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Watts v. RCA Corporation

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division

December 19, 2014

BRADFORD KEITH WATTS AND JILL WATTS, individually and on behalf of the minor child, C.W.,
v.
RCA CORPORATION now known as and doing business as GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

KAREN L. HAYES, Magistrate Judge.

Before the undersigned magistrate judge on reference from the District Court is a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) [doc. # 9], filed by defendant, Voxx International Corporation ("Voxx"). The motion is opposed. For reasons assigned below, it is recommended that the motion to dismiss be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

Background

On June 6, 2014, Bradford Keith Watts and Jill Watts (individually, and on behalf of the minor child, C.W.), [1] filed the instant "Petition for Damages" against RCA Corporation, now known as, merged into, and/or doing business as General Electric Corporation (hereinafter, "GE") in the 4th Judicial District Court for the Parish of Ouachita, State of Louisiana. (Petition). Plaintiffs allege that on June 8, 2013, they were involved in a motor vehicle accident near mile post 130.2 on U.S. Highway 80 in Monroe, LA. (Petition, ¶ 2). Specifically, their vehicle, a 2005 Kia Sedona, was stationary in the lane of travel when it was hit from behind by a 2006 Dodge Ram truck operated by Jamon Tillman. Id., ¶¶ 3-5. As a result of the collision, a portable RCA monitor, attached by plaintiffs to the passenger-side head rest, broke free and struck C.W. in his left eye, thus rendering him partially blind and disabled. Id. Plaintiffs seek damages stemming from C.W.'s injury, including medical expenses, loss of consortium, special needs costs, and legal interest. Id., ¶¶ 8-9.

Plaintiffs originally alleged that G.E. was the party responsible for C.W.'s injuries because 1) it failed to warn that the monitor would come off the headrest despite being secured per G.E.'s directions; and 2) defective design. Id., ¶¶ 7-8. On June 13, 2014, plaintiffs amended their petition to substitute Voxx as defendant in lieu of G.E. (1st Suppl. & Amend. Petition). Despite the substitution, G.E. maintained that plaintiffs had not dismissed it from the case, and on July 15, 2014, removed the case to federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. (Notice of Removal). To placate G.E. and clarify the record, plaintiffs formally dismissed G.E. from the suit on November 14, 2014. [doc. #s 11 & 15].

On December 11, 2014, plaintiffs amended their complaint to join an additional defendant, ALCO Electronics, Ltd. ("ALCO"). (2nd Suppl. & Amend. Compl.). Plaintiffs allege that both Voxx and ALCO manufactured, designed, and/or distributed the DVD player and monitor that caused their injuries. Id., ¶ 11.

Meanwhile, on September 15, 2014, Voxx filed the instant motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In support of its motion, Voxx argued that plaintiffs' bare and conclusory allegations failed to state a claim for relief under the Louisiana Products Liability Act, La. R.S. 9:2800.51, et seq. ("LPLA") - the exclusive source for recovery against a manufacturer for damage caused by its product(s). Plaintiffs filed their opposition to the motion on December 1, 2014. Voxx filed its reply brief on December 11, 2014. Thus, the matter is ripe.

12(b)(6) Standard

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure sanction dismissal where the plaintiff fails "to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A pleading states a claim for relief when, inter alia, it contains a "short and plain statement... showing that the pleader is entitled to relief..." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).

To withstand 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, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible when it contains sufficient factual content for the court "to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Plausibility does not equate to possibility or probability; it lies somewhere in between. See Iqbal, supra . Plausibility simply calls for enough factual allegations to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence to support the elements of the claim. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. at 1965. Assessing whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief is a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, supra (citation omitted). A well-pleaded complaint may proceed even if it strikes the court that actual proof of the asserted facts is improbable, and that recovery is unlikely. Twombly,

Although the court must accept as true all factual allegations set forth in the complaint, the same presumption does not extend to legal conclusions. Iqbal, supra . A pleading comprised of "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" does not satisfy Rule 8. Id. Moreover, courts are compelled to dismiss claims grounded upon invalid legal theories even though they might otherwise be well-pleaded. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 109 S.Ct. 1827 (1989).

Nevertheless, "[t]he notice pleading requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 and case law do not require an inordinate amount of detail or precision." Gilbert v. Outback Steakhouse of Florida Inc., 295 Fed.Appx. 710, 713 (5th Cir. Oct. 10, 2008) (unpubl.) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Further, "a complaint need not pin plaintiff's claim for relief to a precise legal theory. Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure generally requires only a plausible short and plain' statement of the plaintiff's claim, not an exposition of [her] legal argument." Skinner v. Switzer, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 1289, 1296 (2011).[2]

When considering a motion to dismiss, courts generally are limited to the complaint and its proper attachments. Dorsey v. Portfolio Equities, Inc., 540 F.3d 333, 338 (5th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted). However, courts may rely upon "documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial notice" - including public records. Dorsey, supra ; Norris v. Hearst Trust, 500 F.3d 454, 461 n9 (5th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted) (proper to take judicial notice of matters of public record). Furthermore, "[d]ocuments that a defendant attaches to a motion to dismiss are considered part of the pleadings if they are referred to in the plaintiff's complaint and are central to [its] claim." Collins v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, 224 F.3d 496, 498-499 (5th Cir. 2000) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

Law and Analysis

I. Louisiana Law Applies to Substantive Issues

Under the Erie doctrine, federal courts sitting in diversity apply state substantive law and federal procedural law." Gasperini v. Ctr. for Humanities, Inc., 518 U.S. 415, 427, 116 S.Ct. 2211(1996); see also Erie R.R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78, 58 S.Ct. 817 (1938). The parties in this matter implicitly agree that the disputed issues are governed by the substantive law of Louisiana.[3] See In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litigation, 495 F.3d 191, 206 (5th Cir. 2007) (deferring to the parties' agreement that Louisiana substantive law controlled); Ace American Insurance Co. v. Freeport Welding & Fabricating, Inc., 699 F.3d 832 (5th Cir. 2012) (applied Texas law where neither side disputed that Texas law applied); Jefferson v. Lead Indus. Ass'n, 106 F.3d 1245, 1250 (5th Cir. La. 1997) (applied Louisiana law where no party disputed that Louisiana law governed).

Because Louisiana law applies, "courts must begin every legal analysis by examining primary sources of law: the State's Constitution, codes, and statutes. Jurisprudence, even when it rises to the level of jurisprudence constante, is a secondary law source in Louisiana." Ayala v. Enerco Grp., Inc., 569 F.App'x 241, 246 (5th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). Thus, this court must look first to the LPLA, and only secondarily to judicial decisions (i.e., decisions of the Louisiana ...


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