Tuscumbia City School System v. Pharmacia Corporation
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER that defendant's motion to dismiss is DENIED, defendant's alternative motion for a more definite statement is GRANTED and plaintiff is ORDERED to file an amended complaint that more definitely states Count III by 12/5/2012, as more fully set out in orer. Signed by Judge C Lynwood Smith, Jr on 11/27/2012. (AHI)
2012 Nov-27 PM 02:05
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
TUSCUMBIA CITY SCHOOL
SYSTEM, on behalf of itself and
all others similarly situated,
Civil Action No. CV-12-S-332-NW
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This putative class action case is before the court on a motion by defendant,
Pharmacia Corporation, to dismiss Count III of plaintiff’s Second Amended
Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.1 In the
alternative, defendant asks the court to require plaintiff, the Tuscumbia City School
System, to provide a more definite statement of Count III.2
Plaintiff filed its Second Amended Complaint, which added Count III, on
October 19, 2012, following denial of defendant’s motion to dismiss the First
Amended Complaint.3 Except for the addition of Count III, ambiguously entitled
Doc. no. 32.
See doc. no. 31 (Second Amended Complaint); doc. no. 23 (Memorandum Opinion
Denying Motion to Dismiss).
“Products Liability,” in the Second Amended Complaint, the First and Second
Amended Complaints are essentially the same.4
Defendant argues that Count III should be dismissed, because it alleges “strict
liability in tort” for products liability, which is not available under Alabama law.5
Alternatively, defendant seeks a more definite statement on the grounds that the
generalized claim for “products liability” is ambiguous.6 Specifically, defendant
claims that it is unclear whether plaintiff asserts a claim under the Alabama Extended
Manufacturer’s Liability Doctrine (“AEMLD”), or some other legal theory.7
In response, plaintiff notes that Count III “precisely tracks” the elements of the
AEMLD as articulated by the Supreme Court of Alabama.8 Defendant responds that
a more definite statement is still warranted: the Second Amended Complaint should
be amended to clearly reflect the nature of Count III, and to eliminate the
inconsistency of alleging an AEMLD claim for “strict liability in tort” within the same
Upon consideration, the court will deny the motion to dismiss, but grant the
Compare doc. no. 12 (First Amended Complaint) with doc. no. 31 (Second Amended
Doc. no. 32 (Motion to Dismiss) ¶¶ 3-4.
Id. ¶¶ 5-7.
Id. ¶ 6.
Doc. no. 33 (Plaintiff’s Response), at 1.
Doc. no. 34 (Defendant’s Reply), at 2-4.
motion for a more definite statement, and order plaintiff to file an amended complaint.
I. LEGAL STANDARDS
Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss
The standards for reviewing motions to dismiss based upon Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) were fully reviewed in the memorandum opinion entered in
this action on June 27, 2012, and will not be reiterated here. See doc. no. 23, at 2-4.
Motion for a More Definite Statement
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e) permits a party to move “for a more
definite statement of a pleading to which a responsive pleading is allowed but which
is so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response.” Fed.
R. Civ. P. 12(e). The movant “must point out the defects complained of and the
details desired.” Alabama v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, No. CV-90-BE-01331-E,
2006 WL 6080869, at *1 (N.D. Ala. Mar. 29, 2006) (Bowdre, J.). Rule 12(e)
supplements the court’s “authority to narrow the issues in the case in order to speed
its orderly, efficient, and economic disposition.” Fikes v. City of Daphne, 79 F.3d
1079, 1083 n.6 (11th Cir. 1996).
II. FACTS AS ALLEGED
A summary of the “Background Facts” alleged in plaintiff’s first amended
complaint was included in Part II of the memorandum opinion entered in this action
on June 27, 2012 as document number 23. Plaintiff’s second amended complaint
worked no substantive revision in those allegations. Hence, they will not be reiterated
Defendant argues that Alabama law does not permit strict liability in tort on
products liability claims and, therefore, because the final paragraph of Count III
“seek[s] a trial on defendant’s strict liability in tort,” the Count must be dismissed.10
For complex reasons that are not necessary to the disposition of the motion to dismiss
(and that this judge previously addressed in another context), defendant is technically
correct that the AEMLD does not utilize traditional strict liability. See Huntsville City
Board of Education v. National Gypsum Co., No. CV-83-325L, slip op. at 42-45
(Madison Co. Ala. Cir. Ct., Aug. 27, 1984) (discussing the “hybrid” nature of the
AEMLD as articulated by Atkins v. American Motors Corp., 335 So. 2d 134 (Ala.
