Fenner v. Hannah et al
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry) re 15 MOTION to Dismiss Punitive Damages Claims & for a More Definite Statement filed by Vilee Hannah, Western Express, Inc. Signed by Honorable Malachy E Mannion on 3/22/17. (bs)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
TARRELL DONTEE FENNER,
VILEE HANNAH, et. al.
CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:15-2393
In this motor vehicle accident case, the defendants filed a motion to
dismiss the plaintiff’s claims for punitive damages pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P.
Rule 12(b)(6), and a motion for a more definite statement pursuant to Fed. R.
Civ. P. Rule 12(e). (Doc. 15). The parties filed a stipulation agreeing to the
dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims for punitive damages. As such, the
defendants’ motion to dismiss the punitive damages claims shall be denied
as moot. The defendants’ motion for a more definite statement regarding
plaintiff’s amended complaint, (Doc. 10), is presently pending before the
This case arises out of a motor vehicle accident on June 22, 2015 in the
parking lot of the Pilot Travel Center truck stop located on Route 315 in
Pittston Township, Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. The plaintiff, Tarrell
Dontee Fenner, was sitting in his parked tractor trailer, which was owned by
Bekins A-1 Movers, Inc., when the defendant, Vilee Hannah, drove his tractor
trailer into the rear of plaintiff’s tractor trailer while trying to exit the truck stop.
Hannah was working for defendant Western Express, Inc. (“Western
Express”) at the time of the incident and his tractor trailer was owned by
Western Express. The plaintiff alleges that he suffered various physical and
mental injuries from the accident that are permanent and require ongoing
treatment. He also alleges that he has sustained damages due to the
defendants’ negligence, including medical expenses and loss of earning.
This case was commenced on December 14, 2015, when the plaintiff
filed a complaint, through counsel, against defendants Hanna and Western
Express. (Doc. 1). On February 4, 2016, the defendants filed a motion to
dismiss the plaintiff’s claims for punitive damages pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P.
Rule 12(b)(6). (Doc. 6). The defendants filed their brief in support. (Doc. 9).
In response, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint on February 22, 2016.
(Doc. 10). Thus, the court dismissed without prejudice the defendants’ partial
motion to dismiss the original complaint. (Doc. 11).
On March 7, 2016, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s
claims in his amended complaint for punitive damages pursuant to Fed. R.
Civ. P. Rule 12(b)(6), and a motion for a more definite statement pursuant to
Fed. R. Civ. P. Rule 12(e). (Doc. 15). The defendants attached a copy of the
Pittston Township police report from the accident. (Doc. 15-2). The
defendants filed their brief in support on March 18, 2016. (Doc. 18). On June
9, 2016, both counsel filed a stipulation to amend plaintiff’s amended
complaint. (Doc. 20). The parties stipulated that plaintiff’s claims for punitive
damages contained in Counts 3 and 4 of the amended complaint, (Doc. 10),
should be dismissed without prejudice. (Doc. 20). The parties also stipulated
that the plaintiff’s allegations of “gross,” “wanton” and/or “reckless conduct”
throughout the amended complaint should be stricken without prejudice. On
June 9, 2016, the court approved of the stipulation. (Doc. 21).
As such, the defendants’ motion to dismiss the punitive damages
claims shall be denied as moot. The defendants’ motion for a more definite
statement with respect to the amended complaint is still pending before the
court. To date, the plaintiff has not filed his brief in opposition to the
defendants’ motion for a more definite statement and the time within which his
brief was due has expired.1
The amended complaint alleges four claims. Counts One and Two
assert causes of action against Hannah and Western Express, respectively,
Under Local Rule 7.6, M.D.Pa., the plaintiff’s failure to file his brief in
opposition to the defendants’ motion for a more definite statement provides
that he shall be deemed as not opposing the motion. Regardless, the court
finds that in the interest of moving this case forward and in light of the court’s
recent extensions of the case management deadlines, (Doc. 30), including a
new discovery deadline of June 30, 2017, the defendants will be able to
submit discovery requests to clarify the paragraphs which they maintain are
for negligence. In count Two, the plaintiff alleges that Hannah was Western
Express’ employee and acting within the scope of his employment at the time
of the accident. “A claim of vicarious liability against a principal is indivisible
and inseparable from the claim against the agent because the claim is based
on one indivisible act of wrongdoing for which both the principal and the agent
are liable.” Maloney v. Valley Medical Facilities, Inc., 984 A.2d 478, 491 (Pa.
