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State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. v. Amazon. Com, Inc.

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

October 31, 2019




         This cause comes before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings [75]. The Court, having reviewed the motion, the parties' submissions, and applicable authorities, is now prepared to rule.

         Factual Background

         Plaintiff, State Farm Fire and Casualty Company (hereinafter “State Farm”), as subrogee of Taylor Boone and Laurel Boone (hereinafter “Boones”), insured the Boones' family residence in Oxford, Mississippi. In 2015, the Boones purchased two self-balancing scooters, more commonly known as hoverboards, from Defendant's [hereinafter “Amazon”] website. The first hoverboard was purchased on October 31, 2015, and the second on November 10, 2015. Both were sold by third parties, with the transaction facilitated by Amazon.

         The Boones began using the two hoverboards on or about December 25, 2015. On March 16, 2016, the hoverboards caught fire inside the Boones' home and destroyed it.


         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).


         Amazon argues that this court should grant its motion for judgment on the pleadings with respect to the Plaintiff's claims for negligence and negligent failure to warn.

         A. Mississippi Products Liability Act

         Amazon argues that the Mississippi Products Liability Act (MPLA), Mississippi Code Annotated § 11-1-63 (Rev. 2014), is “the most logical source” to determine whether it is under a product-related duty, and that the MPLA does not apply in this case because it was neither the seller, designer nor the manufacturer of the hoverboard. Instead, Amazon declares itself to be a “service provider, ” as formulated in Palermo v. Lifelink Foundation, Inc., 152 So.3d 1099 (Miss. 2014) where the Mississippi Supreme Court found that a non-profit tissue bank was shielded from strict products liability by statute, and that the MPLA was inapplicable to service providers because it does not specify service providers as a named category in the Act. Id. at 1106. In short, Amazon seems to argue that since the hoverboards are a “product, ” that its liability is limited to the parameters of the MPLA, and that since it is a “service provider, ” that it is not liable under the MPLA. Under this line of reasoning, Amazon would have no liability at all.

         State Farm alleges in its second amended complaint (hereinafter “complaint”) that Amazon acted as a “marketplace” (Comp. ¶ 30) and that common law claims of negligence and failure-to-warn apply rather than MPLA claims.

         The relevant code section of the MPLA states:

In any action alleging that a product is defective because it failed to contain adequate warnings or instructions pursuant to paragraph (a)(i)2 of this section, the manufacturer, designer or seller shall not be liable if the claimant does not prove by the preponderance of the evidence that at the time the product left the control of the manufacturer, designer or seller, the manufacturer, designer or seller knew or in light of reasonably available knowledge should have known about the danger that ...

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