1976), and Casrell v. Altec Industries, Inc., 335 So. 2d 128 (Ala. 1976)) (appended to
the court’s June 27, 2012 opinion denying defendant’s first motion to dismiss); see
also Cain v. Sheraton Perimeter Park South Hotel, 592 So. 2d 218, 220 (Ala. 1991).
The present, totally unnecessary (and for that reason, frustrating) issue leads this court
to the conclusion that plaintiff’s counsel did not even bother to read that opinion or
Doc. no. 32 (Motion to Dismiss) ¶¶ 3-4.
Defendant’s motion, however, overlooks the factual allegations in Count III that
sufficiently state a cause of action under the AEMLD. To establish AEMLD liability,
a plaintiff must demonstrate that
he suffered injury or damage to himself or his property by one who sells
a product in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to the plaintiff
as the ultimate user or consumer, if
(a) the seller is engaged in the business of selling such a product,
(b) [the product] is expected to and does reach the user or
consumer without substantial change in the condition in which it
Tanksley v. ProSoft Automation, Inc., 982 So. 2d 1446, 1049-50 (Ala. 2007); see also
Atkins, 335 So. 2d at 141. Count III alleges that defendant was in the business of
selling PCBs, and that those PCBs were defective and unreasonably dangerous.11 It
also alleges that: defendant expected its product to reach plaintiff; the product did, in
fact, reach plaintiff without substantial change in its condition; and, the product
caused damages to plaintiff and its property.12 Consequently, plaintiff has stated the
factual predicates for an AEMLD claim.
Indeed, even defendant’s reply brief does not argue that Count III fails to state
Doc. no. 31 (Second Amended Complaint) ¶¶ 55-57; see also id. ¶¶ 9-12, 14-15, 28, 32.
Id. ¶¶ 54, 56, 58; see also id. ¶¶ 29-31.
a claim upon which relief can be granted under Alabama’s peculiar variation of the
theme first sounded in other jurisdictions as the concept of “strict liability in tort.”
Instead, once plaintiff “clarified in its Response that it intends for Count III of the
Second Amended Complaint to state a claim under the [AEMLD],”13 defendant’s
reply brief addressed only the propriety of requiring a more definite statement.14
Defendant’s brief closes by urging the court to “require Plaintiff to file an amended
complaint that clearly and unambiguously identified its legal theory in Count III.”15
Ordering plaintiff to more definitely state Count III is the proper course here.
That conclusion is especially warranted when, as here, the case is a putative class
action. As defendant observes, disambiguating the theory behind Count III “will
make clearer discovery, clearer responsive pleadings, and clearer framing of the issues
if Plaintiff seeks class certification.”16 See Fikes, 89 F.3d at 1083 n.6 (noting the
court’s authority to order a more definite statement to further the orderly, efficient,
and economic disposition of a case). Clarity of the record will also be furthered,
because the basis of Count III will be in plaintiff’s complaint, rather than in
representations within a brief submitted in response to a motion to dismiss.
Doc. no. 34 (Defendant’s Reply), at 1-2.
See id. at 2-4.
Id. at 4.
Id. at 3-4.
Second, and related to the clarity rationale, a more definite statement is proper
in order to resolve the inconsistency between, on one hand, the pleading of a claim
under Alabama’s Extended Manufacturer’s Liability Doctrine and, on the other hand,
the characterization of that claim as one for “strict liability in tort.” In sum, defendant
has met its burden of “point[ing] out the defects complained of and the details
desired.” U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 2006 WL 6080869, at *1; see Fed. R. Civ.
P. 12(e). The motion for a more definite statement is due to be granted.
IV. CONCLUSION AND ORDER
For the foregoing reasons, defendant’s motion to dismiss is DENIED.
Defendant’s alternative motion for a more definite statement is GRANTED. Plaintiff
is ORDERED to file an amended complaint that more definitely states Count III on
or before December 5, 2012.
DONE and ORDERED this 27th day of November, 2012.
United States District Judge
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?