Evans v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc. et al

Filing 21

ORDER DENYING 9 Motion to Strike Punitive Damages. Signed by Judge Jeffrey S. White on February 21, 2017. (jswlc3S, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 2/21/2017)

Download PDF
1 2 3 NOT FOR CITATION 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 6 7 Plaintiff, 8 ORDER DENYING MOTION TO STRIKE v. 9 10 Re: Dkt. No. 9 HOME DEPOT U.S.A., INC., et al., Defendants. 11 United States District Court Northern District of California Case No. 16-cv-07191-JSW WILLIAM EVANS, 12 Now before the Court for consideration is the motion to strike filed by Defendants Wing 13 14 Enterprises, Inc. dba Little Giant Ladder Systems and Home Depot, U.S.A., Inc. (collectively 15 “Defendants”). The Court has considered the parties’ papers, relevant legal authority, and the 16 record in this case, and the Court finds the motion suitable for disposition without oral argument.1 17 See N.D. Civ. L.R. 7-1(b). The Court VACATES the hearing scheduled for February 24, 2017, 18 and it HEREBY DENIES Defendants’ motion. BACKGROUND 19 Plaintiff alleges that his fiancée purchased a Little Giant ladder at Home Depot. (Notice of 20 21 Removal, Ex. A, Compl. ¶ 11.) On March 6, 2016, while Plaintiff was using the ladder as an 22 extension ladder, “the ladder flexed and bent at the hinge element, causing the ladder to collapse” 23 while he was on it. Plaintiff fell and suffered “severe injuries, including multiple fractures.” (Id. ¶ 24 13.) Plaintiff alleges the ladder suffered from manufacturing or design defects, and he also alleges 25 26 1 27 28 Plaintiff filed two opposition briefs. (Dkt. Nos. 15, 19.) Because the second brief was filed after Defendants filed their reply, the Court has considered the first opposition on file, Docket No. 15. 1 that Defendants were aware of these defects but failed to warn him of those defects.2 Based on these and other allegations, which the Court shall address as necessary, Plaintiff 2 3 filed this Complaint and asserts claims against Defendants for products liability (design defect and 4 manufacturing defect), failure to warn, products liability negligence, and violations of California’s 5 Unfair Competition Law, California Business and Professions Code sections 17200, et seq.3 6 Plaintiff also asserts a claim for punitive damages, pursuant to California Civil Code section 7 3294.4 ANALYSIS 8 Defendants move to strike the claim for punitive damages, set forth in paragraphs 45-52 of 9 the Complaint and in paragraph 8 of the Prayer for Relief, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 Procedure 12(f). Under Rule 12(f), a court may strike from a pleading “any insufficient defense or 12 any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(f). Immaterial 13 matter “is that which has no essential or important relationship to the claim for relief or the 14 defenses being pleaded.” Fantasy Inc. v. Fogerty, 984 F.2d 1524, 1527 (9th Cir. 1993), rev’d on 15 other grounds by Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc., 510 U.S. 517 (1994) (internal citations and quotations 16 omitted). Impertinent material “consists of statements that do not pertain, and are not necessary, 17 to the issues in question.” Id. (internal citations and quotations omitted). “Rule 12(f) does not 18 authorize district courts to strike claims for damages on the ground that such claims are precluded 19 as a matter of law.” Whittlestone, Inc. v. Handi-Craft, Inc., 618 F.3d 970, 974-75 (9th Cir. 2010). 20 2 21 Plaintiff includes facts in his opposition that are not in his Complaint. The Court has not considered those facts to resolve this motion. 22 3 23 24 25 26 Plaintiff filed the Complaint on November 4, 2016, in San Mateo County Superior Court. Defendants assert they were served on November 18, 2016, and they removed to this Court on December 15, 2016. (Notice of Removal, ¶¶ 1, 8.) It is undisputed that the parties are completely diverse. Defendants assert that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000 based on Plaintiff’s allegations relating to the nature of the injuries and the type of damages he seeks. Plaintiff has not challenged the Court’s jurisdiction. The Court concludes Defendant has met its burden to show the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. See Standard Fire Ins. Co. v. Knowles, __ U.S. __, 133 S.Ct. 1345, 1348-49 (2013). 4 27 28 Although styled as claim for relief, “[t]here is no cause of action for punitive damages. Punitive or exemplary damages are remedies available to a party who can plead and prove the facts and circumstances” outlined in Civil Code section 3294. Grieves v. Superior Court, 157 Cal. App. 3d 159, 163-64 (1984) (internal quotations and citations omitted). 