Staub v. Zimmer, Inc

Filing 17

ORDER granting Defendant's 10 Motion to Dismiss and granting Mr. Staub leave to amend his complaint. Amended complaint due within 20 days of order. Signed by Judge James L. Robart. (PM)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON AT SEATTLE 8 9 10 MICHAEL ALLEN STAUB, 11 CASE NO. C17-0508JLR Plaintiff, ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS v. 12 13 ZIMMER, INC., Defendant. 14 15 16 I. INTRODUCTION Before the court is Defendant Zimmer, Inc.’s (“Zimmer”) Federal Rule of Civil 17 Procedure 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. (Mot. (Dkt. # 10).) The 18 court has considered the parties’ submissions, the relevant portions of the record, and the 19 applicable law. Being fully advised, 1 the court GRANTS the motion to dismiss with 20 leave to amend. 21 1 22 No party has requested oral argument, and the court deems it unnecessary to the disposition of this motion. See Local Rules W.D. Wash. LCR 7(b)(4). ORDER - 1 1 II. 2 BACKGROUND On December 30, 2016, Plaintiff Michael A. Staub filed a state court product 3 liability action against Zimmer. (See Compl. (Dkt. # 3-1).) Mr. Staub alleges that he 4 “underwent hip arthroplasty” on December 4, 2013. (Id. ¶ 3.) He further alleges that his 5 surgeon implanted Zimmer’s product, an “ML Taper,” at the time of surgery. (See id. 6 ¶ 4.) Mr. Staub contends that the ML Taper is “defective and unreasonably dangerous as 7 defined by applicable Washington law” and that Zimmer has recalled the product. (Id. 8 ¶¶ 5-6.) He also asserts that he “was required to undergo revision surgery” due to the 9 defective nature of the ML Taper. (Id. ¶ 7.) Finally, Mr. Staub states that he suffered 10 general and special damages “[a]s a direct and proximate result of the defective nature of 11 [Zimmer’s] product.” (Id. ¶ 8.) 12 Zimmer removed the action to this court on April 3, 2017. (See Not. of Rem. 13 (Dkt. # 1, as amended by Dkt. # 3).) On April 4, 2017, Zimmer filed a motion to dismiss 14 the action for failure to state a claim. (See Mot.) Zimmer noted its motion for the court’s 15 consideration on May 5, 2017. (Id. at 1.) Under the Local Rules for the Western District 16 of Washington, Mr. Staub’s opposition papers were due on Monday, May 1, 2017. See 17 Local Rules W.D. Wash. CR 7(d)(3) (“Any opposition papers shall be filed and served 18 not later than the Monday before the noting date.”). Zimmer filed a reply memorandum 19 on May 5, 2017, noting Mr. Staub’s failure to timely respond to the motion to dismiss. 20 (See Reply (Dkt. # 12).) Later that day, Mr. Staub filed a response opposing Zimmer’s 21 motion to dismiss, but offering no excuse for his admitted lack of timeliness or his failure 22 // ORDER - 2 1 to move for an extension of time. 2 (See Resp. (Dkt. # 13) at 1 (“Plaintiff’s counsel 2 apologizes to the Court for his failure to timely respond to this Motion. No excuse is 3 offered, for whatever reason, the ECF email containing Defendant’s Motion was 4 overlooked.”).) 5 6 III. A. 7 ANALYSIS Standard When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court construes the 8 complaint in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Livid Holdings, Ltd. v. 9 Salomon Smith Barney, Inc., 416 F.3d 940, 946 (9th Cir. 2005). The court must accept 10 all well-pleaded facts as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. 11 Wyler Summit P’ship v. Turner Broad. Sys., Inc., 135 F.3d 658, 661 (9th Cir. 1998). “To 12 survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted 13 as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 14 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A 15 court may dismiss a complaint as a matter of law if it lacks a cognizable legal theory or 16 states insufficient facts under a cognizable legal theory. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police 17 // 18 19 20 21 22 2 The court will consider Mr. Staub’s untimely response because there is no prejudice to Zimmer in this instance. The court cautions Mr. Staub’s counsel, however, to adhere to both the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the court’s Local Rules in the future. When a deadline has expired, the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 6(b) requires the delinquent party to file a motion seeking an extension of the deadline and to demonstrate “excusable neglect.” See Fed. R. Civ. P. 6(b). Counsel’s failure to abide by this Rule in the future may lead the court to strike a delinquent filing. ORDER - 3 1 Dep’t, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990); Robertson v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 749 2 F.2d 530, 534 (9th Cir. 1984). 