BRUCE v. AMTRAK NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION
LETTER OPINION AND ORDER denying 7 Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff is granted leave to amend his complaint within 30 days to correct the complaint's procedural deficiencies, in accordance with this letter opinion and order. Signed by Judge Freda L. Wolfson on 7/13/2015. (mmh)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Clarkson S. Fisher Federal Building &
402 East State Street
Trenton, New Jersey 08608
FREDA L. WOLFSON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
LETTER OPINION AND ORDER
July 13, 2015
Todd S. Bruce
25 West Hanover Place, Apt. 613
Trenton, New Jersey 08618
Landman Corsi Ballaine & Ford P.C.
1 Gateway Center, Fourth Floor
Newark, New Jersey 07102
Bruce v. National Railroad Passenger Corporation
Civil Action No.: 3:15-CV-00756-FLW
Defendant National Railroad Passenger Corporation (“Amtrak”) moves to dismiss the
complaint filed by plaintiff Todd S. Bruce, pro se (“Plaintiff”). Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 8, 10,
and 11. For the following reasons, I deny the motion, but find that Plaintiff must file an amended
complaint to correct certain procedural deficiencies.
The following facts are taken from Plaintiff’s complaint. On February 5, 2013, Plaintiff, a
New Jersey resident, attempted to board an Amtrak train on track number 50 in Chicago, Illinois
when he slipped on an oily substance and fell onto his back. See Compl. According to Plaintiff,
there were no caution signs stationed near the area of the incident. Id. Following the injury, Amtrak
Conductor Frederick Taylor completed an incident report. Id.
Plaintiff asserts that he sought medical attention once he returned to New Jersey. Id.
Plaintiff further asserts that he is without medical coverage and has therefore accrued
approximately $17,000 worth of medical expenses and is currently attending regular physical
therapy sessions. Id. Upon contacting an Amtrak claims department representative, Plaintiff asserts
that he was informed that he would not be compensated for his damages. Id.
On February 2, 2015, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit. With respect to jurisdiction, Plaintiff noted
that travel difficulty precluded him from filing the suit in Chicago, where the incident transpired,
and accordingly requested that it be considered by the Federal System. In addition, to describe his
cause of action, Plaintiff provided a one-paragraph and unnumbered description of the incident
and the months following its occurrence. Finally, in his Demand section, Plaintiff requested that
Amtrak reimburse Plaintiff for his medical expenses and for pain and suffering.
Thereafter, Amtrak filed this motion to dismiss. Amtrak argues that Plaintiff’s Complaint
does not plausibly plead a claim upon which relief may be granted in accordance with Fed. R. Civ.
P. 8, and does not meet the requirements stated in Fed. R. Civ. P. 10 and 11, and L. Civ. R. 11.1.
Specifically, Amtrak contends that the Complaint is (1) substantively insufficient to permit the
Court to draw a reasonable inference that Amtrak is responsible for the injury, and (2) procedurally
insufficient because it lacks the Court’s name in the caption, numbered paragraphs, and Plaintiff’s
signature. Finally, Amtrak requests that, in the event that Plaintiff’s complaint is not dismissed,
Plaintiff be required to provide a more definite statement in order for Amtrak to respond.1
Plaintiff filed a letter brief in opposition to Amtrak’s motion (“Letter Brief”) on March 12,
2015. In this brief, Plaintiff argues that Amtrak’s motion must be denied, as Plaintiff’s complaint
raises viable and cognizable claims, and that dismissal of Plaintiff’s claims would violate
Plaintiff’s right to procedural due process under the New Jersey and United States Constitutions.
Plaintiff also notes that the filings of pro se litigants are traditionally construed more liberally, and
asserts that the inadequacies of his complaint are augmented by the protections established in the
When reviewing a motion to dismiss on the pleadings, courts “accept all factual allegations
as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether,
under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.” Phillips v.
County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (citation and quotations omitted). In Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), the Supreme Court clarified the 12(b)(6)
standard. Specifically, the Court “retired” the language contained in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S.
