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Baker v. Swift Transportation Co. of Arizona, LLC

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

May 4, 2018

CHRISTOPHER J. BAKER, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
SWIFT TRANSPORTATION CO. OF ARIZONA, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          Magistrate Judge, Chelsey M. Vascura

          OPINION AND ORDER

          EDMUND A. SARGUS, JR. CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Swift Transportation Co. of Arizona's ("Swift") Partial Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 13). For the following reasons, that Motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I.

         On February 13, 2017, Plaintiff Christopher J. Baker ("Baker") was driving westbound on Interstate 70 in a semi-tractor trailer owned by his employer, Defendant UPS Ground Freight, Inc. ("UPS"). (Compl. ¶ 8, ECF No. 1.) One of Defendant Swift's drivers, Theodore A. Stacker, III ("Stocker"), was also driving a semi-tractor trailer westbound on Interstate 70. (Id.) Baker alleges that Stocker rear-ended several stopped or slowed vehicles while traveling at approximately 70 miles per hour. (Id.) The collision caused a chain-reaction, and one of the vehicles rear-ended by Stocker struck Baker's semi-tractor trailer. (Id.) There were no physical indications that Stocker applied his brakes prior to impact. (Id.)

         Stocker was killed in the accident. (Compl. ¶ 9.) Baker survived but alleges that, as a result of the collision, he suffered brain damage; seizures; injuries to his eye, head, chest, neck, back, right shoulder, and right arm; and substantial property damage. (Id. ¶¶ 1, 12.)

         Baker has sued Swift and UPS. (Compl. at 1.) He alleges seven causes of action: (1) vicarious liability for Stacker's actions; (2) strict liability for Stocker's actions; (3) negligence; (4) statutory violations; (5) punitive damages; (6) spoliation of evidence; and (7) declaratory judgment. (Id. at 5-11.) Baker brings the first six causes of action against only Swift. (Id. at 5-10.) He brings the seventh cause of action against only UPS. (Id. at 10-11.)

         Swift moves to dismiss Counts 2, 3, and 5 in its current Motion. (Partial Mot. to Dismiss at 1, ECF No. 13.)[1]

         II.

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court will dismiss an action that fails to state a claim upon which relief maybe granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). An action will be dismissed where "there is no law to support the claims made" or where "the facts alleged are insufficient to state a claim." Stew Farm, Ltd. v. Nat. Res. Conservation Serv., No. 2:12-cv-299, 2013 WL 4517825, at *3 (S.D. Ohio Aug. 26, 2013) (citing Rauch v. Day & Night Mfg. Corp., 576 F.2d 697, 702 (6th Cir. 1978)). When deciding a motion to dismiss, the court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded factual allegations as true. Grindstaff v. Green, 133 F.3d 416, 421 (6th Cir. 1998). The court may consider the complaint and any attached exhibits, public records, items appearing in the record of the case, and exhibits attached to the defendant's motion to dismiss as long as the exhibits are referenced in the complaint and are central to the plaintiffs claims. Bassett v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 528 F.3d 426, 430 (6th Cir. 2008).

         A complaint will survive a motion to dismiss if it contains sufficient factual allegations to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Ad. 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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A complaint will not "suffice if it tenders 'naked assertion[s]' devoid of further factual enhancement'" or "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief is "a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 679.

         A. Strict Liability (Count 2)

         Arguing that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs), 49 C.F.R. Part 390, do not create an independent cause of action for strict liability against a motor carrier and that Baker's strict liability claim (Count 2) is duplicative of his vicarious liability claim, Swift moves to dismiss the strict liability claim. (Partial Mot. to Dismiss, at 8-9, ECF No. 13.) Swift's arguments have merit.

         In Count 2, labeled "Strict Liability of Defendant Swift, " Baker alleges that Swift is responsible for Stocker's actions because Swift "is the registered owner of the USDOT number 54283 displayed on the tractor-trailer involved in this collision." (Compl. ¶ 24, ECF No. 1.) Baker elaborates on this claim in his Response to the Partial Motion to Dismiss:

Under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs), the rules contained in 49 CFR ยงยง 350 through 399 ("Subchapter B") "are applicable to all employers, employees, and commercial motor vehicles that transport property or passengers in interstate commerce. In addition, every commercial motor vehicle must be operated in accordance with the laws, ...

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