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Williamson v. J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc.

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

May 6, 2019

MICHAEL JAMES WILLIAMSON, Plaintiff,
v.
J.B. HUNT TRANSPORT, INC., and JAMES MICHAEL PRATT, Defendants.

          ORDER

          LOUISE W. FLANAGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the court on defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's punitive damages claim against defendant J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc. (“J.B. Hunt”), pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), and defendants' motion to strike certain allegations in plaintiff's complaint, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f) (DE 14). The issues raised have been fully briefed by the parties. For the following reasons, defendants' motion to dismiss is denied as moot and defendants' motion to strike is denied.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff commenced this action on October 8, 2018, in Wake County Superior Court, alleging defendants negligently caused him injuries arising from a motor vehicle collision. Defendants removed the case on November 14, 2018. Following removal, defendants filed the instant motions, together with their answer. Defendants seek dismissal of plaintiff's purported claim for punitive damages against defendant J.B. Hunt. Defendants also ask the court to strike allegations of criminal charges against defendant James Michael Pratt (“Pratt”), and allegations involving trucking safety rules. Plaintiffs responded in opposition to both of the motions.

         The facts alleged in the complaint may be summarized as follows. On September 19, 2018, plaintiff drove his Ford automobile down Interstate 85 South (“I-8 5”) . (Compl. ¶11) . The weather was sunny, and road conditions were dry and visible. (Id. ¶¶ 12, 13). As plaintiff proceeded down the road, he noticed traffic ahead of him had stopped. (Id. ¶ 14). In turn, plaintiff came to a complete stop behind the traffic. (Id.).

         Defendant Pratt was also traveling south on the same stretch of roadway, many lengths behind plaintiff in the same lane of travel. (Id. ¶ 16). Defendant Pratt was driving a tractor-trailer owned, maintained, and utilized by defendant J.B. Hunt. (Id. ¶¶ 17, 18). Before defendant Pratt approached the area of stopped traffic ahead of him, he passed a roadway sign warning motorists of the upcoming congestion. (Id. ¶ 20). Defendant Pratt failed to notice the sign, and was using a cell phone or mobile device instead of keeping a proper lookout on the roadway ahead. (Id. ¶¶ 20, 35-38). Pratt collided with the rear of plaintiff's vehicle at approximately 50 miles-per-hour, causing plaintiff to hit the guardrail along I-85 and the rear of another tractor-trailer. (Id. ¶¶ 23-30).

         COURT'S DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         “To survive a motion to dismiss” under Rule 12(b)(6), ‘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, 663 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. In evaluating whether a claim is stated, “[the] court accepts all well-pled facts as true and construes these facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, ” but does not consider “legal conclusions, elements of a cause of action, . . . bare assertions devoid of further factual enhancement[, ] . . . unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v. Consumeraffairs.com, Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted).

         On motion or its own initiative, “[t]he court may strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f). Whether to grant a motion to strike is within the discretion of the district court. See United States v. Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, 899 F.3d 295, 324 (4th Cir. 2018). “The purpose of the motion to strike is to avoid the waste of time and money that arises from litigating unnecessary issues.” Godfredson v. JBC Legal Group, P.C., 387 F.Supp.2d 543, 547 (E.D. N.C. 2005) (quotations omitted). However, motions to strike are “generally viewed with disfavor because striking a portion of a pleading is a drastic remedy.” Waste Management Holdings, Inc. v. Gilmore, 252 F.3d 316, 347 (4th Cir. 2001). “[T]he court is required to view the pleading under attack in a light most favorable to the pleader.” Kelly v. United States, 809 F.Supp.2d 429, 433 (E.D. N.C. 2011) (internal citation omitted).

         B. Analysis

         1. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Punitive Damages Claim

         Defendants move to dismiss any claim for punitive damages against defendant J.B. Hunt. Defendants' motion is unnecessary, because plaintiff alleges no punitive damages claim against defendant J.B. Hunt.

         “Punitive damages shall not be awarded against a person solely on the basis of vicarious liability for the acts or omissions of another.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1D-15(c). Punitive damages claims lie against a corporate defendant where “the officers, directors, or managers of the corporation participated in or condoned the conduct constituting the aggravating factor giving rise to punitive damages.” Id. § 1D-15(c). “A demand for punitive damages shall be specifically stated, except for the amount, and ...


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