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Lester v. C&J Well Services, Inc

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

September 28, 2017

TIMOTHY LESTER and ROBIN LESTER, husband and wife, Plaintiffs,
C&J WELL SERVICES, INC., a corporation, NOBLE ENERGY, INC., a corporation, CONSOL ENERGY, INC., a corporation and CNX GAS COMPANY, LLC, a limited liability company, Defendants.



         I. Background

         This civil action was removed from the Circuit Court of Marshall County, West Virginia. The case arises out of injuries that plaintiff Timothy Lester (“Mr. Lester”) allegedly received while operating his employer's water truck on County Route 26 (“CR 26”) in Marshall County. Mr. Lester's employer was C&J Well Services, Inc. (“C&J”), a defendant in this civil action. Mr. Lester was driving the truck to deliver water to a gas well pad owned and operated by a joint venture consisting of defendants Noble Energy, Inc. (“Noble”), CONSOL Energy, Inc. (“CONSOL”), and CNX Gas Company, LLC (“CNX”) and, collectively with Noble and CONSOL, the “joint venturers”). C&J contracted with the joint venturers to provide them with oil and gas field services, including the transportation, delivery, and removal of equipment and materials to and from the sites of the gas well pads operated by the joint venturers.

         The complaint states that Mr. Lester was driving uphill on CR 26 at the same time two other drivers were operating tanker trucks hauling fluids to the joint venturers' well pads. The plaintiffs allege that Mr. Lester moved his truck as far to the right as possible to avoid oncoming traffic but was run off the road by the two tanker trucks coming from the joint venturers' well pads in the opposite direction. The complaint states that the roadway and shoulder of CR 26 collapsed, which caused Mr. Lester's truck to roll over the guardrail and down a steep embankment, where the truck struck a tree.

         The complaint also states that the joint venturers' traffic plan for CR 26 required drivers driving uphill to call ahead over their radios and drivers driving downhill to respond by yielding to the uphill drivers. The complaint alleges, however, that the two downhill drivers did not yield to Mr. Lester when Mr. Lester indicated over his radio that he was driving uphill towards the well pad. The plaintiffs allege that the downhill drivers' failure to yield to him is what caused him to run off the road.

         The plaintiffs then allege that Mr. Lester sustained severe and permanent injuries as a result of the accident. The plaintiffs further allege that the joint venturers' traffic plan was dangerously deficient because it did not properly regulate the flow of heavy trucks on CR 26. Additionally, the plaintiffs allege that the joint venturers were negligent in the maintenance and repair of CR 26, which allowed the roadway and shoulder to become undercut, soft, and subject to collapse.

         Noble filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for judgment on the pleadings. Noble is named in Count II of the complaint, which alleges that the joint venturers were negligent both in the maintenance and repair of CR 26 and in the formulation and implementation of a traffic control plan for CR 26. The plaintiffs base these allegations on two separate duties of care. First, Count II alleges that the joint venturers had a duty to maintain and control CR 26 by virtue of the permits issued to them by the West Virginia Department of Transportation, Division of Highways (the “WVDOH”). Second, Count II alleges that the joint ventures had a duty under West Virginia law to provide Mr. Lester, an invitee, with a reasonably safe workspace.

         The plaintiffs filed a response in opposition to Noble's motion to dismiss. Noble then filed a reply to the plaintiffs' response. After a review of the parties' memoranda and the applicable law, this Court finds that Noble's motion to dismiss must be granted in part and denied in part.

         II. Applicable Law

         In assessing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must accept all well-pled facts contained in the complaint as true. Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd v., Inc, 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009). However, “legal conclusions, elements of a cause of action, and bare assertions devoid of further factual enhancement fail to constitute well-pled facts for Rule 12(b)(6) purposes.” Id. (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)). This Court also declines to consider “unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” Wahi v. Charleston Area Med. Ctr., Inc., 562 F.3d 599, 615 n.26 (4th Cir. 2009).

         It has often been said that the purpose of a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the formal sufficiency of the statement of the claim for relief; it is not a procedure for resolving a contest about the facts or the merits of the case. 5B Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1356 (3d ed. 1998). The Rule 12(b)(6) motion also must be distinguished from a motion for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, which goes to the merits of the claim and is designed to test whether there is a genuine issue of material fact. Id. For purposes of the motion to dismiss, the complaint is construed in the light most favorable to the party making the claim and essentially the court's inquiry is directed to whether the allegations constitute a statement of a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a). Id. § 1357.

         A complaint should be dismissed “if it does not allege ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on is face.'” Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “Facial plausibility is established once the factual content of a complaint ‘allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'” Nemet Chevrolet, 591 F.3d at 256 (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but the facts alleged must be sufficient “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         III. Discussion

         A. Duty of Care Arising ...

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