Metcalf v. Southwest Gas Corporation et al

Filing 36

ORDER - IT IS ORDERED that Plaintiff's strict liability claim is dismissed without prejudice. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that, in all other respects, Southwest Gas Corporations Motion to Dismiss First Amended Complaint (Doc. 24) is denied. (See document for further details). Signed by Judge James A Teilborg on 11/18/11.(LAD)

1 WO 2 3 4 5 6 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 7 FOR THE DISTRICT OF ARIZONA 8 9 Henry Carter Metcalf, a single person, Plaintiff, 10 11 vs. 12 Southwest Gas Corporation, 13 Defendant. 14 ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) No. CV 11-0455-PHX-JAT ORDER 15 16 Pending before the Court is Southwest Gas Corporation’s Motion to Dismiss First 17 Amended Complaint (Doc. 24). Plaintiff has filed his Response to the Motion to Dismiss 18 (Doc. 27) and Defendant has filed its Reply in Support of its Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 28). 19 For the reasons that follow, Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss is denied. 20 I. BACKGROUND 21 In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that, on October 21, 2008, Southwest Gas 22 Corporation blocked off his house and would not let him enter because of the danger of a gas 23 leak. (Doc. 18 at ¶ 5). Plaintiff alleges that, for several months preceding the discovery of 24 the gas leak, he had been suffering health problems, including uncontrollable coughing 25 spasms, floaters broken loose in his eyes, numbness in his ring and pinky fingers on both 26 hands, involuntary nervous ticks in both index fingers, pain in the left side of his neck and 27 then his right side, very little sleep every night secondary to coughing persistently throughout 28 the night, the mucus membranes in his nose and sinuses becoming swollen and dry, nasal and 1 eye drainage, and poor appetite and weight loss. (Id. at ¶¶ 10 & 16). Plaintiff alleges that, 2 for several months preceding the discovery of the gas leak, the vegetation surrounding his 3 home died and that when Plaintiff replaced this vegetation, it again died. (Id. at ¶ 9). 4 Plaintiff alleges that the gas leak was the source of harm that caused his injuries and caused 5 his vegetation to die. (Id. at ¶¶ 8, 10, 11, 16). Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant was 6 engaged in an abnormally dangerous activity that caused his injuries. (Id. at 14).1 7 Defendant argues that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be 8 granted as required by Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and 8(a) because Plaintiff 9 has failed to allege sufficient facts to support a causal connection between the alleged gas 10 leak and Plaintiff’s alleged injuries. (Doc. 24 at 4-5). 11 II. LEGAL STANDARD 12 The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure embrace a notice-pleading standard. All that 13 is required to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is “a short and plain statement of the claim 14 showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), in order to “‘give the 15 defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.’” Bell Atl. 16 Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 17 (1957)). In pleading the grounds of the claim, the plaintiff need not provide “detailed factual 18 allegations,” id.; however, the plaintiff must plead enough facts “to raise a right to relief 19 above the speculative level.” Id. at 1965. This does “not impose a probability requirement 20 at the pleading stage.” Id. at 556. 21 “[W]hen a complaint adequately states a claim, it may not be dismissed based on a 22 district court’s assessment that the plaintiff will fail to find evidentiary support for his 23 allegations or prove his claim to the satisfaction of the factfinder.” Id. at 563. Further, when 24 25 26 27 28 1 In response, Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s strict liability claim fails because, as a matter of law, the transmission of natural gas is not an abnormally dangerous activity. (Id. at 5-6). During oral argument on Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff withdrew his strict liability claim and, accordingly, the Court dismissed Plaintiff’s strict liability claim without prejudice. Accordingly, the Court will not address Defendant’s strict liability argument. -2- 1 analyzing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court must construe the 2 complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept its factual allegations as true, and 3 draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Assoc. for Los Angeles Deputy 4 Sheriffs v. County of Los Angeles, 648 F.3d 986 (9th Cir. 2011). 5 III. ANALYSIS 6 Defendant argues that Plaintiff has failed to sufficiently allege a causal connection 7 between the gas leak and Plaintiff’s injuries. Defendant claims that Plaintiff failed to “allege 8 that natural gas can cause the types of injuries Plaintiff claims to have suffered or that it did 9 cause those alleged injuries in this case. (Doc. 28 at 4) (emphasis in original). Defendant 10 further claims that Plaintiff never alleged “how the natural gas, or a constituent of natural 11 gas, came into contact with the Plaintiff himself, how that contact was sufficient or capable 12 of causing any personal health problems generally, and how such caused those problems 13 specifically in the Plaintiff.” (Id.). Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s failure to make these 14 allegations requires speculation, rendering the allegations insufficient to satisfy Federal Rules 15 of Civil Procedure 8(a). 16 In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant’s negligence caused a gas leak, that 17 the gas leak caused Defendant to block off Plaintiff’s house for a period of time due to 18 “danger of gas within the dwelling,” and that Plaintiff sustained specific injuries from his 19 exposure to the gas leak. Assuming these facts are true, Plaintiff has adequately stated a 20 claim upon which relief can be granted. Defendant’s argument suggests that it believes 21 Plaintiff is required to prove causation in his Complaint. However, Federal Rules of Civil 22 Procedure 8(a) does not require Plaintiff to prove his claim in the Complaint, nor does it 23 impose “a probability requirement at the pleading stage; it simply calls for [plaintiff to allege] 24 enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence to support 25 the allegations.” Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1217 (9th Cir. 2011) (quoting Twombly, 550 26 U.S. at 556). In his Complaint, Plaintiff does allege facts that could be proved by evidence 27 obtained through the discovery process, i.e. that Defendant’s negligence caused a gas leak 28 and that, as a result, Plaintiff was exposed to and sustained injuries related to the leak. -3- 1 Defendant argues that it is “illogical and unwarranted” to link Plaintiff’s injuries to 2 the gas leak because there are other “commonly-known possible causes of Plaintiff’s alleged 3 harm.” For instance, Defendant posits that Plaintiff’s coughing spasms could be caused by 4 “allergies, the inhalation of an irritant . . . or diseases such as influenza and respiratory 5 infection.” (Doc. 28 at 5). Defendant’s alternative explanations do not make Plaintiff’s 6 theory of the case any less plausible. 7 8 9 10 If there are two alternative explanations, one advanced by defendant and the other advanced by plaintiff, both of which are plausible, plaintiff’s complaint survives a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Plaintiff’s complaint may be dismissed only when defendant’s plausible alternative explanation is so convincing that plaintiff’s explanation is implausible. The standard at this stage of the litigation is not that plaintiff’s explanation must be true or even probable. The factual allegations of the complaint need only ‘plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief.’ 11 Starr, 652 F.3d at 1217 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556) (emphasis in original). 12 Accordingly, the Court finds that Plaintiff has adequately pled causation as required by 13 Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8(a). 14 Based on the foregoing, 15 IT IS ORDERED that Plaintiff’s strict liability claim is dismissed without prejudice. 16 IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that, in all other respects, Southwest Gas 17 Corporation’s Motion to Dismiss First Amended Complaint (Doc. 24) is denied. 18 DATED this 18th day of November, 2011. 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 -4-