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Estate of Brown v. Morrison

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division

August 7, 2019

ESTATE OF BYRON BROWN, deceased; PAULETTE HOLLEY, Administrator of the Estate of Byron Brown, deceased; & PHILLIP BROWN, Wrongful Death Beneficiaries, and on behalf of all Wrongful Death Beneficiaries PLAINTIFFS
v.
EDWARD D. MORRISON, individually, & C.A.T., INC. DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT C.A.T., INC.'S MOTION [10] FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS AND DENYING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION [14] TO AMEND

          HALIL SULEYMAN OZERDEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         BEFORE THE COURT are Defendant C.A.T., Inc.'s Motion [10] for Judgment on the Pleadings, and Plaintiffs Estate of Byron Brown, Paulette Holley, and Phillip Brown's Motion [14] to Amend. Defendant C.A.T., Inc., admits vicarious liability for Defendant Edward D. Morrison's acts and seeks dismissal of Plaintiffs' direct-liability claims for negligent hiring, training, supervision, retention, and entrustment asserted against it. In response, Plaintiffs seek to amend their Complaint to sufficiently plead these claims.

         After due consideration of the record, Defendant's Motion, and relevant legal authority, the Court is of the opinion that Defendant C.A.T., Inc.'s Motion [10] for Judgment on the Pleadings should be granted and that Plaintiffs' Motion [14] to Amend should be denied as futile. Accordingly, the Court will dismiss Plaintiffs' direct-liability claims against Defendant C.A.T., Inc. All other claims will proceed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case arises out of a fatal auto accident that occurred on Interstate 10 in Jackson County, Mississippi, on March 22, 2017. Compl. [1-2]. Decedent Byron Brown was driving eastbound near mile marker 68 when a tractor trailer operated by Defendant Edward D. Morrison collided with his motorcycle. Id. It is undisputed that, at the time of the accident, Defendant Morrison was acting within the course and scope of his employment with Defendant C.A.T., Inc. (“C.A.T.”).[1] Id. at 3; Answer [6] at 3.

         On April 27, 2018, Plaintiffs Estate of Byron Brown, Paulette Holley, and Phillip Brown (collectively “Plaintiffs”) filed suit against Defendants Edward D. Morrison and C.A.T., Inc. (collectively “Defendants”) in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Mississippi. Compl. [1-2]. The Complaint advances claims against Defendants for negligence and gross negligence and seeks compensatory and punitive damages. Id. Although the Complaint does not specifically plead any direct-liability claims against C.A.T., it includes a claim of vicarious liability and catch-all language seeking to hold Defendants liable for “other acts of negligence to be shown at the trial.” Id.

         Defendants timely removed the case to this Court on grounds of diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1441, and 1446. Notice of Removal [1]. In answering the Complaint, C.A.T. admitted it was vicariously liable for Defendant Morrison's actions and filed the instant Motion [10] for Judgment on the Pleadings, which requests dismissal of any direct- and independent-liability claims asserted against it. Answer [6] at 3; Mot. [10]. C.A.T. argues that to the extent the catch-all language Plaintiffs use in their Complaint [1-2] encompasses any claims for negligent hiring, training, supervision, retention, or entrustment, those claims should be dismissed because Mississippi courts have consistently held that direct-liability claims against an employer are moot where the employer admits that an employee's acts occurred within the course and scope of his employment. Supporting Mem. [11] at 3-5.

         In response, Plaintiffs filed a Motion [14] to Amend seeking to add claims for negligent hiring, training, supervision, retention, and entrustment against C.A.T. Mot. [14]; Proposed Amend. Compl. [14-1]. Without addressing C.A.T.'s argument for dismissal, Plaintiffs contend that the Court should grant their Motion [14] to Amend because courts generally allow a party an opportunity to amend to satisfy federal pleading standards after a case's removal to federal court. Mot. [14] to Amend; Supporting Mem. [17]; Resp. Mem. [16]. C.A.T. responds that Plaintiffs' proposed amendments are futile, and reiterates that its admission of vicarious liability moots Plaintiffs' direct claims, regardless of how specifically they were pled. Resp. [21]; Reply [20]. Plaintiffs have not filed a reply in support of their Motion [14] to Amend, and the time for doing so has passed.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Defendant's Motion [10] for Judgment on the Pleadings

         1. Legal standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) allows a party to move for judgment on the pleadings after a response has been filed and the pleadings have closed. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). “A motion under Rule 12(c) for failure to state a claim is subject to the same standards as a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).” In re Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co. LLC, 624 F.3d 201, 209-10 (5th Cir. 2010).

         To survive a 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, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility 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. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “The court's task is to determine whether the plaintiff has stated a legally cognizable claim that is plausible, not to evaluate the plaintiff's likelihood of success.” Lone Star Fund V (U.S.), L.P. v. Barclays Bank PLC, 594 F.3d 383, 387 (5th Cir. 2010).

         In deciding whether a complaint states a valid claim for relief, a court must accept all well-pleaded facts as true and view those facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff. King-White v. Humble Indep. Sch. Dist., 803 F.3d 754, 758 (5th Cir. 2015). However, the Court need not accept as true “conclusory allegations, unwarranted factual ...


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