THE ESTATE OF COLIN FITZPATRICK v. UNIVERSAL TECHNICAL INSTITUTE, INC.
MEMORANDUM AND/OR OPINION RE: DEFENDANTS MOTION TO DISMISS THE PLAINTIFF SECOND AMENDED COMPLAINT.. SIGNED BY HONORABLE LOUIS H. POLLAK ON 8/11/2010. 8/16/2010 ENTERED AND COPIES MAILED, E-MAILED.(kk, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT F O R THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
G A L E FITZPATRICK and THE E S T A T E OF COLIN FITZPATRICK, P la in tif f s , v. U N IV E R S A L TECHNICAL IN S T IT U T E , INC. D e f e n d a n t.
C iv il Action No. 08-1137
M EM ORANDUM August 11, 2010 P o lla k , J.
In this diversity suit, defendant Universal Technical Institute ("UTI"),which runs te c h n ic a l training schools throughout the country, has filed a motion to dismiss (docket n o . 46) the second amended complaint (docket no. 43) of plaintiff Gale Fitzpatrick, the m o th e r of the decedent Colin Fitzpatrick, and the Estate of Colin Fitzpatrick. Plaintiffs h a v e responded (docket no. 47). UTI has filed a reply to plaintiffs' response (docket no. 5 0 ). I. Background and Procedural History T h e relevant facts of this case are as alleged in the second amended complaint. Plaintiff Gale Fitzpatrick is the mother of Colin Fitzpatrick ("Fitzpatrick"), and serves as
administratrix of his estate, which is also a plaintiff. Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 2-3. On J a n u a ry 30, 2006 Fitzpatrick was driving home on Route 202 when Jean DeFague's (" D e F a g u e " ) car struck his car and killed him. Id. at ¶¶ 10-13. At the time of the a c c id e n t DeFague was a student at UTI's Exton, Pennsylvania campus. Mot. Dismiss P l.'s Second Am. Compl. ¶ 8. The accident occurred approximately 12.7 miles from the c a m p u s . Id. DeFague was not driving on school business or in a UTI-provided vehicle. Id. at ¶¶ 9-10. UTI training schools teach students automotive maintenance and repair. Plaintiffs a lle g e that UTI students, including DeFague, drove their cars recklessly at high speeds in th e surrounding areas. Second Am. Compl. ¶ 14. Plaintiffs further allege that UTI was a w a re of its students' conduct because it had received complaints from a local business a n d the Chief of Police of Upper Uwchlan Township. Id. at ¶¶ 14-16. Furthermore, n e w s p a p e rs reported students' reckless conduct. Id. at ¶ 18. As a result of its students re c k le ss driving, UTI took steps to control the students' behavior. Id. at ¶ 19. The school s o u g h t community input and, in a memorandum, advised the student body that a police c ita tio n of speeding or reckless driving would result in immediate suspension or te rm in a tio n . Id. at ¶ 21. It also advised that identification of reckless driving by a staff or c o m m u n ity member would lead to disciplinary action, including possible termination f ro m the school. Id. UTI also: (1) added a security guard to identify reckless drivers; (2) re q u ire d all students to sign a waiver stating that police would inform UTI of all student
run-ins; and (3) updated its Student Success Guide, a school handbook for incoming s tu d e n ts providing useful information and school policies, to include disciplinary actions f o r reckless driving. Id. at ¶¶ 22, 25-27. DeFague had a history of driving violations, including two speeding citations in 2 0 0 5 . Id. at ¶¶ 35-36. Plaintiffs contend that, in spite of its policies to curb reckless d riv in g through disciplinary action, UTI was aware of DeFague's driving record and f a ile d to punish or expel him. Id. at ¶ 38. Plaintiffs further allege that UTI assumed a d u ty of care to the community because of its disciplinary policies and public statements s u rro u n d in g these policies. Id. at ¶ 46. Plaintiffs filed a complaint in the Chester County Court of Common Pleas seeking d a m a g e s from UTI for negligence, wrongful death, and survival. Invoking this court's d iv e rsity jurisdiction, UTI removed the suit to this court (docket no. 1). After removal, U T I filed a motion to dismiss (docket no. 12) asserting that plaintiffs could not establish th a t UTI owed Fitzpatrick a duty of care. In a memorandum of August 18, 2008, I denied th e motion (docket no. 21) because the initial complaint alleged that UTI was aware that its students, including DeFague, used its classrooms and the material it taught to modify th e ir cars so that they could drive at a faster speed. Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint (d o c k e t no. 33) and UTI filed a motion to dismiss (docket no. 34) which I granted. Id. at * 1 3 . The dismissal was without prejudice to plaintiffs' ability to further amend the c o m p la in t. Id. Plaintiffs then filed a second amended complaint (docket no. 43) and UTI
