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Sutherlin v. Lowe's Home Centers, LLC

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

September 23, 2014



DAVID J. NOVAK, Magistrate Judge.

Antwan Sutherlin ("Plaintiff) brings this suit against Lowe's Home Centers, LLC ("Defendant"), alleging general negligence, strict products liability, negligent failure to warn and breach of express and implied warranties under Virginia law. Plaintiff asserts that while shopping in Defendant's store, he was exposed to a waterproofer that Defendant's employees helped to remove from Plaintiffs clothing. Thereafter, while driving home, the fiimes overwhelmed Plaintiff, and he lost consciousness, resulting in a single car accident. Plaintiff seeks damages for personal injuries from that single car crash.

This matter comes now before the Court by consent pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1) on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 4) in which Defendant seeks to dismiss theexpress warranty and implied warranty of merchantability claims.[1] Defendant seeks to dismiss the express warranty claim on the grounds that Plaintiff never purchased the waterproofer or, in the alternative, that Plaintiff failed to allege an actual express warranty by Defendant. Similarly, Defendant seeks to dismiss the implied warranty of merchantability claim on the ground that Plaintiff did not purchase the waterproofer; therefore, a cause of action does not exist under Virginia Code § 8.2-314. For the reasons set forth herein, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 4) and DISMISSES Count III, Count V and Count VI.


When resolving a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the Court construes the allegations in favor of the non-moving party. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c); Volvo Conslr. Equip. N. Am., Inc. V. CLM Equip. Co., 386 F.3d 581, 591 (4th Cir. 2004) (citations omitted). Accordingly, the Court finds the facts as follows.

On April 23, 2012, Plaintiff visited Defendant's store in Richmond, Virginia. (Compl. (ECF No. 1-1) ¶ 3.) As Plaintiff examined a five-gallon container of waterproofer in the paint department, the container's lid came off and a portion of its contents spilled onto Plaintiffs person and clothing. (Compl. ¶ 3.) Defendant's employees assisted Plaintiff by using mineral spirits to remove the waterproofer from his clothes. (Compl. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff then left the store to drive home and change his clothes. (Compl. ¶ 5.) En route. Plaintiff lost consciousness, ran several stoplights and crashed his car - first into a construction barrier and then into a telephone pole. (Compl. ¶ 6.) First responders transported Plaintiff to the hospital where he was admitted and treated for hydrocarbon intoxication. (Compl. ¶7.) Plaintiff was discharged on April 25, 2012, but continues to suffer from short- and long-term memory loss, inability to focus and other neurological defects as a result of the accident. (Compl. ¶¶ 7-8.)

Plaintiff brought the instant action against Defendant in Richmond City Circuit Court, but Defendant timely removed the case to this Court. In Count III, Plaintiff alleges strict products liability. (Compl. ¶¶ 24-33.) In Count V, Plaintiff alleges a breach of an express warranty regarding the condition of the waterproofer container. (Compl. ¶¶ 140-45.) In Count VI, Plaintiff alleges a breach of the implied warrantyof merchantability regarding the waterproofer container's fitness for safe handling in Defendant's store. (Compl. ¶¶ 46-52.) Defendant moves to dismiss Counts III, V and VI under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. (Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss(ECF No. 5) ("Def.'s Mem.") at 1.)


"A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of a complaint; importantly, 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) (citation omitted). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "require[] only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell All. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). A complaint need not assert "detailed factual allegations, " but must contain "more than labels and conclusions" or "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Id. (citations omitted). Thus, the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to reliefabove the speculative level, " to one that is "plausible on its face" rather than merely "conceivable." Id. at 555, 570. In considering such a motion, a plaintiffs well-pleaded allegations are taken as true and the complaint is viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. T.G. Slater & Son, Inc. v. Donald P. & Patricia A. Brennan LLC, 385 F.3d 836, 841 (4th Cir. 2004) (citations omitted). Legal conclusions enjoy no such deference. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).


A. Applicable Law

Before discussing the merits of Defendant's motion, the Court must first determine which law to apply. A federal court sitting in diversity must apply the choice of law rules of the forum state - in this case, Virginia. Erie R.R. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 78 (1938); Hitachi Credit America Corp. v. Signet Bank, 166 F.3d 614, 624 (4th Cir. 1999). Under Virginia law, "the law of the state where the injury occurs supplies the substantive law governing warranty claims." Farish for Parish v. Courion Indust., 754 F.2d 1111, 1118 (4th Cir. 1985)(citing Bilancia v. Gen. Motors Corp., 538 F.2d 621 (4th Cir. 1976)). Therefore, Virginia law governs Plaintiffs warranty claims.

B. Analysis

Plaintiffhas brought a claim for breach of both an express warranty and an implied warranty. (Compl. ¶¶ 40-52.) Defendant argues that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for ...

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