Caple et al v. Sears Department Stores
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry) re 3 MOTION TO DISMISS FOR FAILURE TO STATE A CLAIM filed by Sears Department Stores Signed by Honorable James M. Munley on 4/15/16. (sm)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
VALENCIA CAPLE, Individually and
as Parent and Natural Guardian of
J.M.V., a Minor,
SEARS DEPARTMENT STORES,
Plaintiff Valencia Caple claims that she has suffered from emotional
distress after witnessing her minor son’s facial laceration at defendant’s
store. Plaintiff asserts defendant’s negligence caused both her son’s injury
and her own emotional harm. In the instant motion to dismiss pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), defendant argues plaintiff has
failed to plead a cause of action for negligent infliction of emotional distress
upon which relief can be granted. Because plaintiff has sufficiently pled
emotional distress beyond the transitory symptoms courts have found to be
noncompensable, we will deny defendant’s motion to dismiss.
On April 9, 2013, Plaintiff Valencia Caple and her minor son, J.M.V.1
Pursuant to Local Rule 5.2(d)(2), we will refer to J.M.V. only by his
initials because he is a minor. The parties are reminded to comply with the
Local Rules in all filings with the court. J.M.V.’s name should not appear in
any filed document.
shopped for clothing at defendant’s store located in Scranton,
Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1-2, Compl. ¶¶ 2-3). Plaintiff alleges that J.M.V., who
was three years old at the time, suffered an injury to his face when he
struck a hidden, sharp edge of a wooden display table with metal corners.
(Id. ¶¶ 4-5). According to plaintiff, large, puffy dresses, hanging on a rack
adjacent to the table, concealed the sharp edge from J.M.V.’s view. (Id.)
Plaintiff filed a two-count complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of
Lackawanna County on July 30, 2015. In Count I of the complaint, plaintiff
claims that, as a result of defendant’s negligence, J.M.V. suffered a facial
puncture wound requiring stitches and that will necessitate future cosmetic
surgery, and which caused a speech impediment, affecting his learning
abilities. (Id. ¶ 10). Plaintiff further claims that due to scarring from the
accident, J.M.V. can no longer pursue his career as a children’s clothing
model, which he enjoyed. (Id.)
Count II alleges negligent infliction of emotional distress upon Plaintiff
Caple. Plaintiff Caple claims that she suffered ongoing emotional trauma,
leading to anxiety and stress, when she contemporaneously witnessed the
severe and bloody injury to her son. (Id. ¶¶ 20-23).
Defendant removed the case to the Middle District of Pennsylvania
on August 27, 2015 (Doc. 1), and filed the instant motion on September 3,
2015 (Doc. 3). The parties have briefed the issues and the matter is ripe
for our disposition.
The court has jurisdiction pursuant to the diversity statute, 28 U.S.C.
§ 1332. Plaintiffs Valencia Caple and J.M.V. are citizens of Pennsylvania.
(Compl. ¶ 1). Defendant Sears is a New York corporation with a principal
place of business in Illinois. (Doc. 1, Pet. for Removal ¶ 1). Additionally,
the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. Because complete diversity
of citizenship exists among the parties and the amount in controversy
exceeds $75,000, the court has jurisdiction over the case. See 28 U.S.C.
§ 1332 (“district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions
where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000,
exclusive of interest and costs, and is between . . . citizens of different
States[.]”). As a federal court sitting in diversity, the substantive law of
Pennsylvania applies to the instant case. Chamberlain v. Giampapa, 210
F.3d 154, 158 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Erie R.R. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78
Defendant filed its motion to dismiss the amended complaint
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The court tests the
sufficiency of the complaint’s allegations when considering a Rule 12(b)(6)
motion. All well-pleaded allegations of the complaint must be viewed as
true and in the light most favorable to the non-movant to determine
whether, “‘under any reasonable reading of the pleadings, the plaintiff may
be entitled to relief.’” Colburn v. Upper Darby Twp., 838 F.2d 663, 665-66
(3d Cir. 1988) (quoting Estate of Bailey by Oare v. Cnty. of York, 768 F.2d
503, 506 (3d Cir. 1985)). The plaintiff must describe “‘enough facts to raise
a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of’ [each]
necessary element” of the claims alleged in the complaint. Phillips v. Cnty.
of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)). Moreover, the plaintiff must allege
facts that “justify moving the case beyond the pleadings to the next stage
of litigation.” Id. at 234-35. In evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint the
court may also consider “matters of public record, orders, exhibits attached
to the complaint and items appearing in the record of the case.” Oshiver v.
Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994)
(citations omitted). The court does not have to accept legal conclusions or
unwarranted factual inferences. See Curay-Cramer v. Ursuline Acad. of
Wilmington, Del., Inc., 450 F.3d 130, 133 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Morse v.
Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997)).
Defendant’s motion to dismiss only challenges Count II–plaintiff’s
claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Defendant argues that
plaintiff cannot recover for negligent infliction of emotional distress because
she has not alleged physical injuries resulting from witnessing her son’s
injury. “To state a cause of action for negligent infliction of emotional
distress the plaintiff must demonstrate that she is a foreseeable plaintiff
and that she suffered a physical injury as a result of defendant’s
negligence.” Armstrong v. Paoli Memorial Hospital, 633 A.2d 605, 609
(Pa. Super. Ct. 1993) (citing RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS §§ 313,
436A). The physical effects alleged by the plaintiff must be more than
“[t]emporary fright, nervous shock, nausea, grief, rage, and humiliation if
[they are] transitory.” Id. At the same time, “long continued nausea or
headaches, repeated hysterical attacks or mental aberration are
compensable injuries.” Id. Courts have found that “depression,
nightmares, nervousness, insomnia and hysteria are physical symptoms
warranting recovery.” Id.
Here, plaintiff has alleged that she suffered severe emotional distress
as a result of witnessing J.M.V.’s bloody injury, which in turn was caused
by defendant’s negligence. (Compl. ¶ 23). The court takes this allegation
to be that the emotional distress plaintiff suffered from defendants’ conduct
was sharp and debilitating and continued over a long period of time. At
this preliminary stage of the litigation, plaintiff’s allegations are enough to
survive a motion to dismiss. Of course, defendants could again raise this
issue at the summary judgment stage, when the nature and duration of
plaintiff’s emotional injuries will presumably be more fully defined. For
now, however, the court will deny the defendant’s motion.
For the reasons set forth above, defendant’s motion to dismiss will be
denied. An appropriate order follows.
s/ James M. Munley
JUDGE JAMES M. MUNLEY
United States District Court
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