Carsten v. Boylan et al
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry) re 7 MOTION TO DISMISS FOR FAILURE TO STATE A CLAIM filed by Cindy A. Boylan, Andrew F. Boylan Signed by Magistrate Judge Joseph F. Saporito, Jr on 10/2/17. (ms)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
DUSTIN J. CARSTEN,
CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:17-cv-00733
CINDY A. BOYLAN and ANDREW (SAPORITO, M.J.)
F. BOYLAN, her husband,
This diversity action arises out of a motor vehicle accident which
occurred on December 1, 2015, on State Route 209 in Chestnuthill
Township, Monroe County, Pennsylvania. This matter is before us on
the defendants’ motion for partial dismissal under Fed. R. Civ. P.
12(b)(6). (Doc. 7). For the reasons set forth herein, we will deny the
Statement of the Case
In the complaint, the plaintiff, Dustin J. Carsten, has alleged that
on December 1, 2015, he was travelling south on S.R. 209 in Monroe
County, Pennsylvania. At the same time, the defendant, Cindy Boylan,
was travelling north on the same road when she left the northbound
lane and entered the southbound lane causing a head-on collision with
the plaintiff’s vehicle, resulting in serious injuries to the plaintiff. The
plaintiff alleges in the complaint that the conduct of the defendant
Cindy Boylan was negligent, careless, gross, wanton, and reckless. (Doc.
1). He has alleged various failures by Cindy Boylan, including failure to
properly observe the roadway and vehicles on the roadway; operating
her vehicle without due regard for the rights, safety, and position of the
plaintiff; operating her vehicle so as to bring it into sudden and forcible
contact with the plaintiff’s vehicle; driving while distracted; failure to
give warning of her approach and to maneuver her vehicle so as to avoid
a collision; failure to maintain adequate control over her vehicle;
operating her vehicle at an unsafe speed under the circumstances and
in careless and reckless disregard for the safety of others; operating her
vehicle directly into the path of another vehicle; negligently crossing
into plaintiff’s lane of travel; and failing to obey the rules of the road.
The plaintiff has also maintained a claim against defendant
Andrew F. Boylan, the husband of Cindy Boylan, alleging that he
negligently entrusted his vehicle to defendant Cindy Boylan when he
knew, or should have known, that she lacked sufficient skill, judgment,
and prudence in the operation of a motor vehicle and failed to
adequately instruct her in the safe operation of a motor vehicle prior to
entrusting her with it. (Id. ¶ 29).
The plaintiff also alleged that
defendant Andrew F. Boylan failed to prevent Cindy Boylan from
operating the vehicle until she had sufficient ability to operate it safely
and failing to adequately ascertain that she lacked the ability necessary
to safely operate the vehicle under the circumstances. (Id.). In their
motion for partial dismissal, the defendants seek to dismiss allegations
of reckless and wanton misconduct which they contend to be a “veiled
claim for punitive damages.” (Doc. 9, at 1). Although it is not set forth
as a separate motion, we construe the motion also as a motion to strike
pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(f) in that the defendants have asked the
court to strike the allegations relating to wanton and reckless conduct
from the complaint. The matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for a
a. Motion to Dismiss
Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes a
defendant to move to dismiss for Afailure to state a claim upon which
relief is granted.@ Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). AUnder Rule 12(b)(6), a motion
to dismiss may be granted only if, accepting all well-pleaded allegations in
the complaint as true and viewing them in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff, a court finds the plaintiff=s claims lack facial plausibility.@
Warren Gen. Hosp. v. Amgen, Inc., 643 F.3d 77, 84 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing
Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007)). Although
the Court must accept the fact allegations in the complaint as true, it is
not compelled to accept Aunsupported conclusions and unwarranted
inferences, or a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.@ Morrow
v. Balaski, 719 F.3d 160, 165 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Baraka v.
McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 195 (3d Cir. 2007)). Under Rule12(b)(6), the
defendant has the burden of showing that no claim has been stated. Kehr
Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991);
Johnsrud v. Carter, 620 F.2d 29, 32-33 (3d Cir. 1980); Holocheck v.
Luzerne Cty. Head Start, Inc., 385 F. Supp. 2d 491, 495 (M.D. Pa. 2005).
In deciding the motion, the court may consider the facts alleged on the
face of the complaint, as well as Adocuments incorporated into the
complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial
notice.@ Tellab, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322
b. Motion to Strike Rule
Fed R. Civ. P. 12(f) allows the court to “strike from a pleading an
insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or
scandalous matter.” “Immaterial matter is that which has no essential
or important relationship to the claim for relief.” Del. Health Care, Inc.
v. MCD Holding Co., 893 F. Supp 1279, 1291-92 (D. Del. 1995).
“Impertinent matter consists of statements that do not pertain, and are
not necessary, to the issues in question.” Id. ‘“Scandalous matter’ has
been defined as ‘that which improperly casts a derogatory light on
someone, most typically on a party to the action.”’ Carone v. Whalen,
121 F.R.D. 231, 233 (M.D. Pa. 1988).
“Scandalous pleading” must
‘reflect cruelly’ upon the defendant’s moral character, use ‘repulsive
language’ or ‘detract from the dignity of the court.”’ Id. “The purpose of
the provision is to clean-up the pleadings, streamline the litigation and
avoid inquiry into irrelevant matters.”
