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Hall v. Lassiter

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

November 23, 2016

Erin W. Hall, Christopher L. Hall, Plaintiffs,
v.
Elmer Lassiter, Parkers Transport Services, Inc., Anthony Harvey, Dennis Earl Hawkins (D.B.A. Heavy D's Trucking), Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NORMAN K. MOON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This action stems from a car accident that occurred on June 7, 2013. Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Lassiter's tractor-trailer struck Defendant Harvey's tractor-trailer, causing an accident between Harvey's truck and Plaintiffs' vehicle. Plaintiffs allege personal injury as a result of the accident. Defendants Parkers Transportation Service (“Parkers”) and Heavy D's Trucking (“Hawkins”)[1] were the employers of Lassiter and Harvey, respectively, and are being sued under a theory of respondeat superior.

         All four defendants have filed motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) based on a statute of limitations defense. The parties agree that Plaintiffs' claims were brought outside of the applicable two year limitations period, but there is controversy about whether Virginia Code § 38.2-2206(G) (“Subsection (G)”) tolled the statute of limitations for all Defendants when Plaintiffs filed a John Doe complaint in state court within the limitations period. Additionally, Defendants Lassiter and Parkers argue that Plaintiffs have failed to adequately state a claim against them. Harvey asserts his own statute of limitations theory under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(c)(3)(C).

         The Court concludes that Subsection (G) tolled the statute of limitations against all Defendants, and no claims are facially time barred. Further, Plaintiffs did not fail to state a claim against Defendants Lassiter and Parkers. Thus, the motions to dismiss will be denied.

         I. Background

         On June 7, 2013, Plaintiffs were travelling south on Interstate 95 in an automobile operated by Christopher Hall when that vehicle became involved in an auto accident. (Dkt. 1-1 at 5). Plaintiffs allege the tractor-trailer operated by Lassiter struck the tractor-trailer driven by Harvey, causing the collision between Harvey's vehicle and their car. (Id. at 6). At the time of the accident, Lassiter was employed by Parkers, while Harvey was employed by Hawkins. (Id.).

         On January 21, 2015, Plaintiff Christopher Hall filed a personal injury complaint related to the auto accident in the Circuit Court of the City of Charlottesville styled “Christopher Hall v. John Doe, ” while Plaintiff Erin Hall filed a nearly identical complaint on June 5, 2015 in the same court. (Motion to Dismiss Exhibit 1, Christopher Hall v. John Doe, 3:16-CV-00060 (W.D.Va. 2015) (No. 4-1) [hereinafter “Csl. Dkt. 4-1 at 1”]; Dkt. 4-1).[2] These complaints (“John Doe complaints”) were filed within the two-year statute of limitations for personal injury actions under Virginia Code § 8.01-243(A). They both alleged that a single vehicle operated by John Doe “crashed into the rear of the plaintiff's vehicle, causing plaintiff's vehicle to crash into three other vehicles before coming to a stop.” (Dkt. 4-1 at 1).

         On June 7 (Erin) and June 17, 2016 (Christopher), Plaintiffs filed complaints in the Circuit Court of the City of Charlottesville naming all four of the current defendants. (Dkt 1-1; Csl. Dkt. 1-1). In those complaints, the Halls alleged that their claims were pursuant to Subsection (G), which reads in relevant part: “The bringing of an action against an unknown owner or operator as John Doe shall toll the statute of limitations for purposes of bringing an action against the owner or operator who caused the injury or damages until his identity becomes known.” Virginia Code § 38.2-2206(G); (Dkt 1-1 at 6). The parties do not contest that these complaints would have been outside of the limitations period absent the application of Subsection (G).

         Both cases were removed to the Eastern District of Virginia on July 28, 2016 on the basis of diversity jurisdiction. (Dkt. 1). The Halls are citizens of Virginia, while all four defendants are citizens of North Carolina. (Dkt. 1-1 at 1). On August 10, 2016, the cases were transferred to the Western District of Virginia on the basis that the proper venue for a case upon removal is the district in which the state court is located. (Dkt. 14). On August 23, 2016, the two cases were consolidated. (Dkt. 29).

         All defendants have filed motions to dismiss on statute of limitations grounds. (Dkts. 3, 11, 17). Defendants Lassiter and Parker have also argued that Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim against them because Plaintiffs did not adequately alleged that actions of Lassiter caused their injuries.

         II. Standard of Review

         When evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the Court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations. See Vitol, S.A. v. Primerose Shipping Co., 708 F.3d 527, 539 (4th Cir. 2013); see also Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). “While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Stated differently, in order to survive a motion to dismiss, “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, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

         A statute of limitations “is an affirmative defense, which can be the basis of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).” Dickinson v. Univ. of N. Carolina, 91 F.Supp.3d 755, 763 (M.D. N.C. 2015) (citing Dean v. Pilgrim's Pride Corp., 395 F.3d 471, 474 (4th Cir. 2005)). However, “the burden of proving an affirmative defense rests with a defendant, ” and in order for a defendant to succeed on a statute of limitations 12(b)(6) defense, “all facts necessary to show the time bar must clearly appear ‘on the face of the complaint.'” Id. (quoting Goodman v. Praxair, Inc., 494 F.3d 458, 464 (4th Cir. 2007).

         III. ...


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