Blackman v. Allyn et al
ORDER: IT IS ORDERED that Allyn's 12 Motion to Dismiss is DENIED. SEE ORDER FOR FULL DETAILS. Signed by Judge Brian Morris on 9/7/2021. (SLR)
Case 4:21-cv-00042-BMM Document 23 Filed 09/07/21 Page 1 of 6
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MONTANA
GREAT FALLS DIVISION
JOSEPH E. ALLYN & DOES 1-10,
Plaintiff Stuart Blackman (“Blackman”) asserts claims of negligence and
negligence per se pursuant to the Montana Residential Landlord Tenant Act against
Joseph E. Allyn (“Allyn”) and Does 1-10. (Doc. 4). Blackman alleges that while
renting an apartment in Cut Bank from Allyn in October of 2020, a fire started that
trapped and injured Blackman resulting in general and special damages. Id. at ¶¶ 12. Blackman claims that apartment’s “faulty electrical components” caused the
fire. Id. at ¶ 5. Blackman claims that Allyn, or his agents, knew of these problems.
Id. In response to Blackman’s Complaint, Allyn filed a Motion to Dismiss on June
22, 2021. (Doc. 12 (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6)).
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Allyn argues in his Motion to Dismiss that the Complaint (Doc. 4) fails to
state facts “supporting a plausible claim for either of his causes of action.” (Doc.
13 at 5). Blackman counters that his complaint to meets the plausibility standard,
and in the event he falls short of the requirements, that he is entitled to amend his
Complaint. (Doc. 18 at 2, 5). The Court held a hearing on Allyn’s motion of
August 25, 2021.
Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires claimants to
include in their complaint “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the
pleader is entitled to relief.” A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint under the
plausibility pleading standard of Rule 8(a)(2). See Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729,
732 (9th Cir. 2001). Dismissal proves appropriate under Rule 12(b)(6) where the
complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Mendiondo v.
Centinela Hospital Med. Ctr., 521 F.3d 1097, 1104 (9th Cir. 2008).
A court may dismiss a complaint “based on the lack of a cognizable legal
theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory.”
Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep’t, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1988). The complaint
must contain sufficient factual matter to state a claim for relief that is plausible on
its face to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.
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Ct. 1937 (2009). A claim is plausible on its face when “the plaintiff pleads factual
content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is
liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at 678. The plausibility standard does not
require probability, but “asks for more than sheer possibility that defendant has acted
Whether Blackman’s Complaint pleads sufficient facts to meet the
plausibility standard to survive Allyn’s Motion to Dismiss
Allyn claims that Blackman’s complaint falls below the plausibility standard
set forth in Iqbal because it states no facts to support claims of negligence or
negligence per se. This Court sits in diversity jurisdiction and must apply the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and state substantive rules. Med. Lab. Mgmt,
Consultants v. Am. Broad. Companies, Inc., 306 F.3d 806, 812 (9th Cir. 2002); see
also Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 470-471 (1965). Accordingly, Rule 8(a) of
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs the sufficiency of the pleading while
Montana state laws govern the substance of the claims themselves.
“Under Montana Law, a negligence action requires proof of four elements:
existence of a duty; breach of duty; causation; and damages.” Oberson v. U.S.
Dep’t of Agric., Forest Serv., 514 F.3d 989, 999 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing Gentry v.
Douglas Hereford Ranch, Inc., 290 Mont. 126, 962 P.2d 1205, 1209 (1998)).
Blackman thus holds the burden of alleging facts in his Complaint to “raise
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reasonable inference” that establish Allyn’s liability in regards to the elements of
negligence and negligence per se to meet Iqbal’s plausibility standard. Fed. Rules.
Civ. P. 8(a); Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Blackman meets his burden.
Blackman alleges that Allyn owned the premises that Blackman was leasing
at the time of the fire. (Doc. 4 at ¶¶ 3-4). Blackman alleges that Allyn, or Allyn’s
agents, allegedly knew of hazardous faulty electrical components on the premises.
Id. at ¶ 5. Blackman further alleges that the faulty electrical components caused the
fire. Id. And finally, Blackman claims that he sustained injuries in the fire. Id. at ¶
2. Each of these facts, although only preliminary evidence of negligence, point
directly to the elements of Blackman’s claims. In alleging these facts, Blackman
did more than state “labels and conclusions,” formulaically recite the elements of a
cause of action, and “create  suspicion of a legally cognizable right of action.”
Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 1965, (2007); see also 5 Charles
Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216 (3d ed.
Taken as true, the facts alleged in Blackman’s Complaint raise a reasonable
inference that Allyn stands responsible for the damages resulting from the fire.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. It is undisputed that landlords owe a duty to tenants to keep
the leased premises safe and warn of any hidden dangers. Richardson v. Corvallis
Public School Dist. No. 1, 286 Mont. 309, 321 (1997). Blackman’s allegations of
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Allyn, or Allyn’s agents, knowing of the faulty electrical components on the
premises infers a breach. The Complaint explicitly states the elements of causation
and damages. (Doc. 4 at ¶¶ 2, 5). Accordingly, the facts alleged infer both
negligence under Montana case law and negligence per se under the Montana
Residential Landlord Tenant Act. Blackman’s claims are not merely possible, but
plausible. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
Allyn’s claim that more facts are needed for the Complaint to be sufficient is
misplaced. Negligence and negligence per se claims do not fall under the
heightened pleading standard in Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b), which requires a plaintiff to
allege particular facts when pleading fraud or mistake. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 686.
Absent an investigation of the causes of the fire, Blackman has pleaded
preliminary facts that raise reasonable inference of Allyn’s liability that render his
claim plausible on its face. The factual record is not yet fully developed and
discovery will fill the factual gaps to which the parties can move for summary
judgment when the time comes. Until then, a decision to dismiss is premature.
In sum, taking all factual allegations as true, Blackman’s Complaint states
enough facts to “state a claim of relief that is plausible on its face” and survives
Allyn’s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 12).
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Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED that Allyn’s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 12) is
Dated this 7th day of September, 2021.
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