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Myers v. General Motors

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

March 7, 2018





         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff Kenneth Myers' (“Plaintiff”) pro se Motion [ECF No. 5] for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis.[1] Because Plaintiff seeks to proceed in forma pauperis, the undersigned must conduct a preliminary review to determine whether Plaintiff's pro se Complaint [ECF No. 1] sets forth any viable claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Because the undersigned concludes that Plaintiff's Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the undersigned recommends that Plaintiff's Complaint be dismissed, without prejudice, and Plaintiffs' motion to proceed in forma pauperis be denied as moot.


         On August 30, 2017, Plaintiff was driving to his home in Keyser, West Virginia, from work in Winchester, Virginia, where he was employed at Rubber Maid. During the roughly seventy-mile drive, Plaintiff noticed something burning under the hood of his 2002 Chevrolet Impala. Suddenly, smoke started pouring into the cabin of his vehicle, causing him to choke. The smoke was so intense that Plaintiff was forced to stop his car in the middle of the road and run for safety. Soon, Plaintiff's vehicle was engulfed in flames.

         On October 10, 2017, Plaintiff filed the instant pro se Complaint alleging that General Motors (“GM”) knew about an alleged ignition defect two months before issuing a recall. In addition, Plaintiff claims that the alleged ignition defect put the affected vehicles at risk of catching fire. To compensate him for his damages, Plaintiff seeks $100, 000 in compensatory and punitive damages.

         After filing his complaint, the United States Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation issued a Conditional Transfer Order transferring Plaintiff's case to Multidistrict Litigation No. 2543. Plaintiff then moved to vacate the Panel's order pursuant to Panel Rule 7.1, which GM opposed. On February 2, 2018, the Panel issued an Order Vacating Conditional Transfer Order because the factual allegations in Plaintiff's complaint differ from those at issue in MDL No. 2543. Order Vacating Conditional Transfer Order, ECF No. 6. Specifically, the Panel explained that although the complaint mentions an ignition switch defect and Plaintiff alleges that GM knew about the ignition switch defect before issuing a recall, the recall notice attached to Plaintiff's complaint does not relate to the ignition switch recall at issue in MDL No. 2543. Id. at 1. For example, Plaintiff “does not allege, as plaintiffs in MDL No. 2543 do, that his vehicle experienced an unexpected shutoff, lost control, or that his airbags failed to deploy.” Id.

         Now, with Plaintiff's case again before this Court, the undersigned addresses Plaintiff's claim below.


         A. Legal Standard

         When filing a lawsuit in federal court, the plaintiff is required to pay certain filing fees. The court has the authority to allow a case to proceed without the prepayment of fees “by a person who affirms by affidavit that he or she is unable to pay costs . . . .” L.R. Gen. P. 3.01. The plaintiff files this affidavit along with her request or motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Id. The Supreme Court of the United States has explained that the purpose of the “federal in forma pauperis statute . . . is designed to ensure that indigent litigants have meaningful access to the federal courts.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324 (1989).

         When a plaintiff seeks to proceed in forma pauperis, the court conducts a preliminary review of the lawsuit before allowing the case to proceed. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e). This includes cases filed by non-prisoners. See Michau v. Charleston Cty., S.C., 434 F.3d 725, 727 (4th Cir. 2006) (holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it dismissed the non-prisoner complaints under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)). The court must dismiss a case at any time if the court determines that the complaint is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). A case is often dismissed sua sponte (i.e., on the court's own decision) before the defendant is notified of the case “so as to spare prospective defendants the inconvenience and expense of answering such complaints.” Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 324. When reviewing pro se complaints, the Court must construe them liberally. See Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).

         As stated above, under the federal in forma pauperis statute, the court may dismiss a case if the complaint is frivolous. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i). A complaint is frivolous if it is without “an arguable basis either in law or fact.” Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 325. A complaint filed in forma pauperis which fails to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is not automatically frivolous. See id. at 328. Cases should only be dismissed as frivolous when the legal theories are “indisputably meritless, ” or where the claims rely on factual allegations which are “clearly baseless.” Id. at 327; see also Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 32 (1992). This includes claims where the plaintiff has little or no chance of success. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976).

         The federal in forma pauperis statute allows a court to sua sponte dismiss a complaint that “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). 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 Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Although a complaint need not assert “detailed factual allegations, ” it must contain “more than labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citations omitted). To survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, the complaint must raise a right to relief that is more than speculative. Id. In other words, the complaint must contain allegations that are “plausible” on their face, rather than merely “conceivable.” Id. at 555, 570. Therefore, in order for a complaint to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, the plaintiff must “allege facts sufficient to state all the elements of [his or] her claim.” Bassv. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 324 F.3d 761, 765 (4th Cir. 2003) (citing Dickson v. Microsoft Corp., 309 F.3d 193, 213 (4th Cir.2002); Iodice v. United States, 289 F.3d 279, 281 (4th Cir. 2002). A “claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the ...

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