3 The court need not accept as true a legal conclusion presented as a factual 4 allegation. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Although Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 does not 5 require “detailed factual allegations,” it demands more than “an unadorned, 6 the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). 7 A pleading that offers only “labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the 8 elements of a cause of action” will not survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of 9 Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Id. 10 11 B. Washington Product Liability Act The Washington Product Liability Act (“WPLA”), RCW ch. 7.72, “created a 12 single cause of action for product-related harms and supplants previously existing 13 common law remedies, including common law actions for negligence.” Wash. State 14 Physicians Ins. Exch. & Ass’n v. Fisons Corp., 858 P.2d 1054, 1067 (Wash. 1993). 15 Under the WPLA, “[a] product manufacturer is subject to liability to a claimant if the 16 claimant’s harm was proximately caused by the negligence of the manufacturer in that 17 the product was not reasonably safe as designed or not reasonably safe because adequate 18 warnings or instructions were not provided.” RCW 7.72.030(1). Further, “[a] product 19 manufacturer is subject to strict liability to a claimant if the claimant’s harm was 20 proximately caused by the fact that the product was not reasonably safe in construction or 21 not reasonably safe because it did not conform to the manufacturer’s express warranty or 22 to the implied warranties under Title 62A RCW.” RCW 7.72.030(2). Thus, to state a ORDER - 4 1 claim under the WPLA, a plaintiff must plead non-conclusory allegations that plausibly 2 support (1) a defective design claim; (2) a failure to warn claim; (3) a defective 3 manufacture claim; or (4) a breach of express or implied warranty claim. RCW 7.72.030; 4 see 16A David K. DeWolf & Keller W. Allen, Wash. Prac., Tort L. & Prac. § 17:8 (4th 5 ed. 2013). A plaintiff need not commit at the outset to one of these specific theories of 6 liability prior to conducting discovery. See Braden v. Tornier, Inc., No. C09-5529RJB, 7 2009 WL 3188075, at *3 (W.D. Wash. Sept. 30, 2009). However, in order to survive a 8 motion to dismiss the complaint must contain sufficient non-conclusory factual 9 allegations to support at least one avenue of relief, see Lucas v. City of Visalia, 726 F. 10 Supp. 2d 1149, 1155 (E.D. Cal. 2010) (“The problem with the allegation is that it simply 11 tracks the general elements of strict products liability and contains no pertinent factual 12 allegations.”). The court now examines the adequacy of Mr. Staub’s allegations as to 13 each product liability claim. 14 1. Failure to Warn and Breach of Warranty 15 The complaint contains no allegations regarding either a failure to warn claim 3 or 16 an express or implied breach of warranty claim. (See generally Compl.) The court “will 17 not presume to raise a claim that plaintiff failed to allege.” Laisure-Radke v. Par Pharm., 18 Inc., 426 F. Supp. 2d 1163, 1170 (W.D. Wash. 2006) (declining to read into a plaintiff’s 19 // 20 21 22 3 Additionally, unless Mr. Staub alleges that Zimmer failed to adequately warn the medical provider of the product’s unsafe nature, such a claim may be precluded by the learned intermediary doctrine, because a medical device manufacturer’s duty to warn generally flows to the medical practitioner, and not the end user. See Taylor v. Intuitive Surgical, Inc., 389 P.3d 517, 524, 526 (Wash. 2017). ORDER - 5 1 complaint under the WPLA a claim for breach of the implied warranty of merchantability 2 when the plaintiff fails to allege such a claim); see Lucas, 726 F. Supp. 2d at 1156, n.1 3 (“As the Court reads the tenth cause of action, the Court sees only a claim for 4 manufacturing and design defects. . . . If [the plaintiff] intends to allege a strict liability 5 claim for inadequate warnings, . . . then he should amend the tenth cause of action to 6 expressly include that claim.”). 