filed the instant motion. I I . Analysis A. Rule 12 (b)(6) Motion to Dismiss Standard D e f e n d a n t moves the court, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), to dismiss plaintiffs' second amended complaint for failure to state a claim upon which re lie f can be granted. To survive a motion to dismiss, "a complaint must contain s u f f ic ie n t factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim a claim to relief that is plausible o n its face." Gelman v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 583 F.3d 187, 190 (3d Cir. 2009) (in te rn a l quotations omitted). In reviewing this motion to dismiss, the court must accept a s true all factual allegations in the complaint and draw from it all reasonable inferences, c o n s tru e d in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs. Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d C ir. 1996). UTI contends that, based upon the current pleadings, plaintiffs cannot establish th a t UTI was under any obligation to control the activities of its students or that it a s s u m e d a duty of care to the community, or to Fitzpatrick, because of its public d is c ip lin a ry policies. Plaintiffs respond that, "by its affirmative actions, UTI assumed a d u ty to protect the public, and the public relied to its detriment. . . . [U]TI failed to use re a s o n a b le care in administering the duty it had affirmatively undertaken, thereby causing its students' dangerous driving to persist and the death of Colin Fitzpatrick." Pl.s' Resp. a t 7. UTI responds that, "[p]laintiff[s'] argument appears to be merely an attempt to
distract the Court from the principal issue presented by UTI's motiondoes a school have c u s to d y or control over an adult student driving more than twelve (12) miles from campus a n d unrelated to any school function so as to create a duty of care?" Defendant's Resp. at 2 -3 . UTI continues, "Plaintiff[s] argues instead that UTI `assumed a duty of care.' . . . [ h ]o w e v e r, this Court previously addressed and rejected Plaintiff's `assumption of care' a rg u m e n t." Id. at 3. Under Pennsylvania law, the primary element in a negligence cause of action is w h e th e r the defendant owed the plaintiffs a duty of care. Althaus ex rel. Althaus v. C o h e n , 756 A.2d 1166, 1168 (Pa. 2000) (citation omitted). A duty of care can be e s ta b lis h e d in a liability suit, by, inter alia: (1) a special relationship between the parties, o r (2) an assumption of a duty to care. See Bradshaw v. Rawlings, 612 F.2d 135, 140-41 (3 d Cir. 1979) (analyzing a college's liability in an off-campus car crash between two s tu d e n ts , one who was underage and intoxicated against school policies, through a special re la tio n s h ip and an assumption of a duty to care perspective). B. Enrollment in an Institution of Higher Education does not Create a Special R e la tio n sh ip Between a Student and the School T h e general rule in Pennsylvania, regarding the relationship between a college and its students, is that no special relationship exists. See Bradshaw, 612 F.2d at 140.. The T h ird Circuit first held in Bradshaw that, "[c]ollege administrators no longer control the b ro a d arena of general morals. . . . [t]oday students vigorously claim the right to define a n d regulate their own lives." Bradshaw, 612 F.2d at 140. Bradshaw, like the present 5
case, involved an injury off-campus caused by students allegedly engaged in an activity ille g a l under Pennsylvania law and prohibited by the school. The court found that b e c a u s e the students' conduct off campus was unforeseeable, the school could not control it. Id. at 141. Since Bradshaw there has been a long line of cases reaffirming that institutions of h ig h e r education are not responsible for their students' off-campus conduct while acting a s private individuals. Such an understanding has particular force with respect to v o c a tio n a l or professional schools, where the students are, as a general matter, under re la tiv e ly little supervision. See Fitzpatrick, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 71426, at *9; Milliard v. Osborne, 611 A.2d 715, 721 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1992) (finding that it would be in a p p ro p ria te to impose upon a college a custodial relationship with its students as it c a n n o t control their behavior through school policies). C. An Institution of Higher Education does not Assume a Duty of Care to Students or T h ird Parties when it Creates School Policies Which Benefit the Public P la in tif f s ' second amended complaint asserts that "UTI assumed a duty of care by ta k in g affirmative steps to protect the community against the conduct of its students by, in p a rt, promulgating policies designed to curb such conduct, and by publicly announcing th a t it would enforce those policies to protect the public." Second Am. Compl. ¶ 46. Pennsylvania has adopted the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 324A. See Cantwell v. A lle g h e n y Cnty, 483 A.2d 1350, 1353 (Pa. 1984) ("Although this Court has never had o c c a s io n to consider § 324A of the Restatement, the essential provisions of this section 6