Medevac Atlantic, LLC v.
Keystone Mercy Health Plan, 817 F. Supp. 2d 515, 520 (E.D. Pa. 2011).
“[A]lthough Rule 12(f) grants the court the power to grant a motion to
strike, such motions are not favored and usually will be denied unless
the allegations have no possible relation to the controversy and may
cause prejudice to one of the parties, or if the allegations confuse the
issues.” Dann v. Liacola Nat’l Corp., 274 F.R.D. 139, 142-43 (E.D. Pa.
2011) (internal quotations marks omitted). Rule 12(f) should not be
used to determine disputed and significant questions of law.
However, “[d]espite courts’ distaste for striking pleadings and portions
thereof, doing so is appropriate when the type or amount of relief
sought is unavailable under law.” Medevac, 817 F. Supp. 2d at 520.
Regardless, striking a pleading is a “drastic remedy” that should be
“sparingly used by courts.” N. Penn Transfer, Inc. v. Victauloc Co. of
Am., 859 F. Supp. 154, 158 (E.D. Pa. 1994).
The plaintiff is a citizen of Texas and the defendants are citizens
of New Jersey. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 1-5). The accident occurred in Pennsylvania
and the amount in controversy is alleged to be greater than $75,000.
(Id. ¶ 7). Thus, we have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). As the
accident occurred in Pennsylvania, its substantive laws apply.
R.R. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938).
The defendants assert that the reckless and wanton conduct
allegations contained in the complaint at paragraphs 13, 24, 25, 28, and
29 should be stricken because the plaintiff’s claims sound exclusively in
negligence and do not support a claim for punitive damages.
response, the plaintiff contends that he has alleged a sufficient basis for
the imposition of punitive damages and that it would be premature for
us to grant the defendants’ motion without affording the plaintiff an
adequate opportunity to engage in discovery where the defendants’
reckless and wanton conduct could be ascertained. We agree.
“Generally, courts grant motions to strike requests for particular
types of relief, such as punitive or compensatory damages, when such
relief is not recoverable under the applicable law.” Fawcett v. IDS Fin.
Servs., Inc., Civ. A. No. 85-853, 1986 WL 9877, at *6 (W.D. Pa. Jan. 7,
Pennsylvania law allows punitive damages when the defendant
has an evil motive or reckless indifference to the rights of others.
Punitive damages are available only when the “defendant’s actions are
so outrageous as to demonstrate willful, wanton, or reckless conduct.”
Hutchinson v. Luddy, 870 A.2d 766, 770 (Pa. 2005) (quoting Feld v.
Merriam, 485 A.2d 742, 747 (Pa. 1984)). This type of damage is not
compensatory in nature, but is meant “to heap an additional
punishment on a defendant who is found to have acted in a fashion
which is particularly egregious.” Phillips v. Cricket Lighters, 883 A.2d
439, 446 (Pa. 2005). To establish a claim for punitive damages the
evidence must be sufficient to show that “(1) a defendant had a
subjective appreciation of the risk of harm to which the plaintiff was
exposed and that (2) he acted, or failed to act . . . in conscious disregard
of that risk.” Hutchinson, 870 A.2d at 772. “[T]he determination of
whether an individual was reckless inherently involves a fact-finding
inquiry.” Mulholland v. Gonzalez, 2008 WL 5273588, *3 (E.D. Pa. Dec.
Here, the plaintiff alleges that defendant Cindy Boylan drove
recklessly as set forth above and that defendant Andrew F. Boylan was
reckless in his entrustment of the vehicle to his wife. The plaintiff also
asserts that discovery relating to the defendants’ liability, which has
not yet taken place, may provide support for a finding that either or
both of them exhibited reckless or wanton conduct. While bare
allegations in the plaintiff’s complaint alone may not be sufficient to
convince a jury of either defendant’s recklessness or wantonness,
subsequent discovery might find evidence supporting these claims.
Fiorelli v. Ontario, Inc., No. 3:14-cv-2405, 2015 WL 39116611 (M.D. Pa.
June 25, 2015). If, after the conclusion of discovery, the evidence does
not support a finding of reckless or wanton conduct, the defendants may
move for partial summary judgment on this issue.
Having reviewed the complaint, we are unable to conclude at this,
the pleading stage, that these particular allegations have no possible
relation to the controversy before us, nor that these allegations may
cause prejudice to any of the parties, nor that these allegations will
confuse the issues.
Moreover, the type of relief sought is not
unavailable under Pennsylvania lawpunitive damages are available
to a plaintiff in a negligence action, provided he proves recklessness as
well. See Brand Mktg. Grp. LLC v. Intertek Testing Servs., N.A., Inc.
801 F.3d 347, 359 (3d Cir. 2015).
none of the cited allegations to be immaterial,
impertinent, or scandalous, we will deny the defendants’ motion.
An appropriate order follows.
s/ Joseph F. Saporito, Jr.
JOSEPH F. SAPORITO, JR.
U.S. Magistrate Judge
Dated: October 2, 2017
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