7 2. Design Defect Claim 8 Under the WPLA, a design defect claim can be based upon either a “risk utility 9 test” theory or a “consumer expectations test” theory. See, e.g., Kirkland v. Emhart Glass 10 S.A., 805 F. Supp. 2d 1072, 1080 (W.D. Wash. 2011); Falk v. Keene Corp., 782 P.2d 974, 11 980 (Wash. 1989). Under the risk utility test theory, the plaintiff may prevail by proving 12 that, “at the time of manufacture, the likelihood that the product would cause the 13 plaintiff’s harm or similar harms, and the seriousness of those harms, outweighs the 14 manufacturer’s burden to design a product that would have prevented those harms and 15 any adverse effect a practical, feasible alternative design would have on the product’s 16 usefulness.” Falk, 782 P.2d at 980 (citing RCW 7.72.030(1)(a)). Alternatively, under the 17 consumer expectations test theory, the plaintiff may prove the defendant’s liability by 18 showing the product was unsafe to an extent beyond that which the ordinary consumer 19 would contemplate. Id. (citing RCW 7.72.030(3)). 20 Mr. Staub’s risk utility test theory is based on the conclusory allegation that 21 “Tornier designed, manufactured, marketed, and sold a product that was not reasonably 22 safe.” (See Compl. ¶ 9.) Mr. Staub fails to allege any design elements that led to the ORDER - 6 1 alleged harm, facts indicating that there was a feasible alternative design element, or facts 2 indicating that the burden of implementing the alternative design would not have 3 outweighed the reduction in harm. (See generally Compl.) 4 In Lucas, the plaintiff alleged that Taser International, Inc.’s (“Taser”) eponymous 5 product “contained design and/or manufacture defects.” Lucas, 726 F. Supp. 2d at 1155. 6 Although the plaintiff’s allegations “track[ed] the general elements of strict products 7 liability,” his claim “contain[ed] no pertinent factual allegations.” Id. The court 8 dismissed the cause of action without prejudice because it “contain[ed] no factual 9 allegations that identify what aspect of the [product’s] design and manufacture made it 10 defective.” Id. at 1155-56. Although Lucas applied the product liability law of 11 California, the court based its dismissal was based upon the same procedural rule in this 12 case—the pleading requirements of Rule 8(d). Id. at 1159. 4 13 Mr. Staub’s consumer expectation test theory likewise is based on a single 14 conclusory allegation. (See generally Compl.) Specifically, Mr. Staub alleges that 15 “Tornier designed, manufactured, marketed, and sold a product that . . . failed to meet 16 consumer expectations of safety.” (Id. ¶ 9.) Mr. Staub fails to allege how the product 17 failed to meet a consumer’s expectations of safety or what those expectations are. (See 18 generally id.) Under the consumer expectations test, the court in Lucas held that 19 // 20 21 22 4 In a case applying Washington law involving the same product and defendant as in Lucas, the court found the bare allegation that the defendant “defectively manufactured” the products to be conclusory. Manjares v. Taser Int’l, Inc., No. CV-12-3086-LRS, 2012 WL 5389688, at *2 (E.D. Wash. Nov. 2, 2012). ORDER - 7 1 the plaintiff “should describe how the [product] failed to meet the minimum safety 2 expectations of an ordinary consumer.” Lucas, 726 F. Supp. 2d at 1159 (quoting Altman 3 v. HO Sports Co., Inc., No. 1:09-CV-1000 AWI SMS, 2009 WL 4163512 at *8 (E.D. 4 Cal. Nov. 23, 2009)). In Altman the court considered the plaintiff’s allegation that the 5 products in question “d[id] not meet consumer expectations” a bare legal conclusion and 6 insufficient to meet the pleading requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. 7 Altman, 2009 WL 4163512, at *8. Likewise, Mr. Staub’s bare legal conclusion does not 8 nudge his claim “across the line from conceivable to plausible.” See Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 9 680. 