United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
CLARENCE EDWARD WHITAKER, for himself and as Administrator of the Estate of Shannon Marie Whitaker, deceased, Plaintiff,
HYUNDAI MOTOR COMPANY, and HYUNDAI MOTOR AMERICA, INC., Defendants.
Glen E. Conrad United States District Judge.
Clarence Edward Whitaker, as executor of the estate and as
representative of the heirs and next of kin of Shannon Marie
Whitaker, brings this diversity action arising out of an
incident in which Shannon Whitaker was killed. The matter is
currently before the court on defendants' partial motions
to dismiss. For the reasons stated, the motions will
following summary of the facts, taken from the plaintiffs
complaint, is accepted as true for purposes of the
defendants' motions to dismiss, See Erickson v.
Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007).
about March 24, 2015, plaintiff and his wife, Shannon,
("the Whitakers") purchased a used 2007 Hyundai
Santa Fe vehicle ("the vehicle") from Motor Mile
Kia, a dealer authorized by Hyundai Motor America, Inc.
("HMA"). Compl. ¶ 8, Docket No. 1. The
Whitakers purchased the vehicle used without substantial
modifications or alterations from its original condition.
Id. ¶ 9. On October 16, 2015, the vehicle, with
its engine turned off and the key removed from the ignition
cylinder, rolled forward from the driveway of the
Whitakers' residence towards the side of the house,
pinning Shannon Whitaker's head and neck between the car
door and the vehicle frame. The Whitakers' two minor
children found their mother trapped and called 911. Compl.
¶ 11-12. Clarence Whitaker arrived at the scene
approximately fifteen minutes later, where he found rescue
personnel attempting to free Shannon Whitaker, who was
already determined to be deceased. Id., Shannon Whitaker died
at age 42, and her cause of death was asphyxia due to torso
compression by the vehicle. Id. ¶ 14. When
Shannon Whitaker died, the ignition cylinder was in a
position other than "LOCK" and the gear shift
selector was in a position other than "Park, "
despite the ignition key not being in the ignition cylinder.
years prior to this incident, on April 15, 2009, Hyundai
Motor Company ("HMC") notified the National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration that it was conducting a safety
recall so that it could replace the stop lamp switches on
some of its vehicles, including the 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe
model. Id. ¶ 18. According to the recall
notice, the defect in the stop lamp could cause
"interference with proper functioning of the antilock
brakes." Id. ¶ 19. HMC failed to include
the vehicle purchased by the Whitakers in this recall.
Id. ¶ 18.
HMC and HMA issued other safety recalls in March and April of
2013, also because of a potentially malfunctioning stop lamp,
which "when the ignition is in the 'ON'
position, the transmission shifter may be able to be moved
out of Park without first applying the brake . . ., [which]
may lead to unintentional movement of the car."
Id. ¶ 20. The safety recalls in 2013 did not
apply to the Whitakers' vehicle, as it only applied to
Santa Fe vehicles made after April 1, 2007, and the
Whitakers' Santa Fe was made prior to April 1, 2007.
Id. ¶ 21.
alleges the following counts: (I) that defendants negligently
designed, manufactured, distributed, and placed the
Whitaker's vehicle into the stream of commerce; (II) that
defendants breached the implied warranties of merchantability
and fitness for a particular purpose; (III) that defendants
failed to warn foreseeable consumers despite the fact that
they knew or should have known of the defective and
unreasonably dangerous condition of the Santa Fe vehicles
generally; (IV) that defendants failed to warn the Whitakers
about the unreasonably dangerous condition of the specific
vehicle that the Whitakers bought; (V) that defendants'
breach of their duty to exercise ordinary care in the design,
manufacture, distribution, and sale of a product that is
reasonably safe for the purpose for which it was intended and
defendants' failure to warn proximately caused Shannon
Whitaker's death; and (VI) that defendants acted with
willful and wanton negligence in conscious disregard or
reckless indifference to the consequences. Plaintiff seeks
$17.5 million in compensatory damages and $350, 000 in
punitive damages. The defendant seeks to dismiss a part of
count II and the request for punitive damages in count VI.
The matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for review.
12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a
party to move for dismissal of a complaint for failure to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted. To survive
dismissal for failure to state a claim, 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). In ruling on a 12(b)(6) motion, 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)). 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.
Implied Warranty of Fitness for a Particular Purpose
have each moved, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure, to partially dismiss count II.
Defendants argue that the complaint does not and cannot
allege the requisite facts to sustain a claim of breach of
the implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose, and
that the complaint fails to allege willful or wanton
misconduct or actual malice required for punitive damages.
recover for breach of the implied warranty of fitness for a
particular purpose, a plaintiff must demonstrate that
"(1) the seller had reason to know the particular
purpose for which the buyer required the goods, (2) the
seller had reason to know the buyer was relying on the
seller's skill or judgment to furnish appropriate goods,
and (3) the buyer in fact relied upon the seller's skill
or judgment." Medcom, Inc. v. C. Arthur Weaver
Co., 348 S.E.2d 243, 246 (Va. 1986). "A claim for
breach of warranty for a particular purpose requires a
plaintiff to allege that the product failed to serve a
purpose other than its ordinary purpose and peculiar and
unique to the plaintiff." AIU Ins. Co. v. Omega
Flex, Inc., No. 3:11CV00023, 2011 WL 2295270, at *2 n.2
(W.D. Va. June 9, 2011) (citing Va. Code § 8.2-315 cmt.
2) (Moon, J.). "A 'particular purpose' differs
from the ordinary purpose for which the goods are used in
that it envisages a specific use by the buyer which is