2009). Under a theory of vicarious liability, it is as if Western Express was
operating the vehicle and can be held liable for the actions of its employee.
See Seamans v. Tramontana, 2013 WL 5728670 (M.D.Pa. Oct. 22, 2013).
Counts Three and Four asserted claims for punitive damages against each
defendant. However, as stated, the claims for punitive damages have been
dismissed without prejudice.
This court’s jurisdiction is based on diversity under 28 U.S.C. §1332(a).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The defendants’ motion for a more definite statement is brought
pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. Rule 12(e). Rule 12(e) allows the court to order a
more definite statement when the pleading is “so vague or ambiguous that the
opposing party cannot respond, even with a simple denial, without prejudice
to itself.” Pozarlink v. Comelback Assoicates, Inc., 2012 WL 760582, *2
(M.D.Pa. March 8, 2012)(citations omitted).
A. Rule 12(e) Motion for a More Definite Statement
The defendants move for a more definite pleading stating that several
paragraphs of the plaintiff’s amended complaint contain allegations that are
so vague and ambiguous that they cannot prepare a defense to them. The
defendants specifically cite to paragraphs 22(f), 22(n), 26(f), 26 (n), 27(I), 30,
33, 34 and 35. The defendants state that these paragraphs either vaguely
allege that they failed to exercise a reasonable degree of care or that they
were negligent for violating unspecified Pennsylvania statutes and
regulations, unspecified Township ordinances and unspecified federal
regulations. The defendants also state that paragraphs 22(z), 26(z) and 27 (q)
are deficient since they merely allege that defendants were negligent in “acts
or omissions as shall be discovered during the course of discovery.” The
defendants seek the court to require the plaintiff to re-plead the allegations in
the stated paragraphs or to remove the allegations from his amended
The court finds that in reading all of the stated paragraphs together with
the allegations set forth in the prior and subsequent paragraphs of the
amended complaint they are sufficiently definite to preclude this court from
requiring a more definite statement. See Seamans, supra. Read in
conjunction and as a whole, the amended complaint is a general claim for
negligence based on an accident that occurred in Pittston Township,
Pennsylvania. Even after the changes instituted by Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662 (2009), the pleading must be so unintelligible that a court cannot
determine one or more potentially valid claims on which a party may proceed
to require a more definite statement. Pozarlik, 2012 WL 760582 at *2;
Seamans, supra. All the statements in the amended pleading are sufficiently
clear and intelligible. The defendants will not be prejudiced by responding to
these allegation. Granting the motion would not “circumscrib[e] the scope of
discovery or defin[e] the issues” any more clearly. Hick v. Arthur, 843 F.Supp.
949, 959 (E.D.Pa. 1994). As such, the defendants’ motion for a more
definitive statement, (Doc. 15), is DENIED.
For the foregoing reasons, the defendants’ motion to dismiss the
punitive damages claims, (Doc. 15), is DENIED AS MOOT. The defendants’
motions for a more definite statement is DENIED. The defendants are
directed to file their answer to the remaining claims in plaintiff’s amended
complaint, Counts One and Two, within 14 days. An appropriate order will
s/ Malachy E. Mannion
MALACHY E. MANNION
United States District Judge
DATED: March 22, 2017
O:\Mannion\shared\MEMORANDA - DJ\CIVIL MEMORANDA\2015 MEMORANDA\15-2393-01.wpd
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