2019 WL 3046300
United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania.
Melissa YOUELLS, Plaintiff,
Julius DZAKPASU, et al., Defendants.
Civil No. 3:19-CV-633
Attorneys and Law Firms
Brian Quinn McDonnell, Kevin C. Quinn, Hourigan, Kluger & Quinn, P.C., Kingston, PA, for Plaintiff.
Bradley N. Sprout, Stephen E. Geduldig, Pion Nerone Girman Winslow & Smith, P.C., Harrisburg, PA, for Defendants.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Martin C. Carlson, United States Magistrate Judge
I. Statement of Facts and of the Case
*1 This case arises out of an automobile accident that occurred on March 15, 2017. The circumstances surrounding this accident are described in a 17-page, 48-paragraph complaint filed by the plaintiff. (Doc. 2-1.) The complaint alleges that on March 15, 2017, Julius Dzakpasu, who was employed by Western Express, was driving a tractor-trailer southbound on Interstate 81 in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. (Id., ¶¶8-11.) Melissa Youells, the plaintiff, was operating an ambulance, driving that ambulance southbound on I-81 and transporting a patient as part of her employment with Med-Trans Ambulance. (Id., ¶¶12-13.) It was snowing on March 15, 2017, and at the time of the accident, the interstate highway was snow covered. (Id., ¶15.) As Youells transported this patient southbound on I-81, she came to a complete stop, due to a traffic accident. (Id., ¶16.) Glancing at her rearview mirrors Youells saw the tractor-trailer driven by Dzakpasu approaching her at an excessive rate of speed for the weather conditions. (Id., ¶18.) Youells attempted to avoid the on-coming tractor-trailer but was unable to do so due to the weather conditions and was struck by Dzakpasu’s tractor-trailer suffering both personal injuries and significant damages to the ambulance. (Id., ¶¶19-23.)
The complaint filed in this matter then contains a specific and detailed description of the ways in which Dzakpasu and Western Express acted in what is alleged to have been a negligent, careless and reckless fashion. Indeed, fairly construed, the complaint cites more than two dozen aggravating circumstances in this case. (Id., ¶25a-ff.) The complaint also describes what can fairly be construed as some 25 different ways in which it is alleged that Western Express negligently entrusted Dzakpasu to operate this vehicle and were allegedly negligent in supervising and overseeing Dzakpasu’s actions, claiming that the negligence of Western Express consisted of, but was not limited to, the following:
a. In then and there being careless, negligent, and reckless by and through the acts and omissions of its agents including, but not limited to, Julius A. Dzakpasu, which acts and omissions are set forth in detail in the preceding and subsequent paragraphs and are hereby incorporated as fully as though set forth at length;
b. In then and there failing to properly train, monitor, and supervise its employees/drivers including, but not limited to, Defendant, Julius A. Dzakpasu;
c. In then and there hiring Defendant, Julius A. Dzakpasu, despite the fact it knew or should have known that he was not properly qualified and/or trained to operate commercial motor vehicles, including the 2017 Volvo Western Express tractor-trailer;
d. In then and there permitting the Defendant, Julius A. Dzakpasu, to operate tractor-trailers in its possession or control when it knew or should have known that he was not properly qualified and/or trained;
e. In failing to train and/or properly train Defendant, Julius A. Dzakpasu, prior to allowing him to operate tractor-trailers in its possession or control;
*2 f. In then and there allowing the Defendant, Julius A. Dzakpasu, to operate tractor-trailers in its possession or control when it knew or should have known that such operation posed unreasonable risk and danger to others lawfully on the roadway;
g. In then and there failing to adopt appropriate policies, employee manuals, and/or training procedures;
h. In then and there failing to enforce its employee manuals and/or training procedures;
i. In then and there failing to enforce both the written and unwritten policies of Western Express, Inc., d/b/a Western Express;
j. In then and there failing to ensure that its employees/drivers were aware of and complied with the written and unwritten policies of Western Express, Inc., d/b/a Western Express;
k. In then and there failing to implement and/or enforce an effective safety system;
l. In then and there failing to ensure that its management personnel and employees/drivers were aware of and complied with the requirements of the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code and the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Regulations;
