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McDonald v. Betsinger

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

March 8, 2016

PATRICK M. MCDONALD Plaintiff,
v.
CARL T. BETSINGER, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Hon. Glen E. Conrad Chief United States District Judge

In this diversity action, plaintiff Patrick M. McDonald asserts personal injury claims against defendants Carl T. Betsinger and Imler's Poultry Transportation, Inc. ("Imler's Poultry"), arising out of a collision between plaintiffs car and a commercial tractor-trailer driven by Betsinger. The case is presently before the court on defendants' motion to dismiss Counts II, III, and IV of plaintiff s complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the following reasons, the motion will be granted.

Background

The following facts, taken from plaintiffs complaint, are accepted as true for purposes of the motion to dismiss. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).

On or about November 22, 2013, Patrick M. McDonald, a citizen of Alabama, was traveling southbound on Interstate 81 ("1-81") in Montgomery County, Virginia. At the same time, Carl T. Betsinger, a citizen of Pennsylvania, was driving a commercial tractor-trailer owned by Imler's Poultry, a Pennsylvania corporation, southbound on 1-81. Betsinger then struck the back of McDonald's car, causing bodily injuries and property damage.

McDonald filed this diversity action on September 3, 2015, naming both Betsinger and Imler's Poultry as defendants. The complaint includes four counts: negligence against both defendants (Count I); wantoness against both defendants (Count II); negligent and wanton entrustment against Imler's Poultry (Count III); and negligent hiring, training, and supervision against Imler's Poultry (Count IV). McDonald seeks compensatory damages in an amount to be determined by a jury.

On November 2, 2015, defendants filed a motion to dismiss Counts II, III, and IV of McDonald's complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The court held a hearing on the motion via conference call on January 26, 2016. The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

Standards of Review

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a party to move for dismissal of an action for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. To survive such a motion, a plaintiff must establish "facial plausibility" by pleading "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). All well-pleaded allegations in the complaint are taken as true and all reasonable factual inferences are drawn in the plaintiffs favor. Edwards v. City of Goldsboro. 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999). However, "[a]t bottom, a plaintiff must 'nudge his claims across the line from conceivable to plausible' to resist dismissal." Wag More Dogs. LLC v. Cozart 680 F.3d 359, 364-65 (4th Cir. 2012) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Moreover, the complaint must contain sufficient facts "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level" and "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570. Although a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, it must contain more than "labels and conclusions" and "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. at 555.

Discussion

Defendants argue that Counts II, III, and IV in McDonald's complaint should be dismissed because the complaint fails to state claims upon which relief may be granted. The court will consider each count in turn.

I. Count II; Wantoness

In Count II of the complaint, McDonald argues that Betsinger's conduct "rose to the level of wantoness because Betsinger knew or should have known that as a result of his conduct plaintiff McDonald would likely be injured." Compl. ¶13. In moving to dismiss this claim, defendants argue that the factual allegations in the complaint are insufficient to state a claim for willful and wanton conduct under Virginia law.

This case is governed by principles of Virginia law.[1] In Virginia, willful and wanton negligence is defined as "acting consciously in disregard of another person's rights or acting with reckless indifference 'to [the] consequences with the defendant aware, from his knowledge of existing circumstances and conditions, that his conduct probably would cause injury to another.'" Fravel v. Ford Motor Co., 973 F.Supp.2d 651, 655 (W.D. Va. 2013) (quoting Woods v. Mendez, 574 S.E.2d 263, 268 (Va. 2003)). Willful or wanton negligence involves a "greater degree of negligence than gross negligence[.]" Id. (quoting Boward v. Leftwich, 89 S.E.2d 32, 35 (Va. 1955)). Specifically, an essential element of willful or wanton negligence is "actual or constructive consciousness of the danger involved." Id. "Mere violation of a traffic law, ...


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