Lewis v. Excel Mechanical LLC et al
ORDER denying 37 Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings Signed by Honorable Patrick Michael Duffy on August 28, 2013.(prei, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA
Jo A. Lewis,
Excel Mechanical, LLC, and
Roger W. Lewis,
Civil Action No.: 2:13-cv-281-PMD
This matter is before the Court upon Plaintiff’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings
(“Motion”) pursuant to Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Defendants filed a
Response in Opposition, and Plaintiff filed a Reply. After considering the arguments of the
parties, the pleadings submitted, and the record in this case, the Court denies Plaintiff’s Motion.
Plaintiff Jo. A Lewis (“Mrs. Lewis”) filed this action against her husband, Roger W.
Lewis (“Mr. Lewis”), and Excel, a South Carolina limited liability company, of which Mr. Lewis
is the single member. On or about September 4, 2011, Mr. Lewis was operating a watercraft
(hereinafter, the “Boat”) in the Charleston harbor, and his wife, along with two other passengers,
were onboard. Mr. Lewis drove the Boat onto a sandbar where he intended to ground the Boat,
but in the process, he caused a collision that trapped Mrs. Lewis’s lower leg between the Boat
and the sandbar. According to Plaintiff, Mr. Lewis was entertaining the other two passengers as
business prospects of Excel, and therefore, Mr. Lewis was engaged in the conduct of Excel’s
business. Additionally, Plaintiff contends that the injuries she sustained were caused directly and
proximately by Mr. Lewis’s negligence and that Excel is vicariously liable for Mr. Lewis’s
negligence. Mrs. Lewis seeks actual and punitive damages.
Defendants filed their Answer on April 1, 2013, and admit therein that Mr. Lewis was
negligent; that he was acting within the course and scope of his employment at the time of the
collision; and that Defendant Excel is vicariously liable for Mr. Lewis’s negligence. Defs.’
Answer ¶¶ 7, 14, 15, ECF No. 7. Defendants also assert an affirmative defense of comparative
negligence by Plaintiff.
On July 23, 2013, Plaintiff filed the instant Motion seeking a judgment on the pleadings
on the issues of Mr. Lewis’s negligence and Excel’s vicarious liability for that negligence.
Defendants filed their Response in Opposition on August 8, 2013, and after being granted an
extension of time to file, Plaintiff filed a Reply on August 23, 2013.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Parties are permitted to make a motion for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) of
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “[a]fter the pleadings are closed—but early enough not to
delay trial . . . .” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(c) is designed to
“dispos[e] of cases in which there is no substantive dispute that warrants the litigants and the
court proceeding further . . . .” 5C Charles A. Wright and Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice
and Procedure § 1368 (3d ed. 2010).
Under a Rule 12(c) motion, “only the pleadings are considered . . . .” A.S. Abell Co. v.
Baltimore Typographical Union, 338 F.2d 190, 193 (4th Cir. 1964). The court may, however,
consider the documents and exhibits attached to and incorporated into the pleadings themselves.
See Eagle Nation, Inc. v. Market Force, Inc., 180 F. Supp. 2d 752, 754 (E.D.N.C. 2001); N. Ind.
Gun & Outdoor Shows, Inc. v. City of South Bend, 163 F.3d 449, 452-53 (7th Cir. 1998).
A district court, in reviewing a Rule 12(c) motion, “appl[ies] the same standard . . . as for
motions made pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).” Burbach Broad. Co. v. Elkins Radio Corp., 278 F.3d
401, 405-06 (4th Cir. 2002). “To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
570 (2007)). A motion for judgment on the pleadings should be granted only if “the moving
party has clearly established that no material issue of fact remains to be resolved and the party is
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Park Univ. Enters. v. Am. Cas. Co., 442 F.3d 1239,
1244 (10th Cir. 2006) (quoting United States v. Any & All Radio Station Transmission Equip.,
207 F.3d 458, 462 (8th Cir. 2000)). When a court reviews a motion for judgment on the
pleadings, it should “construe the facts and reasonable inferences . . . in the light most favorable
to the [nonmoving party].” Ibarra v. United States, 120 F.3d 472, 474 (4th Cir. 1997). Thus,
“[t]he court must accept all well pleaded factual allegations in the non-moving party’s pleadings
as true and reject all contravening assertions in the moving party’s pleadings as false.” John S.