m. In consciously violating the Pennsylvania Motor Vehicle Code and the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Regulations;
n. In then and there failing to ensure that its employees and agents were aware of and complied with the rules, laws, and regulations pertaining to the operation of commercial motor vehicles including tractor-trailers;
o. In then and there failing to inspect and/or properly maintain the aforesaid 2017 Volvo Western Express tractor-trailer operated by the Defendant, Julius A. Dzakpasu;
p. In then and there violating the applicable rules, laws and regulations pertaining to the operation of commercial motor vehicles;
q. In then and there placing more emphasis on its financial status and profitability than the safety of its drivers and the motoring public;
r. In then and there failing to perform and/or adequately perform preventative maintenance on the vehicles in its possession or control;
s. In then and there failing to appropriately maintain the 2017 Volvo Western Express tractor-trailer;
t. In then and there failing to ensure that its employees/drivers completed adequate pre-trip inspections prior to operating vehicles in its fleet;
u. In failing to ensure that its employees, agents, and/or servants adequately maintained the vehicles in its possession/control;
v. In failing to have appropriate maintenance personnel on staff and/or in failing to perform adequate preventative maintenance;
w. In then and there failing to properly instruct and train its employees/drivers regarding operating tractor-trailers during adverse road and weather conditions;
x. In then and there failing to properly instruct and train its employees/drivers regarding defensive driving principles;
y. In then and there failing to instruct and/or appropriately instruct its employees/drivers in the safe operation of its vehicles.
On the basis of this lengthy factual recital, the plaintiff then brought claims against Dzakpasu and Western Express which are grounded in Negligence (Id., Count I), Negligence, per se, (Id., Count II); Negligent Entrustment by Western Express, (Id., Count III), as well as a claim for both compensatory and punitive damages. (Id., Count IV.)
Despite these factual averments, the defendants have filed a motion to dismiss this complaint, (Doc. 3), which seeks dismissal of the negligent entrustment claim lodged against Western Express and also alleges that the complaint fails as a matter of law to state a claim upon which punitive damages may be awarded. (Doc. 3.) In the alternative, Western Express seeks a more definite statement of Youells’ claims pursuant to Rule 12(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Id.) Thus, it is against the backdrop of these well-pleaded facts that we are asked to conduct a preliminary assessment of whether the plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts to pursue a Pennsylvania state law claim for punitive damages as well as a claim of negligent entrustment. For the reasons set forth below, we conclude that this complaint satisfies federal pleading standards and the plaintiff’s allegations, if proven, could support a claim for negligent entrustment and a claim for punitive damages under Pennsylvania law. Therefore, we recommend that this motion to dismiss be denied. In addition, in the exercise of the court’s discretion, the defendants motion for a more definite statement should also be denied.
A. Motion to Dismiss-Standard of Review
*3 A motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. It is proper for the court to dismiss a complaint in accordance with Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure only if the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). With respect to this benchmark standard for legal sufficiency of a complaint, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has aptly noted the evolving standards governing pleading practice in federal court, stating that:
Standards of pleading have been in the forefront of jurisprudence in recent years. Beginning with the Supreme Court’s opinion in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) continuing with our opinion in Phillips [v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 230 (3d Cir. 2008)] and culminating recently with the Supreme Court’s decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal ––– U.S. ––––, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009) pleading standards have seemingly shifted from simple notice pleading to a more heightened form of pleading, requiring a plaintiff to plead more than the possibility of relief to survive a motion to dismiss.
Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 209-10 (3d Cir. 2009).