41, 45–46 (1957), that “a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it
appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which
would entitle him to relief.” Id. at 561 (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 45–46). Instead, the factual
allegations set forth in a complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative
level.” Id. at 555. As the Third Circuit has stated, “[t]he Supreme Court's Twombly formulation of
the pleading standard can be summed up thus: ‘stating . . . [a] claim requires a complaint with
enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest’ the required element. This ‘does not impose a
probability requirement at the pleading stage,’ but instead ‘simply calls for enough facts to raise a
reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of’ the necessary element.”
Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234 (quoting Twombly, 127 U.S. at 556); see also Covington v. Int’l Ass’n of
Approved Basketball Officials, 710 F.3d 114, 118 (3d Cir. 2013) (“[A] claimant does not have to
‘set out in detail the facts upon which he bases his claim.’ . . . The pleading standard ‘is not akin
1 The Court notes that, while it believes that it has received the full extent of Amtrak’s
memorandum, the progression of the memorandum does not match its table of contents.
Specifically, subsection A under Section I of this memorandum’s “Argument” is immediately
followed by subsection D, and further by subsection E. Furthermore, Section I is immediately
followed by Section III.
to a ‘probability requirement[;] “. . . to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint merely has to state
a ‘plausible claim for relief.’” (Citations omitted.)).
In affirming that Twombly’s standards apply to all motions to dismiss, the Supreme Court
explained several principles. First, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations
contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009). Second, “only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives
a motion to dismiss.” Id. at 679. Therefore, “a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to
begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to
the assumption of truth.” Id. Ultimately, “a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's
entitlement to relief. A complaint has to ‘show’ such an entitlement with its facts.” Fowler v.
UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 211 (3d Cir. 2009). However, “a district court ruling on a motion
to dismiss may not consider matters extraneous to the pleadings . . . [although a] limited exception
exists for documents that are integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint.” W. Penn
Allegheny Health Sys., Inc. v. UPMC, 627 F.3d 85, 97 n.6 (3d Cir. 2010), cert. denied, 132 S.Ct.
98 (2011) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The Third Circuit has reiterated that
“judging the sufficiency of a pleading is a context-dependent exercise” and “[s]ome claims require
more factual explication than others to state a plausible claim for relief.” Id. at 98. This means that,
“[f]or example, it generally takes fewer factual allegations to state a claim for simple battery than
to state a claim for antitrust conspiracy.” Id. That said, the Rule 8 pleading standard is to be applied
“with the same level of rigor in all civil actions.” Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct at 1953).
In determining the sufficiency of a pro se complaint, the Court must be mindful to construe
it liberally in favor of the plaintiff. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520–521 (1972); United States
v. Day, 969 F.2d 39, 42 (3d Cir. 1992). This policy of liberally construing a pro se plaintiff's
compliant has led courts “to apply the applicable law, irrespective of whether the pro se litigant
has mentioned it by name.” Dluhos v. Strasberg, 321 F.3d 365, 688 (3d Cir. 2003); see
also Weaver v. Wilcox, 650 F.2d 22, 25–6 (3d Cir. 1981) (construing plaintiff's complaint to allege
a § 1983 action even though plaintiff did not explicitly state this as the basis of the claim).
Additionally, the Court must “accept as true all of the allegations in the complaint and all
the reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable
to the plaintiff.” Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). The Court
need not, however, credit a pro se plaintiff's “bald assertions” or “legal conclusions.” Id.
Thus, a pro se complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a claim only if it appears
“beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would
entitle him to relief.” Haines, 404 U.S. at 521 (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45–46
(1957)); Milhouse v. Carlson, 652 F.2d 371, 373 (3d Cir. 1981).
