Two types of personal jurisdiction comport with these notions of due process: specific and general jurisdiction. See Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S.Ct. 746 (2014). Specific jurisdiction encompasses cases “in which the suit ‘aris[es] out of or relate[s] to the defendant's contacts with the forum.'” See id. at 754 (citations omitted). A court's determination as to whether the exercise of specific jurisdiction is proper entails a three-part inquiry: (1) “the defendant must have ‘purposefully directed [its] activities' at the forum”; (2) “the litigation must ‘arise out of or relate to' at least one of those activities”; and (3) “if the prior two requirements are met, a court may consider whether the exercise of jurisdiction otherwise ‘comport[s] with ‘fair play and substantial justice.'” See O'Connor, 496 F.3d at 317 (alterations in original) (citing Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz, 471 U.S. 472, 476 (1985); Helicopteros Nacionales de Colombia, S.A. v. Hall, 466 U.S. 408, 414 (1984); Grimes v. Vitalink Commc'ns Corp., 17 F.3d 1553, 1559 (3d Cir. 1994)). General jurisdiction, however, may be exercised by a court when foreign corporations' “affiliations with the State are so ‘continuous and systematic' as to render them essentially at home in the forum State.” See id. (citations omitted). A corporate defendant is usually found to be “at home” in the state of the corporation's place of incorporation or principal place of business. See id. at 760. However, a corporate defendant can sometimes be found to be “at home” in another state where its operations in that state are “so ‘continuous and systematic' as to render [it] essentially at home in the forum State.” See id. at 761 (citation omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Whether United Rentals' Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) Should Be Granted

         As an initial matter, the Court addresses Plaintiffs' failure to oppose Defendant United Rentals' motion to dismiss. Pursuant to Rule 7.6 of the Local Rules of Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, a party opposing a motion to dismiss “shall file a brief in opposition within fourteen (14) days after service of the movant's brief, ” and a party “who fails to comply with this rule shall be deemed not to oppose such a motion.” See L. R. 7.6. The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has held that dismissal of a case for failure to comply with a local rule is a “drastic sanction” which should, with few exceptions, follow a merits analysis. See Stackhouse v. Mazurkiewicz, 951 F.2d 29, 30 (3d Cir. 1991); see also Shuey v. Schwab, 350 Fed.Appx. 630, ...


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