10 3. Manufacturing Defect Claim 11 A plaintiff may prevail on a manufacturing defect claim by proving that when a 12 product left the control of the manufacturer the product deviated in some material way 13 from the design specifications or performance standards of the manufacturer, or deviated 14 in some material way from otherwise identical units of the same product line, or from 15 ostensibly identical units of the same product line, and that the defects proximately 16 caused the plaintiff’s harm. RCW 7.72.030(2)(a). Mr. Staub has failed to identify or 17 explain how the product deviated from the intended result or design, or from other 18 seemingly identical models. (See generally Compl.) The complaint merely alleges that 19 the product “was defective and unreasonably dangerous as defined by applicable 20 Washington law.” 5 (Id. ¶ 5.) Such conclusory allegations are insufficient under Iqbal. 21 5 22 Mr. Staub also alleges that Zimmer “voluntarily recalled” the ML Taper, but fails to allege any connection between this recall and his alleged injuries. (See Compl. ¶ 6.) ORDER - 8 1 556 U.S. 662, 680. In a recent Washington case involving a product similar to the one at 2 issue here, the court found such conclusory allegations insufficient to state a claim under 3 the WPLA. See Force v. Wright. Med. Tech., Inc., No. C12-5687RBL, 2012 WL 4 4897165, at *2 (W.D. Wash. Oct. 15, 2012). The Force court specifically cited as 5 insufficient and conclusory allegations that certain hip devices “were defective in their 6 manufacture and construction” or that the devices “were in a dangerous and defective 7 condition.” Id. The Force court, having disregarded the plaintiffs conclusory allegations, 8 found that “[s]imply alleging that Defendants manufacture the product that failed in 9 [Plaintiff’s] left side does not create a plausible claim.” Id. 10 Here, Mr. Staub alleges little more than the plaintiff in Force. (See generally 11 Compl.) “Twombly and Iqbal do not set a high bar, but they do require more” than Mr. 12 Staub provides. See Force, 2012 WL 4897165 at *2 (holding that where the complaint 13 “fails to allege any specifics about the alleged defect, how the product deviated from 14 requirements, what about it was dangerous, or what about the warnings were inadequate 15 . . . , [p]laintiffs fail to properly plead their product liability claims”). Therefore, the 16 court concludes that Mr. Staub fails to properly plead a manufacturing defect claim, and 17 the court grants Zimmer’s motion to dismiss. 18 C. 19 Leave to Amend Even though Mr. Staub’s complaint is inadequate, dismissal with prejudice is not 20 the proper remedy. If a claim is based on a proper legal theory but fails to allege 21 sufficient facts, the plaintiff should be afforded the opportunity to amend the complaint 22 before dismissal. Keniston v. Roberts, 717 F.2d 1295, 1300 (9th Cir.1983). “Dismissal ORDER - 9 1 without leave to amend is improper unless it is clear, upon de novo review, that the 2 complaint could not be saved by any amendment.” Moss v. U.S. Secret Serv., 572 F.3d 3 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009). In determining whether dismissal without leave to amend is 4 appropriate, courts also consider such factors as “undue delay, bad faith or dilatory 5 motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments 6 previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the 7 amendment, and futility of amendment.” Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). 8 Plaintiffs have not exhibited undue delay or bad faith, Zimmer is at little risk of prejudice 9 because discovery has yet to begin, and the court cannot say at this stage that amendment 10 would be futile. See Force, 2012 WL 4897165, at *3. 11 12 IV. CONCLUSION The court GRANTS Zimmer’s motion to dismiss (Dkt. # 10) and GRANTS Mr. 13 Staub leave to amend his complaint. Mr. Staub’s amended complaint, if any, must 14 correct the deficiencies described herein and must be filed and served no later than 15 twenty (20) days from the entry of this order. The court warns Mr. Staub that failure to 16 timely file an amended complaint that adequately pleads his claims may result in the 17 court dismissing his action with prejudice. 18 Dated this 9th day of June, 2017. 19 20 A 21 JAMES L. ROBART United States District Judge 22 ORDER - 10

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