In considering whether a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, the court must accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom are to be construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Jordan v. Fox Rothschild, O’Brien & Frankel, Inc., 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). However, a court “need not credit a complaint’s bald assertions or legal conclusions when deciding a motion to dismiss.” Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Additionally a court need not “assume that a … plaintiff can prove facts that the … plaintiff has not alleged.” Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal. v. California State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983). As the Supreme Court held in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), in order to state a valid cause of action a plaintiff must provide some factual grounds for relief which “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of actions will not do.” Id. at 555. “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Id.
In keeping with the principles of Twombly, the Supreme Court has underscored that a trial court must assess whether a complaint states facts upon which relief can be granted when ruling on a motion to dismiss. In Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the Supreme Court held that, when considering a motion to dismiss, a court should “begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id. at 679. According to the Supreme Court, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. at 678. Rather, in conducting a review of the adequacy of complaint, the Supreme Court has advised trial courts that they must:
[B]egin by identifying pleadings that because they are no more than conclusions are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.
*4 Id. at 679.
Thus, following Twombly and Iqbal a well-pleaded complaint must contain more than mere legal labels and conclusions. Rather, a complaint must recite factual allegations sufficient to raise the plaintiff’s claimed right to relief beyond the level of mere speculation. As the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has stated:
[A]fter Iqbal, when presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, district courts should conduct a two-part analysis. First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated. The District Court must accept all of the complaint’s well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. Second, a District Court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a “plausible claim for relief.” In other words, a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff’s entitlement to relief. A complaint has to “show” such an entitlement with its facts.
Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210-11.
As the Court of Appeals has observed: “The Supreme Court in Twombly set forth the ‘plausibility’ standard for overcoming a motion to dismiss and refined this approach in Iqbal. The plausibility standard requires the complaint to allege ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’ Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955. A complaint satisfies the plausibility standard when the factual pleadings ‘allow[ ] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.’ Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955). This standard requires showing ‘more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.’ Id. A complaint which pleads facts ‘merely consistent with’ a defendant’s liability, [ ] ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of “entitlement of relief.” ’ ” Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d 212, 220-21 (3d Cir. 2011) cert. denied, 132 S. Ct. 1861, 182 L. Ed. 2d 644 (U.S. 2012).
In practice, consideration of the legal sufficiency of a complaint entails a three-step analysis: “First, the court must ‘tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.’ Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1947. Second, the court should identify allegations that, ‘because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.’ Id. at 1950. Finally, ‘where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.’ Id.” Santiago v. Warminster Tp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010).
In considering a motion to dismiss, the court generally relies on the complaint, attached exhibits, and matters of public record. Sands v. McCormick, 502 F.3d 263, 268 (3d Cir. 2007). The court may also consider “undisputedly authentic document[s] that a defendant attached as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff’s claims are based on the [attached] documents.” Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). Moreover, “documents whose contents are alleged in the complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the pleading, may be considered.” Pryor v. Nat’l Collegiate Athletic Ass’n, 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002); see also, U.S. Express Lines, Ltd. v. Higgins, 281 F.3d 382, 388 (3d Cir. 2002) (holding that “[a]lthough a district court may not consider matters extraneous to the pleadings, a document integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint may be considered without converting the motion to dismiss in one for summary judgment”). However, the court may not rely on other parts of the record in determining a motion to dismiss, or when determining whether a proposed amended complaint is futile because it fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O’Brien &Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994).
B. Punitive Damages Under Pennsylvania Law
*5 The defendants are charged in a multi-count complaint with negligent, careless and reckless conduct. To the extent that these counts bring claims for punitive damages under state law, Pennsylvania law sets an exacting standard for the award of punitive damages in tort cases. “Pennsylvania has adopted Section 908 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, which provides that punitive damages may be ‘awarded to punish a defendant for outrageous conduct, which is defined as an act which, in addition to creating “actual damages, also imports insult or outrage, and is committed with a view to oppress or is done in contempt of plaintiffs’ rights.” … Both intent and reckless indifference will constitute a sufficient mental state.’ Klinger v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 115 F.3d 230, 235 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting Delahanty v. First Pa. Bank, N.A., 318 Pa.Super. 90, 464 A.2d 1243, 1263 (1983)).” W.V. Realty, Inc. v. N. Ins. Co., 334 F.3d 306, 318 (3d Cir. 2003).
