Watson-Florence v. 21st Century Centennial Insurance Company et al
ORDER granting 35 Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. The plaintiff's claims against the City of New Orleans are hereby DISMISSED with prejudice. Signed by Judge Martin L.C. Feldman on 1/11/17. (clc)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
THE CITY OF NEW ORLEANS,
CARLOS SOTO, 21ST CENTURY
ORDER AND REASONS
Before the Court is the City of New Orleans’ motion for a
judgment on the pleadings. For the following reasons, the motion
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 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
Carlos Soto’s insurance company, 21st Century Centennial
Insurance Co. is also a named defendant in this lawsuit.
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
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
contends that missing or inoperative intersectional signage does
allegations that the broken signage created some sort of trap.
“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,
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)."
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.
possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief."
"[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."
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).
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. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins.
Co., 369 So. 2d 267 (La. Ct. App. 4th Cir. 1979), writ denied 371
So. 2d 1343 (La. 1979).
In Lochbaum v. Bowman, the Louisiana Fourth Circuit noted
that the City may be liable in certain instances in which a “trap”
exists, such as when a traffic signal’s malfunction creates a
situation where a green light is facing both directions and both
motorists are led to believe he has the right of way. 353 So. 2d
379, 382, n.4 (La. Ct. App. 4th Cir. 1977). However, in that case
the malfunction actually resulted in a constant green light for
intersecting highway. Id. at 380. As such, the court held that
while the Department of Highways may have been negligent in failing
to repair the malfunctioning traffic signal, the Department of
Highways was not liable because the malfunction was not the legal
cause of the accident. Id. at 381-82. Rather, the motorist, who
was aware of the malfunctioning light, failed to exercise the
caution necessary to avoid the vehicle accident. Id. at 382.
A. The City of New Orleans’ Basis for Grounds of Dismissal
The City pointedly notes that the plaintiff’s complaint fails
to allege facts that plausibly infer the City’s malfunctioning
crosswalk signal was the legal cause of the plaintiff’s accident.
The Court agrees. The complaint merely indicates that the crosswalk
signal was inoperable and the City was negligent in failing to
repair the signal when it had actual notice of the malfunction and
knew there would be an unusually high number of visitors during
the weekend of the accident. Though these allegations arguably
point to indifference on behalf of the City, the allegations do
not under the law rise to the level necessary to prove legal
causation. Notably, the complaint does not allege, for example,
intersecting vehicular traffic had a green traffic light.
B. The Plaintiff’s Response
In her response, the plaintiff argues that the City did, in
fact, create a “trap” by stating that if the crosswalk signal was
properly functioning, the plaintiff and other pedestrians would
not have had to guess when it was safe to walk, or rely on some
vehicles stopping and others not stopping at the crosswalk. In
essence, the plaintiff argues that the outage of the crosswalk
signal created a duty for cars to stop and allow pedestrians to
walk without the guidance of the crosswalk signal. In support of
this argument, the plaintiff includes certain allegations from her
allegations does more than state a plausible claim for indifference
and sloppy oversight by the City agencies for failing to repair
the signal after having actual or constructive notice of the
Additionally, the plaintiff adds that the complaint alleges
a “trap” because the City knew thousands of tourists would be in
town during the weekend of this accident, the City knew of the
plaintiff was injured, and the City failed to repair the crosswalk
signal, creating a foreseeable risk of harm.
Finally, the plaintiff refutes the City’s position that no
trap existed by arguing that a trap did exist because the traffic
crosswalk signal did not operate.
The plaintiff’s misunderstanding of a trap and what rises to
the level of municipal liability causes her arguments to fail.
As discussed, Louisiana cases support that a trap is created
in a situation in which drivers or pedestrians at an intersection
each believe he has the right of way. A prime example would be if
both traffic signals at an intersection were “green,” leading all
drivers entering the intersection to believe they have the right
malfunction such that one crossway has a consistent green light
and the other crossway has a consistent red light, a driver, and
not the municipality, is liable because a trap is not present as
only one driver or one pedestrian is led to believe he has the
right of way. In that situation, the vehicle or pedestrian without
the right of way must heed to the right of way traffic and use
prudence in proceeding across an intersection just as he or she
would if no traffic signals existed at all.
prudence and caution when entering the crosswalk because the
malfunction created, at most, an uncontrolled intersection. See
Pepitone, 369 So. 2d at 270. “The duty of a [pedestrian] who
approaches an uncontrolled intersection with a street of equal
dignity is to determine that [s]he can make the crossing safely
[b]efore proceeding into the intersection.” Id. Thus, a totally
malfunctioning crosswalk signal – which did not read either “walk”
or “don’t walk” – does not equate to a right of way for the
pedestrian, as the plaintiff suggests. Further, a trap would exist
if the City had knowledge that the crosswalk signal continuously
indicated “walk,” while the traffic signal at the intersection
would change to green. See Lochbaum, 353 So. 2d at 382, n.4. The
plaintiff fails to plead facts sufficient to find the City of New
Orleans liable for the plaintiff’s injuries solely for maintaining
an inoperable crosswalk signal.
Accordingly, the City of New Orleans’ motion for a judgment
on the pleadings is GRANTED. The plaintiff’s claims against the
City of New Orleans are hereby DISMISSED with prejudice.
New Orleans, Louisiana, January 11, 2017
MARTIN L. C. FELDMAN
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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