2 Motions to strike are regarded with disfavor because they are often used as delaying tactics 1 2 and because of the limited importance of pleadings in federal practice. Colaprico v. Sun 3 Microsystems Inc., 758 F. Supp. 1335, 1339 (N.D. Cal. 1991). A motion to strike should be 4 resorted to only when the matter to be stricken could have no possible bearing on the issues in 5 litigation. LeDuc v. Kentucky Central Life Ins. Co., 814 F. Supp. 820, 830 (N.D. Cal. 1992). 6 “Granting a motion to strike may be proper if it will eliminate serious risks of prejudice to the 7 moving party, delay, or confusion of the issues.” Rees v. PNC Bank, N.A., 308 F.R.D. 266, 271 8 (N.D. Cal. 2015) (citing Fantasy, Inc., 984 F.2d at 1527-28). Ultimately, the decision as to 9 whether to strike allegations is a matter within the Court’s discretion. Colaprico, 758 F. Supp. at 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 1339. Defendants argue Plaintiff’s allegations are conclusory and are unsupported by facts that 12 would support an award of punitive damages. In order to support a claim for punitive damages 13 under California law, Plaintiff will be required to prove “by clear and convincing evidence that the 14 defendant has been guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice[.]” Cal. Civ. Code § 3294. “Conduct 15 which may be characterized as unreasonable, negligent, grossly negligent or reckless does not 16 satisfy the highly culpable state of mind warranting punitive damages.” Woolstrum v. Mailoux, 17 141 Cal. App. 3d Supp. 1, 10 (1983). A plaintiff may recover an “award of punitive damages for a 18 nonintentional tort where defendant’s conduct which causes injury is of such severity or shocking 19 character that it warrants the same treatment as that accorded to willful misconduct-conduct in 20 which the defendant intends to cause harm,” i.e. where it can be considered “wanton and reckless” 21 or in “conscious disregard of the plaintiff’s rights.” Nolin v. Nat’l Convenience Stores, Inc. 95 22 Cal. App. 3d 279, 286 (1979). 23 Section 3294 defines malice as “conduct which is intended by the defendant to cause 24 injury to the plaintiff or despicable conduct which is carried on by the defendant with a willful and 25 conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.” Section 3294 defines oppression as 26 “despicable conduct that subjects a person to cruel and unjust hardship in conscious disregard of 27 that person’s rights.” Section 3294 defines fraud as “an intentional misrepresentation, deceit, or 28 concealment of a material fact known to the defendant with the intention on the part of the 3 1 def fendant of th hereby depriv ving a person of property or legal rig or other ty ghts rwise causin injury.” ng 2 Plaintif agues he alleges facts to support ea of these standards. Plaintiff recites these ff a t ach 3 statutory defini itions in his Complaint. (Compl. ¶¶ 47-48.) Pla aintiff also al lleges Defen ndants’ 4 kno owingly con ncealed “dam mages and ris associate with the [ sks ed [ladder] know wing that Pla aintiff and 5 the public wou be using their ladders in activities and in situa e uld t s s ations in wh a failure of the hich e 6 lad dder would re esult in catas strophic inju includin the risk of death” and that Defend ury, ng f dants acted in n 7 “co onscious disr regard of” Plaintiff’s saf fety. (Id. ¶¶ 48, 52; see a id. ¶ 51.a-b.) also 8 9 Defend dants have no moved to dismiss Plai ot intiff’s subst tantive claim for relief, nor have ms the moved to dismiss Plai ey intiff’s reque for dama est ages under R 12(b)(6) See, e.g., Rule ). Wh hittlestone, 618 F.3d at 974. Defend 6 9 dants have no shown tha Plaintiff’s request for p ot at punitive 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 dam mages is red dundant, imm material, imp pertinent or s scandalous. Plaintiff inc cludes the facts that he 12 cla aims warrant an imposition of punitiv damages and “malice intent, kno t ve e, owledge and other 13 con nditions of th mind may be alleged generally.” Fed. R. Civ P. 9(b). Cf Rees, 308 F.R.D. at he y v. Cf. 14 273 3-74 (denyin motion to strike wher the plaintiff alleged th defendants’ conduct w ng o re he was 15 “m malicious and willful; in conscious disregard of th rights and safety of [p d c he d p]laintiff in t the that 16 act tions were ca alculated to injure [p]lain i ntiff,” and co oncluding th “[e]ven if conclusory and hat y 17 uns supported, su an averm of mali or fraudu uch ment ice ulent intent is sufficient t support a request for to 18 pun nitive damag under Ca Civ. Code § 3294(a) i federal co on a mot ges al. e in ourt e”). tion to strike 19 Accord dingly, the Court DENIE Defendant motion to strike. ES nts’ o 20 IT IS SO ORDER S RED. 21 22 23 Da ated: Februar 21, 2017 ry ___ __________ ___________ __________ ________ JEF FFREY S. W WHITE Un nited States D District Judg ge 24 25 26 27 28 4

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?