The Court first examines the substantive viability of Plaintiff’s complaint. In that
connection, the Court finds that Plaintiff has satisfied the requirements to survive a 12(b)(6)
Motion to Dismiss. It appears from Plaintiff’s complaint that Plaintiff is asserting a negligence
claim against Amtrak. To state a claim for negligence, a plaintiff must assert, “(1) a duty of care,
(2) a breach of that duty, (3) proximate cause, and (4) actual damages.” Fogarty v. Household
Finance Corp. III, 2015 WL 852071, at *20 (D.N.J. Feb. 25, 2015) (slip copy) (quoting Brunson
v. Affinity Fed. Credit Union, 199 N.J. 381, 400 (2009)). Here, Plaintiff alleges in his Complaint
that “[n]o caution signs were posted in the immediate vicinity nor had anyone made an attempt to
clean the area.” See Compl. The Court finds that this averment, while not explicit, contains two
important implications: (1) it is the duty of Amtrak to maintain the safety of its premises and to
adequately warn its customers of any potential dangers, and (2) that in failing to install any
cautionary signs, Amtrak breached this duty. Furthermore, with respect to requirements three and
four, Plaintiff provided that “there was an oily substance around the platform that I had not noticed
until I slipped in it and fell, injuring myself.” Id. Moreover, Plaintiff indicated that his medical
expenses have amassed to approximately $17,000. In this regard, the Court finds that both the
causal nexus between the incident and Plaintiff’s injuries and an approximation of damages have
been sufficiently expressed in this complaint. Further, Plaintiff has given Amtrak notice about the
circumstances surrounding his fall by pleading additional facts about which train he was
attempting to board and the date of his accident. See Compl. Therefore, giving Plaintiff’s
Complaint the liberal reading it is due, the Court finds that the four elements necessary to sustain
a negligence action under New Jersey law are sufficiently plead to state a plausible claim for relief
for the purposes of this motion. See, e.g., McDowell v. Kmart Corp., 2006 WL 1967363, *3 (E.D.
Pa. July 12, 2006) (denying defendant’s 12(b)(6) motion on plaintiff’s negligence claim following
a slip and fall on defendant’s premises upon finding that it did not appear beyond a reasonable
doubt that plaintiff could prove no set of facts that would entitle her to relief, despite conceding
that the factual allegations behind plaintiff’s claim were not particularly detailed).
However, the Court finds that Plaintiff’s complaint is, as Amtrak argues, procedurally
deficient, for the following reasons. First, Plaintiff has first failed to assert a basis for federal
subject matter jurisdiction in accordance with Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a), which states that “[a] pleading
that states a claim for relief must contain: (1) a short and plain statement of the grounds for the
court’s jurisdiction, unless the court already has jurisdiction and the claim needs no new
jurisdictional support.”2 Second, Plaintiff has failed to number the paragraphs of his complaint in
accordance with Fed R. Civ. P. 10(b), which states that “[a] party must state its claims or defenses
in numbered paragraphs, each limited as far as practicable to a single set of circumstances.”
Finally, Plaintiff has failed to sign the document pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(a), which states
that, “[e]very pleading, written motion, and other paper must be signed by at least one attorney of
record in the attorney’s name–or by a party personally if the party is unrepresented.”3 Therefore,
Plaintiff must amend his Complaint to comply with the above Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
The Court notes that while Plaintiff is procedurally required to set for the basis for subject matter
jurisdiction, substantively, “[b]ecause a majority of the capital stock of Amtrak is owned by the
United States, the federal courts have subject matter jurisdiction over any action involving
Amtrak.” Hollus v. Amtrak Ne. Corridor, 937 F. Supp. 1110, 1113 (D.N.J. 1996) aff'd, 118 F.3d
1575 (3d Cir. 1997); see also Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Pa. Pub. Util. Comm'n, 159 F. Supp.
2d 28, 34 (E.D. Pa. 2001) aff'd, 288 F.3d 519 (3d Cir. 2002).
3 Amtrak argues that Plaintiff’s Complaint also violates L. Civ. R. 11.1, which states that “[i]n
each case, the attorney of record who is a member of the bar of this court shall personally sign all
papers submitted to the Court or filed with the Clerk.” However, because Plaintiff is pro se, his
own signature will suffice for the purposes of this rule.
Accordingly, Amtrak’s motion to dismiss is DENIED. However, Plaintiff is granted leave
to amend his complaint within 30 days to correct the complaint’s procedural deficiencies, in
accordance with this letter opinion and order.
/s/ Freda L. Wolfson
FREDA L. WOLFSON
United States District Judge
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