As the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has observed:
The standard governing the award of punitive damages in Pennsylvania is settled. “Punitive damages may be awarded for conduct that is outrageous, because of the defendant’s evil motive or his reckless indifference to the rights of others.” Feld v. Merriam, 506 Pa. 383, 485 A.2d 742, 747 (1984) (quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts § 908(2) (1979)); see also Chambers v. Montgomery, 411 Pa. 339, 192 A.2d 355, 358 (1963). As the name suggests, punitive damages are penal in nature and are proper only in cases where the defendant’s actions are so outrageous as to demonstrate willful, wanton or reckless conduct. See SHV Coal, Inc. v. Continental Grain Co., 526 Pa. 489, 587 A.2d 702, 704 (1991); Feld, 485 A.2d at 747-48; Chambers, 192 A.2d at 358. See also Restatement (Second) of Torts § 908, comment b. The purpose of punitive damages is to punish a tortfeasor for outrageous conduct and to deter him or others like him from similar conduct. Kirkbride v. Lisbon Contractors, Inc., 521 Pa. 97, 555 A.2d 800, 803 (1989); Restatement (Second) of Torts § 908 (1) (“Punitive damages are damages, other than compensatory or nominal damages, awarded against a person to punish him for his outrageous conduct and to deter him and others like him from similar conduct in the future.”). Additionally, this Court has stressed that, when assessing the propriety of the imposition of punitive damages, “[t]he state of mind of the actor is vital. The act, or the failure to act, must be intentional, reckless or malicious.” See Feld, 485 A.2d at 748; see also Martin v. Johns-Manville Corp., 508 Pa. 154, 494 A.2d 1088, 1097 n. 12 (1985) (plurality opinion).
Hutchison ex rel. Hutchison v. Luddy, 582 Pa. 114, 121-22, 870 A.2d 766, 770-71 (2005).
In Hutchinson the Pennsylvania Supreme Court also:
[S]et forth the standard the courts are to apply when called upon to determine whether the evidence supports a punitive damages award on such a basis. Noting that Comment b to Section 908(2) of the Restatement refers to Section 500 as defining the requisite state of mind for punitive damages based on reckless indifference, this Court turned to Section 500, which states:
§ 500 Reckless Disregard of Safety Defined: The actor’s conduct is in reckless disregard of the safety of another if he does an act or intentionally fails to do an act which it is his duty to the other to do, knowing or having reason to know of facts which would lead a reasonable man to realize, not only that his conduct creates an unreasonable risk of physical harm to another, but also that such risk is substantially greater than that which is necessary to make his conduct negligent. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 500.
Id., at 771. Noting that Section 500 set forth two very different types of state of mind as to reckless indifference, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted the narrower reading of this state of mind requirement when addressing punitive damage claims, concluding that “in Pennsylvania, a punitive damages claim must be supported by evidence sufficient to establish 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, as the case may be, in conscious disregard of that risk.” Id., at 772.
