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MLU Services, Inc. v. Lawrence Mobile Home Service, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

February 19, 2019

MLU SERVICES, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
LAWRENCE MOBILE HOME SERVICE, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER

          KIMBERLY A. SWANK, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This case is before the court on Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) [DE #14], the parties having consented to proceed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). Plaintiff has responded [DE #17], and Defendant has replied to Plaintiff's response in opposition [DE #18]. Accordingly, the matter is ripe for decision. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion to dismiss is denied.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff MLU Services, Inc., (“MLU”) and Defendant Lawrence Mobile Home Service, Inc., (“LMH”) are both involved in disaster-recovery construction. (Compl. [DE #1] ¶¶ 1, 2.) LMH had worked as a subcontractor to MLU on prior disaster-recovery projects. (Compl. ¶ 6, 31-33.) Following Hurricane Matthew in 2016, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) solicited offers to haul and install temporary housing to serve displaced residents in eastern North Carolina. (Compl. ¶¶ 3, 20-22.) FEMA's solicitation required offers to be submitted within two days and by businesses located in eastern North Carolina. (Compl. ¶¶ 3, 8, 23-24.)

         LMH, headquartered in Goldsboro, North Carolina, invited MLU, headquartered in Georgia, to submit a joint offer to FEMA. (Compl. ¶¶ 4, 25-27.) LMH, although located in North Carolina, lacked the experience, financing, and knowledge needed for the project. So it looked to partner with MLU, who had experience providing disaster-recovery services on a national basis. (Compl. ¶¶ 4, 26, 28-29.) The parties orally agreed to work together, with MLU preparing the offer listing LMH as the “Prime Contractor” and MLU as the “Prime Subcontractor.” (Def.'s Mot. Dismiss, Ex. 1 [DE #15-1] at 3; Compl. ¶¶ 5, -6, 33-36.) The parties agreed to negotiate a final written agreement after the offer had been submitted. (Compl. ¶¶ 5, 37.)

         Upon acceptance of the offer, FEMA notified MLU who, in turn, notified LMH. (Compl. ¶¶ 48-49.) MLU then contacted LMH to negotiate the final written agreement; however, LMH refused to participate in further negotiations. (Compl. ¶¶ 50-51.) MLU and LMH had already agreed on pricing for LMH's hauling and installation work, but LMH's representative Leroy Lawrence avoided calls to further discuss the matter with MLU. (Compl. ¶¶ 51-54.) When confronted in person, Mr. Lawrence informed MLU that his relatives-who had a financial stake in the project-were resisting plans for LMH to negotiate a final agreement with MLU. (Compl. ¶ 55.) MLU offered LMH a final written agreement to sign, but Mr. Lawrence refused to sign or negotiate until the issues were resolved with his family. (Compl.¶ 58.) LMH neither proposed alternative terms nor specified any terms in the written agreement that it found disagreeable. (Compl. ¶ 60.) LMH started performing work on the project without notifying MLU (Compl. ¶¶ 61-62) and has since kept the funds awarded for the project (Compl. ¶ 63). (See also Pl.'s Resp. Opp'n [DE #17] at 2.)

         MLU filed the instant lawsuit on November 9, 2017, asserting the following claims against LMH: (1) breach of duty to negotiate in good faith (Compl. at 12-13); (2) per se unfair conduct in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 75-1.1 (id. at 13-14); (3) unfair acts in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 75-1.1 (id. at 14-15); (4) deceptive acts in violation of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 75-1.1 (id. at 15-17); and (5) quantum meruit (id. at 17). MLU seeks compensatory damages, treble damages, attorney fees, and prejudgment interest and costs. (Id. at 17-18.) Presently before the court is Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Rule 12(b)(6) Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for dismissal of a complaint or any claims contained therein that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The intent of Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the sufficiency of a complaint. Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). The court assumes the truth of all facts alleged in the complaint and the existence of any fact that can be proved, consistent with the complaint's allegations. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); see also E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011) (all reasonable inferences drawn in favor of plaintiff). “The issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.” Revene v. Charles Cnty. Comm'rs, 882 F.2d 870, 872 (4th Cir. 1989) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)). In considering a motion to dismiss, the court may consider documents attached to the complaint, as well as those attached to the motion to dismiss, so long as they are integral to the complaint and authentic. Philips v. Pitt Cty. Mem'l Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009); Sec'y of State for Defence v. Trimble Navigation Ltd., 484 F.3d 700, 705 (4th Cir. 2007); Pierce v. Garmon, No. 4:16-CV-20-BO, 2016 WL 7235717, at *2 (E.D. N.C. Dec. 13, 2016).

         In order to survive a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must allege facts that raise a right to relief above the speculative level. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 544 (2007). A complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, but it must give a defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests. Id. at 555. A “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. “While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations, ” which are sufficient to raise a claim that is plausible on its face. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). Facial plausibility is more than “a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. at 678. It requires the plaintiff to articulate facts “that allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id.

         Ordinary principles of federal pleading practice require only “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). However, a claim that “bear[s] ‘the substance of fraud'” must be pled with particularity. Petruzzo v. Health Extras, Inc., No. 5:12-CV-113-FL, 2014 WL 12546371, at *10 (E.D. N.C. Sept. 8, 2014) (quoting Cozzarelli v. Inspire Pharm., Inc., 549 F.3d 618, 629 (4th Cir. 2008)); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b).

         II. Motion to Dismiss

         A. Breach of Duty to ...


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