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Parker v. Miller

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

August 24, 2017

SHANICE J. PARKER, Plaintiff,
v.
ERIC M. MILLER, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          GEORGE C. SMITH, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         This matter is before the Court upon Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Punitive Damages Claims and Motion to Strike (Doc. 10). Plaintiff opposed Defendants' Motion (Doc. 14) and Defendants replied in support (Doc. 16). This matter is now ripe for review. For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This lawsuit arises out of a car crash on Interstate 70 in Licking County, Ohio, when the tractor trailer driven by Defendant Eric Miller struck a vehicle in which Plaintiff Shanice Parker was sitting. Prior to Miller striking Plaintiff, Plaintiff had crashed her car into a wall and her car was disabled in the right lane on I-70. (Doc. 8, Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 14-15). A highway patrolman arrived on the scene and parked behind Plaintiff in the right lane of traffic. (Id. at ¶ 16). The patrolman turned on his emergency lights and set flares in the roadway. (Id. at ¶ 17). While investigating the initial crash, the patrolman asked Plaintiff to sit in the front seat of his patrol car. (Id. at ¶ 18).

         As Plaintiff was sitting in the patrol car, Miller crested a nearby hill in a tractor-trailer going 70 miles per hour. (Id. at ¶¶ 20, 25). Miller was driving the tractor-trailer while working on behalf of Defendant Dakotaland Transportation, Inc. (“Dakotaland”) and/or Defendant Fowlds Brothers Trucking (“Fowlds”). (Id. at ¶ 6). Dakotaland and/or Fowlds owned the truck Miller was driving. (Id. at ¶¶ 7-8). Plaintiff alleges that as Miller crested the hill, he had sufficient time to see the patrol car blocking the right hand lane to stop or to change lanes. (Id. at ¶ 23). Miller applied the brakes two seconds before impact, but did not stop or change lanes and crashed into the back of the patrol car, causing severe injuries to Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶¶ 26, 28).

         Plaintiff brought this case against Miller, Fowlds, and Dakotaland alleging: (1) Miller negligently operated his vehicle; (2) Miller violated numerous federal and state traffic regulations; (3) that Dakotaland and Fowlds are vicariously liable for Miller's actions; (4) that Dakotaland and Fowlds are strictly liable for Miller's acts; (5) that Dakotaland and Fowlds negligently hired, trained, instructed, and supervised Miller; (6) that Dakotaland and Fowlds violated certain Ohio and federal regulations; and (7) that Dakotaland and Fowlds negligently entrusted the vehicle to Miller. Plaintiff also seeks punitive damages from all three defendants. Defendants now move to dismiss the punitive damages claims against each Defendant and to strike the police report attached to the Amended Complaint.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Defendants bring this motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, alleging that Plaintiff failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Under the Federal Rules, any pleading that states a claim for relief must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim” showing that the pleader is entitled to such relief. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). To meet this standard, a party must allege sufficient facts to state a claim that is “plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A claim will be considered “plausible on its face” when a plaintiff sets forth “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         Rule 12(b)(6) allows parties to challenge the sufficiency of a complaint under the foregoing standards. In considering whether a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the Court must “construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept its allegations as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund v. Standard & Poor's Fin. Servs. LLC, 700 F.3d 829, 835 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Directv, Inc. v. Treesh, 487 F.3d 471, 476 (6th Cir. 2007)). However, “the tenet that a court must accept a complaint's allegations as true is inapplicable to threadbare recitals of a cause of action's elements, supported by mere conclusory statements.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663. Thus, while a court is to afford plaintiff every inference, the pleading must still contain facts sufficient to “provide a plausible basis for the claims in the complaint”; a recitation of facts intimating the “mere possibility of misconduct” will not suffice. Flex Homes, Inc. v. Ritz-Craft Corp of Mich., Inc., 491 F. App'x 628, 632 (6th Cir. 2012); Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Currently before the Court are two motions, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the punitive damages claims and Defendants' Motion to Strike. The Court will address each in turn.

         A. Motions to Dismiss Punitive Damages Claims

         Pursuant to the Ohio Revised Code punitive damages may be awarded after a plaintiff establishes that “[t]he actions or omissions of that defendant demonstrate malice or aggravated or egregious fraud, or that defendant as principal or master knowingly authorized, participated in, or ratified actions or omissions of an agent or servant that so demonstrate.” Ohio Rev. Code § 2315.21(C)(1). Both Plaintiff and Defendants identified the correct standard courts have set forth as defining actual malice:

Actual malice, necessary for an award of punitive damages, is (1) that state of mind under which a person's conduct is characterized by hatred, ill will or a spirit of revenge, or (2) a conscious disregard for the rights and safety of other ...

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