*6 In motor vehicle accident cases where claims for punitive damages are pleaded by plaintiffs, defendants often invite courts to dismiss these punitive damage claims. Yet, such invitations, while frequently made by defendants, are rarely embraced by the courts. Instead, courts routinely deny requests to dismiss punitive damages claims in motor vehicle accident cases at the outset of litigation. See e.g., Kerlin v. Howard, No. 4:18-CV-00481, 2018 WL 4051702, at *1 (M.D. Pa. Aug. 24, 2018); Wydra v. Bah, No. 3:15-CV-1513, 2016 WL 297709, at *2 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 22, 2016); Cobb v. Nye, No. 4:14-CV-0865, 2014 WL 7067578, at *4 (M.D. Pa. Dec. 12, 2014) (citing Young v. Westfall, No. 4:06–CV–2325, 2007 WL 675182, at *2 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 1, 2007) (denying motion to dismiss punitive damages in negligence accident involving a tractor-trailer)); Ferranti v. Martin, No. 3:06-CV-1694, 2007 WL 111272, at *2 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 19, 2007) (Munley, J.) (finding, in a claim relating to a tractor-trailer accident, that the plaintiff had pled sufficient allegations to require discovery). As a general rule, the courts have deemed such motions to dismiss punitive damages claims to be premature and inappropriate where, as here, the complaint alleges reckless conduct. Moreover, because the question of whether punitive damages are proper often turns on the defendants’ state of mind, this question frequently cannot be resolved on the pleadings alone, but must await the development of a full factual record at trial. See generally, In re Lemington Home for the Aged, 777 F.3d 620, 631 (3d Cir. 2015). Therefore, where a plaintiff’s right to punitive damages may turn on the significance afforded to disputed factual questions, defendants are not entitled to a judgment in their favor on the plaintiff’s punitive damages claims as a matter of law at the outset of the litigation. See Burke v. TransAm Trucking, Inc., 605 F.Supp.2d 647, 649 (M.D. Pa. 2009); Garden State Tire Realty Corp. v. R.K.R. Hess Assocs., Inc., 762 F. Supp. 92, 93 (M.D. Pa. 1990).
C. Negligent Entrustment Under Pennsylvania Law
Pennsylvania law also recognizes a cause of action for negligent entrustment, which may arise in circumstances such as those set forth in this complaint. In prescribing this cause of action, Pennsylvania courts are guided by the Restatement (Second) of Torts. Thus:
In regard to negligent entrustment, Pennsylvania follows Section 308 of the Restatement of the Law (Second) of Torts. See Fakes v. Terry, No. 15-cv-01574, 2018 WL 1382513, at *5 (W.D. Pa. Mar. 19, 2018) (citing Knecht v. Balanescu, No. 16-cv-00549, 2017 WL 4573796, at *7 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 13, 2017)); see also Ferry v. Fisher, 709 A.2d 399, 403 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1998). Section 308 provides:
It is negligence to permit a third person to use a thing or to engage in an activity which is under the control of the actor, if the actor knows or should know that such person intends or is likely to use the thing or to conduct himself in the activity in such a manner as to create an unreasonable risk of harm to others.
Restatement (Second) of Torts § 308. Accordingly, to prevail on a negligent entrustment claim in the instant context, a plaintiff must show that the defendant “(1) permitted [a third party], (2) to operate its [automobile], and (3) that [the defendant] knew or should have known that [the third party] intended to or was likely to use the [automobile] in such a way that would harm another.” Fakes, 2018 WL 1382513, at *5 (citing Knecht, 2017 WL 4573796).
Whetstone v. Malone Bussing Servs., No. 2:19-CV-00071-MJH, 2019 WL 1459022, at *2–3 (W.D. Pa. Apr. 2, 2019).
Like the factors governing punitive damages liability, many of these considerations that define negligent entrustment culpability are fact-specific and fact-dependent. Therefore, resolution of legal challenges to negligent entrustment claims, like those made here, is often more appropriate at summary judgment, where undisputed facts beyond the pleadings themselves may be considered. See Knecht v. Balanescu, No. 4:16-CV-00549, 2017 WL 4573796, at *8 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 13, 2017); Fakes v. Terry, No. 2:15-CV-01574, 2018 WL 1382513, at *5 (W.D. Pa. Mar. 19, 2018).
It is against this legal backdrop that we are called upon to assess whether this complaint is legally sufficient and adequately alleges state law claims for punitive damages and negligent entrustment. With the scope of our review cabined and confined by the pleadings, we find that the complaint sufficiently states claims for punitive damages and negligent entrustment under Pennsylvania law against these defendants.
