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Watson-Florence v. City of New Orleans

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

January 11, 2017

WINIFRED WATSON-FLORENCE
v.
THE CITY OF NEW ORLEANS, CARLOS SOTO, 21ST CENTURY INSURANCE COMPANY

         SECTION "F"

          ORDER AND REASONS

          MARTIN L. C. FELDMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is the City of New Orleans' motion for a judgment on the pleadings. For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED.

         Background

         On September 4, 2014, the plaintiff, Winifred Watson-Florence, was injured in New Orleans. The plaintiff, who at the time of the accident was a pedestrian, entered the crosswalk at the intersection of Canal Street and North Peters. Carlos Soto was the driver and the insured of the vehicle that struck the plaintiff.[1]

         The plaintiff alleges that she was already crossing the first lane of the crosswalk, where cars were stopped to allow pedestrians to cross, when she was crossing over the second lane of traffic and Soto was driving a vehicle in the second lane of traffic; Soto failed to stop for the crossing pedestrians. Soto's failure to stop caused him to run into the plaintiff and knocked her to the ground. The plaintiff also alleges that the pedestrian crosswalk signal at this intersection was not functioning properly at the time of the accident.

         The basis of the negligence claim against the City of New Orleans is that the City created an unreasonably dangerous condition at the intersection of North Peters and Canal Street by failing to repair the crosswalk signal at this intersection. Plaintiff alleges that an inoperable pedestrian crosswalk signal gives rise to municipal liability.

         The City of New Orleans moves for a judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). The City contends that missing or inoperative intersectional signage does not give rise to municipal liability, absent particularized allegations that the broken signage created some sort of trap.

         I.

         “The standards to be applied to a Rule 12(c) motion are the same as those governing motions brought under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).” Med RX/Systems, P.L.L.C. v. Texas Dept. of State Health Servs., 633 F. App'x 607, 610 (5th Cir. 2016).

         "'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.'" Gonzalez v. Kay, 577 F.3d 600, 603 (5th Cir. 2009) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)) (internal quotation marks omitted). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations and footnote omitted). "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." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 ("The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully."). This is a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 679. "Where 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." Id. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (internal quotations omitted). "[A] plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief'" thus "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (alteration in original) (citation omitted).

         In deciding a motion to dismiss, the Court may consider documents that are essentially "part of the pleadings." That is, any documents attached to or incorporated in the plaintiff's complaint that are central to the plaintiff's claim for relief. Causey v. Sewell Cadillac-Chevrolet, Inc., 394 F.3d 285, 288 (5th Cir. 2004) (citing Collins v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, 224 F.3d 496, 498-99 (5th Cir. 2000)). Also, the Court is permitted to consider matters of public record and other matters subject to judicial notice without converting a motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment. See United States ex rel. Willard v. Humana Health Plan of Tex. Inc., 336 F.3d 375, 379 (5th Cir. 2003). Finally, a “motion to dismiss should not be granted unless the plaintiff would not be entitled to relief under any set of facts that he could prove consistent with the complaint.” Johnson v. Johnson, 385 F.3d 503, 529 (5th Cir. 2004).

         II.

         Louisiana case law has addressed the issue on multiple occasions. Courts are slow to hold a municipal body liable for accidents that occurred at intersections when traffic signals malfunctioned or were obstructed from view where the motorist or pedestrian failed to exercise reasonable, common sense prudence. See Ponthier v. City of New Orleans, 496 So.2d 1050, 1051-52 (La. Ct. App. 4th Cir. 1986); Pepitone v. ...


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