have been the law in Pennsylvania for many years."). Section 324A states: O n e who undertakes, gratuitously or for consideration, to render services to a n o th e r which he should recognize as necessary for the protection of a third p e rs o n or his things, is subject to liability to the third person for physical h a rm resulting from his failure to exercise reasonable care to protect his u n d e rta k in g , if (a) his failure to exercise reasonable care increases the risk o f such harm, or (b) he has undertaken to perform a duty owed by the other to the third person, or (c) the harm is suffered because of reliance of the o th e r or the third person upon the undertaking. R e sta te m e n t (Second) of Torts § 324A (1965). Plaintiffs contend that the public relied u p o n UTI's statements that it would enforce its policies, which it failed to do through d is c ip lin a ry action. Second Am. Compl. ¶¶47-48. UTI did not assume a duty of care to the public through its school policies aimed at p re v e n tin g reckless driving. As I noted in ruling on plaintiffs' first amended complaint: This appears to be the same kind of claim lodged by plaintiffs in Bradshaw a n d Collette [v. Tolleson Unified School District, No. 214, 54 P.3d 828, 836 (A riz . Ct. App. 2002)], that, by enacting and maintaining policies p ro h ib itin g certain kinds of off-campus conduct by students, an educational in s titu tio n assumes a duty to any third parties who suffer injury when such p o lic ie s allegedly fail to prevent a student from acting negligently or re c k le s s ly. For the reasons outlined above, such a theory cannot prevail in th is case. F itz p a tr ic k , 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 71426, at *10-11. Plaintiffs assert that UTI breached a duty of care because: (1) the public relied on UTI's policies which it promoted th ro u g h o u t the community, and (2) UTI failed to enforce these policies. Assuming that members of the public actually relied upon UTI's policies, the In s titu te is still not liable to plaintiffs. Creation of school policies that punish individuals
for conduct made illegal under state law does not place an institution of higher education in a position of assuming a duty of care. See Bradshaw, 612 F.2d at 140 (finding that the c o lle g e 's regulation prohibiting underage drinking did not place the college in a custodial re la tio n s h ip with its students or indicate that it had voluntarily assumed such a re la tio n s h ip , and therefore the college was not liable for the injuries suffered by a student a f te r he was hit by an underage peer who had been drinking at an off-campus class p ic n ic ); see also Booker v. Lehigh Univ., 800 F. Supp. 234, 240 (E.D. Pa. 1992) ("[E]ven if Lehigh knowingly failed to prevent alcohol consumption, we could not, nor would we, f in d a duty in loco parentis."). As a matter of law UTI did not assume a duty of care to the public by establishing a n d implementing policies to curb reckless driving. UTI cannot be held liable for a s tu d e n t's reckless driving 12.7 miles from the campus in a vehicle not belonging to the In s titu te . C. D e riv a tiv e Claims P la in tif f Gale Fitzpatrick asserts a claim to recover damages for the death of her s o n under the Pennsylvania Wrongful Death Act, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8301. Second Am. C o m p l. ¶ 52. As this claim is premised upon UTI's negligence it fails as a matter of law. See Kagan v. Harley Davidson, Inc., No. 07-0694 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 32747, at *2 n .1 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 22, 2008) (finding that plaintiff's wrongful death claim was derivative o f its negligence claim and would only survive summary judgment if the negligence claim
did). Gale Fitzpatrick further asserts a claim for damages pursuant to the Pennsylvania S u rv iv a l Act, 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8302. Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 57-59. This claim s im ila rly fails as a matter of law because it is premised upon UTI's negligence. I I I . Conclusion For the reasons stated above, defendant's Motion to Dismiss will be granted. As p la in tif f s , despite the opportunity to amend for a second time, have been unable to state a c la im on which relief can be granted, an attempt to frame a third amended complaint w o u ld be futile. See Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224 (3d Cir. 2008) ("We h a v e instructed that if a complaint is vulnerable to 12(b)(6) dismissal, a district court must p e rm it a curative amendment, unless an amendment would be inequitable or futile."). A c c o rd in g ly, dismissal of plaintiffs' second amended complaint will be with prejudice. An appropriate order accompanies this memorandum.
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?