Clark Co., Inc. v. United Nat’l Ins. Co., 304 F. Supp. 2d 758, 763 (M.D.N.C. 2004) (citing 5A
Charles A. Wright and Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1368 at 520 (2d ed.
Courts follow “a fairly restrictive standard” in ruling on Rule 12(c) motions, as “hasty or
imprudent use of this summary procedure by the courts violates the policy in favor of ensuring to
each litigant a full and fair hearing on the merits of his or her claim or defense.” 5C Charles A.
Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1368 (3d ed. 2011). Ultimately, “a
defendant may not prevail on a motion for judgment on the pleadings if there are pleadings that,
if proved, would permit recovery for the plaintiff.” BET Plant Servs., Inc. v. W.D. Robinson
Elec. Co., 941 F. Supp. 54, 55 (D.S.C. 1996).
Plaintiff argues that she is entitled to a judgment on the pleadings because Defendants’
Answer: (1) “clearly and unequivocally admits [Mr.] Lewis acted negligently and caused the
accident and Plaintiff’s injuries,” and (2) “admits unequivocally that Excel is vicariously liable
for [Mr.] Lewis’[s] negligent conduct in injuring Plaintiff inasmuch as [Mr.] Lewis was acting as
Excel’s agent at the time of the subject accident.” Pl.’s Mot. J. on Pleadings 2, ECF No. 37.
Defendants do not dispute that they have made these admissions. Instead, Defendants contend
that because other factual issues remain to be determined by the Court, Plaintiff’s Motion is not
appropriate and must be denied. The Court agrees.
Further factual issues remain to be resolved in this case. For instance, the Court must still
determine to what extent Mr. Lewis was, admittedly, negligent, and whether his actions or
inactions in operating the Boat were also grossly negligent, careless, reckless, willful, wanton
and unlawful, as alleged by Plaintiff. See Compl. ¶ 14, ECF No. 1. Defendants have also
asserted the affirmative defense of comparative negligence in their Answer. Therefore, the Court
will be required to make findings of fact with respect to Plaintiff’s negligence, if any.
Defendants state that judgment on the issue of negligence is not appropriate because
Plaintiff alleges that the “[c]ollision was due to and caused directly and proximately by . . .
Lewis’[s] negligence;”1 but, in their Answer, Defendants only admit “that the collision was due
to and caused directly by Lewis’[s] negligence.”2 Thus, Defendants contend that the Court must
make a determination as to whether that negligence was the proximate cause of Plaintiff’s
Compl. ¶ 14, ECF. No. 1
Defs.’ Answer ¶ 14, ECF No. 7
injuries. Plaintiff argues that the omission of the words “and proximately” is merely a scrivener’s
error. At this stage, however, the Court must construe the facts in the light most favorable to
Defendants and assume this omission was not in error, but intentional as Defendants’ claim.
It is evident that the pleadings do not resolve all of the factual issues in this case. The
Court finds that a bench trial on the merits would be more appropriate than an attempt at
resolution of certain issues of the case on a Rule 12(c) motion. See Roberts v. Robert V.
Rohrman, Inc., 909 F. Supp. 545, 552 (N.D. Ill. 1995) (“If the pleadings do not resolve all of the
factual disputes, a trial is more appropriate than a judgment on the pleadings.”) (citing Wright &
Miller, 5A Federal Practice and Procedure § 1367 at 509-10 (2d ed. 1990)).
For the foregoing reasons, it is hereby ORDERED that Plaintiff’s Motion for Judgment
on the Pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c) is DENIED.
AND IT IS SO ORDERED.
August 28, 2013
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