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Fields v. Jobar International, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

April 16, 2014

DELLA L. FIELDS, Plaintiff,


HENRY E. HUDSON, District Judge.

This is, in essence, a products liability action seeking damages for injuries allegedly caused by a defective folding cane. The Complaint alleges four closely-related causes of action: negligent design, failure to warn, breach of implied warranty, and breach of express warranty. Jurisdiction is based on diversity of citizenship pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

The case is presently before the Court on the Defendants' Motions to Dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).[1] Both parties have filed memoranda supporting their respective positions. This Court will dispense with oral argument because the facts and legal contentions are adequately presented in the materials before the Court and argument would not aid in the decisional process.

Before evaluating each individual claim in the Complaint, an overarching observation is warranted. The Complaint is conspicuously lean on facts. Each count hues closely to the statutory or decisional elements of the alleged cause of action. See Va. Code § 8.2-313-14. In Plaintiff's Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant Amerimark Direct, LLC's Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff succinctly captures her theory of pleading, "[i]n the instant case, the Plaintiff has pleaded all requisite elements of Counts 1, 2, 3 and 4. The Plaintiff is not obliged to present a detailed narrative; instead, she must simply apprise the Defendants of the nature of the claim, which she has done." (Pl.'s Mem. Opp'n Mot. Dismiss 4, ECF No. 19.) Although Plaintiff mentions portions of the standard of review for Rule 12(b)(6) motions articulated in Bell Alt. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), Plaintiff seems to employ the more relaxed notice pleading standard of Virginia Supreme Court Rule 1:4. Under Rule 1:4, a pleading is sufficient "if it clearly informs the opposite party of the true nature of the claim or defense." Va. Sup.Ct. R. 1:4(d). The Virginia standard for assessing the sufficiency of a pleading is not as exacting as that employed in federal courts. However, the line of demarcation between substantive and procedural issues, which governs choice of law questions, is often murky.

In Erie R.R. v. Thompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938), "the Supreme Court held that because Congress had no power to declare substantive rules of common law applicable in a state, federal courts sitting in diversity must apply state substantive law, decisional as well as statutory, in the adjudication of state-created rights." Hottle v. Beech Aircraft Corp., 47 F.3d 106, 109 (4th Cir. 1995). However, on procedural issues in diversity cases, federal courts apply federal procedural law. Therefore, in reviewing a facial challenge to a complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a federal court sitting in diversity relies on the law of the state to assess the adequacy of the substantive elements of the claim. However, the procedural law of the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is employed to weigh the factual sufficiency of the pleadings. See Bayer AG v. Housey Pharms., Inc., 340 F.3d 1367, 1371 (Fed. Cir. 2003). For clarity, before turning to an evaluation of the individual claims in the Complaint, the Court will restate the now well settled analytical framework in the Fourth Circuit.

"A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint;... it does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992). To survive Rule 12(b)(6) scrutiny, a complaint only need contain "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570; see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). ("A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain... a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.") Mere labels and conclusions declaring that plaintiff is entitled to relief are not enough. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Thus, "naked assertions of wrongdoing necessitate some factual enhancement within the complaint to cross the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief." Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (internal quotation marks omitted).

A complaint achieves facial plausibility when the facts contained therein support a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556; see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. This analysis is context-specific and requires "the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Francis, 588 F.3d at 193. The court must assume all well pleaded factual allegations to be true and determine whether, when viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, "they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

It is also important to note that while Virginia has historically relied on a notice pleading standard, more recent applications of that standard by the Supreme Court of Virginia have rejected skeletal complaints devoid of factual support. In Preferred Sys. Solutions, Inc. v. GP Consulting, LLC, the Supreme Court of Virginia noted:

Although Virginia is a notice pleading jurisdiction, see Rule 1:4(d), a complaint must still "contain [] sufficient allegations of material facts to inform a defendant of the nature and character of the claim" being asserted by the plaintiff. PSS' complaint fails to meet this standard with respect to the trade secret claim, for it contains nothing more than conclusory assertions. The complaint, for instance, does not identify what trade secrets GP misappropriated; instead, it simply references a laundry list of items that PSS considers to be "Confidential Information." Nor does it identify the improper means by which GP obtained the trade secrets or how GP has used those secrets; rather, it merely states that "GP used improper means to acquire and misappropriate PSS' Trade Secrets" and that "GP used the Trade Secrets with a conscious disregard of PSS' rights and intending to ruin PSS' business, reputation and client relationships."
Because PSS' complaint fails to set forth the material facts necessary to sustain the trade secret claim, we conclude that the circuit court did not err by dismissing the claim on GP's demurrer.

284 Va. 382, 407 (2012) (internal citations omitted).

Whether this Court employs the federal standard of review articulated in Twombly and Iqbal, or the Virginia standard of measure in Virginia Rule 1:4(d), as clarified in Preferred Sys. Solutions, Inc., most ...

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