D. This Motion to Dismiss Should Be Denied.
*7 Defendants have moved to dismiss the punitive damages and negligent entrustment claims set forth in this complaint, alleging that the well-pleaded facts described in this 17-page, 48-paragraph complaint are insufficient to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.
We disagree. Recognizing that federal pleading requirements set a plausibility standard for civil complaints, we acknowledge that, “[a] complaint satisfies the plausibility standard when the factual pleadings ‘allow[ ] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.’ Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S. Ct. 1955).” Burch v. Milberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d 212, 220-21 (3d Cir. 2011) cert. denied, 132 S. Ct. 1861, 182 L. Ed. 2d 644 (U.S. 2012). In the instant case, fairly construed, this civil complaint meets the pleading requirements prescribed by federal law in that it states a plausible claim of negligent entrustment by Western Express, and states a legally sufficient claim for punitive damages. While we recognize that the plaintiff will ultimately be required to satisfy an exacting burden of proof to sustain these state law negligent entrustment and punitive damages claims, at this stage of the litigation, where we are considering a motion to dismiss, we submit that the plaintiff has alleged sufficient well-pleaded facts to permit this case to proceed forward on this punitive damages claim.
Accepting the well-pleaded facts set forth in the complaint, as we must when examining a motion to dismiss, it is alleged that the defendants acted in a reckless fashion in a series of ways that violated the duty of care they owed to others, as well as state traffic laws, when they operated this tractor-trailer in an unsafe manner in the face of severe and inclement weather. As we have noted, Pennsylvania law sets a high and exacting standard for the award of punitive damages. “[I]n Pennsylvania, a punitive damages claim must be supported by evidence sufficient to establish 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, as the case may be, in conscious disregard of that risk.” Hutchison, 870 A.2d at 772.
While this is a precise burden of pleading and proof, the well-pleaded facts set forth in the complaint plausibly state a claim for punitive damages under Pennsylvania law since, fairly construed, this complaint alleges that reckless behavior caused this fatal accident. Such averments, as a matter of pleading, are sufficient to state a claim for punitive damages in this factual setting. See e.g., Kerlin, 2018 WL 4051702, at *1; Wydra, 2016 WL 297709, at *2; Cobb, 2014 WL 7067578, at *4 (citing Young, 2007 WL 675182, at *2 (denying motion to dismiss punitive damages in negligence accident involving a tractor-trailer)); Ferranti, 2007 WL 111272, at *2 (finding, in a claim relating to a tractor-trailer accident, that the plaintiff had pled sufficient allegations to require discovery). Therefore, when viewed in the light of these well-pleaded facts set forth in the complaint, a basis lies in this case for a claim of punitive damages against the defendants. Accordingly, the defendants are not entitled to the dismissal of this punitive damages claim at the outset of this litigation, and this motion to dismiss should be denied. See Burke, 605 F.Supp.2d at 649 (denying summary judgment on punitive damages claim); Garden State Tire Realty Corp., 762 F. Supp. at 93 (denying motion to dismiss punitive damages claim).
*8 Likewise, Youells’ negligent entrustment allegations, while perhaps cast in somewhat cursory terms, are sufficient to plausibly state a claim when considered as a whole. The complaint details some 25 ways in which Western Express was allegedly culpable in this accident because it had negligently hired and overseen Dzakpasu. Taken as a whole, we believe that these averments are sufficient to state a negligent entrustment claim at the outset of this litigation. Therefore, dismissal of this claim on the pleadings is inappropriate. Instead, the legal sufficiency of this particular claim is better suited for resolution through a motion for summary judgment at the close of discovery. See Knecht, 2017 WL 4573796, at *8; Fakes, 2018 WL 1382513, at *5.
