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Lee v. Goodlin

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division

June 14, 2019

DAVIAN LEE, INDIVIDUALLY, AND PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF GERALD GLOVER, DECEASED AND ON BEHALF OF ALL THOSE ENTITLED TO RECOVER UNDER THE WRONGFUL DEATH AND SURVIVAL STATUTE PLAINTIFF
v.
RAYMOND GOODLIN, BIG BINDER EXPRESS, LLC, TRI STATE IDEALEASE, LLC, AND DARLING INGREDIENTS, INC. D/B/A DAR PRO DEFENDANTS AND KEITH GLOVER PLAINTIFF
v.
RAYMOND GOODLIN, BIG BINDER EXPRESS, LLC., TRI-STATE IDEALEASE, INC., AND DARLING INTERNATIONAL, INC. DEFENDANTS

          ORDER

          MICHAEL P. MILLS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This cause comes before the Court on Defendant Darling Ingredients, Inc.'s (“Darling”) Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (against Davian Lee's Independent Liability and Punitive Damages Claim), Doc. #130 in the Davian Lee case (3:18-cv-00124-MPM-JMV), and Darling's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (against Keith Glover's Independent Liability and Punitive Damages Claim), Doc. #70 in the Keith Glover case (3:18-cv-00239-MPM-JMV). The Court, having reviewed the complaints, the parties' submissions, and relevant authority is now prepared to rule.

         I. Factual Background

         a. Davian Lee Case (3:18-cv-00124-MPM-JMV)

         On or about May 14, 2018 Gerald Glover (“Mr. Glover”), father of Plaintiff Davian Lee (“Lee”), was traveling North on U.S. Highway 61 in Tunica County, Mississippi. Another motorist, Raymond Goodlin (“Goodlin”), travelled in the same direction in a semi-truck with a trailer attached. At some point during their travels, Goodlin crashed into the rear of Mr. Glover's vehicle. Mr. Glover died in the collision.

         In his Fourth Amended Complaint, Lee asserts claims of negligence against Big Binder Express, LLC., Tri State Idealease, Inc., and Darling International, Inc. Doc. #68. Lee alleges that Goodlin was employed by all three companies, that Big Binder and Tri-State were “the owners of the truck involved in the collision and … operated by … Goodlin, ” and that Darling was “the owner of the trailer being hauled by … Goodlin.” Doc. #68 at 3-4.

         Darling filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, Doc. #130, and asks that the Court dismiss Lee's “independent liability and punitive damages claim Under Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.” Doc. #130 at 1.

         b. Keith Glover Case (3:18-cv-00239-MPM-JMV)

         On the day of the collision, Plaintiff Keith Glover (“Glover”) was the passenger of Mr. Glover, deceased. Glover alleges that the collision caused him “serious and permanent personal injuries.” Doc. #16.

         In his Second Amended Complaint Glover asserts claims of negligence against all defendants. In the complaint Glover alleges that Goodlin “was acting as agent, servant and/or employee of” the defendant companies and that all acts of his negligence “are imputed to Defendants rendering them vicariously liable for all damages and injuries sustained by … [Glover].” Id. at 3.

         Darling filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, Doc. #70, and asks that the Court dismiss Glover's “independent negligence and punitive damages claim Under Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.” Doc. #70 at 1.

         II. Standard

         Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that “[a]fter the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” In a motion for a judgment on the pleadings “[t]he central issue is whether, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the complaint states a valid claim for relief.” Hughes c. Tobacco Inst., Inc., 278 F.3d 417, 420 (5th Cir. 2001). Such a motion “is appropriate only if there are no disputed issues of fact and only questions of law remain.” Id. (citing Voest-Alpine Trading USA Corp. v. Bank of China, 142 F.3d 887, 891 (5th Cir. 1998)). Moreover, in ruling on a motion for judgment on the pleadings, “the district court is confined to the pleadings and must accept all allegations contained therein as true.” Hughes, 278 F.3d at 420 (citing St. Paul Ins. Co. v. AFLA Worldwide Ins. Co., 937 F.2d 274, 279 (5th Cir. 1991)). In considering Rule 12(c) motions the court relies on the same standard as that of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. Great Plains Tr. Co. v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., 313 F.3d 305, 312 (5th Cir. 2002).

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, “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, 697, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). A claim is facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at 678. It is not necessary that a complaint contain detailed factual allegations, but it must set forth “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Colony Ins. Co. v. Peachtree Constr., Ltd., 647 F.3d 248, 252 (5th Cir. 2011) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). The Court must liberally construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and accept all well-pleaded facts as true. Woodard v. Andrus, 419 F.3d 348, 351 (5th Cir.2005).

         III. Discussion

         In both motions, Darling concedes that Lee and Glover provided sufficient facts to support their claims of negligence against Goodlin and vicarious liability against Darling. However, Darling argues that both plaintiffs failed to provide enough facts in their complaints to support the various claims of direct liability asserted against Darling.

         a. Davian Lee Case (3:18-cv-00124-MPM-JMV)

         In this action, Lee attached two exhibits to his response: Exhibit #1 is a portion of Goodlin's deposition discussing his use of cruise control and his application of the brakes to turn off the cruise control; Exhibit 2 is a reconstruction report of the accident. In reply, Darling objects to the exhibits and requests that they be disregarded at this juncture. In reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must limit its examination “to the complaint, any documents attached to the complaint, and any documents attached to the motion to dismiss that are central to the claim and referenced by the complaint.” Lone Star Fund V (U.S.), L.P. v. Barclays Bank PLC, 594 F.3d 383, 387 (5th Cir. 2010). Because the exhibits attached to Plaintiff's response and Defendant's reply are not referenced by the complaint, the Court will only consider the complaint and any documents attached thereto.

         i. Independent Liability Claims

         In the operative complaint, the Fourth Amended complaint, Doc. #68, Lee alleges ...


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