E. The Court Should Decline to Order a More Definite Statement Pursuant to Rule 12(e).
In the alternative, the defendants have asked the court to consider ordering the plaintiff to provide a more definite statement of her claims than the 17-page civil complaint that she has filed. The defendants make this request pursuant to Rule 12(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides, in part, that the court may order a party to prepare: “a more definite statement of a pleading to which a responsive pleading is allowed but which is so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response.” Further, under this rule “[i]f the court orders a more definite statement and the order is not obeyed within 14 days after notice of the order or within the time the court sets, the court may strike the pleading or issue any other appropriate order.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(e). As the Court of Appeals has stated:
Under Rule 12(e), [the court may order] a more definite statement “[i]f a pleading … is so vague or ambiguous that a party cannot reasonably be required to frame a responsive pleading.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(e) ….. When a complaint fashioned under a notice pleading standard does not disclose the facts underlying a plaintiff’s claim for relief, the defendant cannot reasonably be expected to frame a proper, fact-specific … defense [and an order directing a more definite statement may be appropriate].
Thomas v. Independence Twp., 463 F.3d 285, 301 (3d Cir. 2006).
While rulings regarding motions for more definite statement pursuant to Rule 12(e) rest in the sound discretion of the court, the exercise of that discretion is guided by certain basic principles. As a general rule:
Rule 12(e) motions are generally disfavored, Horse Soldier, LLC v. Tharpe, No. 1:13-CV-2892, 2014 WL 5312823, at *3 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 17, 2014) (Conner, C.J.), and are reserved for the “rare case” where the unintelligibility or ambiguity of a complaint prevents a defendant from being “able to frame a responsive pleading,” Wadhwa v. Sec’y, Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, 505 F. App’x 209, 214 (3d Cir. 2012) (nonprecedential) (quoting Schaedler v. Reading Eagle Publ’n, Inc., 370 F.2d 795, 798 (3d Cir. 1967)). Rule 12(e) is not meant to supply “greater particularization of information alleged in the complaint or which presents a proper subject for discovery,” but instead is reserved for the uncommon situation where a defendant “cannot respond, even with a simple denial, in good faith, without prejudice to [itself].” MK Strategies, LLC v. Ann Taylor Stores Corp., 567 F. Supp. 2d 729, 737 (D.N.J. 2017) (alteration in original) (citations omitted).
Volkmann v. Intertek York – Bldg. Prod. & Bldg. Servs., No. 1:18-CV-781, 2019 WL 247514, at *2 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 17, 2019).
In the instant case it cannot be said that Youells’ complaint is so vague, ambiguous or unintelligible that the defendants would be stymied in their efforts to frame a responsive pleading. Quite the contrary, the plaintiff’s averments are sufficiently clear and precise to enable a specific factual rejoinder. Rather, the defendants’ request for a more definite statement in this case seems directed at obtaining additional factual and evidentiary details in support of these punitive damages and negligent entrustment claims, a task which is better suited to the discovery process rather than a motion for more definite statement. Therefore, in the exercise of the court’s discretion, it is recommended that this court decline the defendants’ invitation to direct Youells to submit a more definite statement of these claims.
*9 Accordingly, for the foregoing reasons, IT IS RECOMMENDED that the Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss, or for More Definite Statement (Doc. 3), be DENIED.
The Parties are further placed on notice that pursuant to Local Rule 72.3:
Any party may object to a magistrate judge’s proposed findings, recommendations or report addressing a motion or matter described in 28 U.S.C. § 636 (b)(1)(B) or making a recommendation for the disposition of a prisoner case or a habeas corpus petition within fourteen (14) days after being served with a copy thereof. Such party shall file with the clerk of court, and serve on the magistrate judge and all parties, written objections which shall specifically identify the portions of the proposed findings, recommendations or report to which objection is made and the basis for such objections. The briefing requirements set forth in Local Rule 72.2 shall apply. A judge shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made and may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge. The judge, however, need conduct a new hearing only in his or her discretion or where required by law, and may consider the record developed before the magistrate judge, making his or her own determination on the basis of that record. The judge may also receive further evidence, recall witnesses or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.
Submitted this 24th day of June 2019.
Slip Copy, 2019 WL 3046300