United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Beckley Division
RICKY A. JOHNSON, et al., Plaintiffs,
PINNACLE MININIG COMPANY, LLC, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
CBERGER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE .
Court has reviewed Seneca Coal Resources, LLC's
Motion to Dismiss (Document 36), Cliffs Natural
Resources, Inc. 's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs'
Amended Complaint (Document 38), Seneca North
American Coal, LLC's Motion to Dismiss (Document
39), Pinnacle Mining Company, LLC's Motion to
Dismiss (Document 42), and Cliffs Natural Resources,
Inc. 's Joinder in Motions to Dismiss of Seneca Coal
Resources, LLC and Seneca North American Coal, LLC
(Document 44). The Court has also reviewed the
Defendants' respective memoranda in support, the
Plaintiffs' responses to each motion, the Defendants'
replies, all attached exhibits, and the Plaintiffs'
Amended Complaint (Document 33). For the reasons
stated herein, the Court finds that the motions should be
granted in part and denied in part.
Plaintiffs, Ricky A. Johnson and his wife, Melissa A.
Johnson, brought this action against Defendants Pinnacle
Mining Company, LLC (Pinnacle), Seneca Coal Resources, LLC
(Seneca), Seneca North American Coal, LLC (SNAC), and Cliffs
Natural Resources, Inc. (Cliffs). The Court previously
granted a motion to dismiss an individual Defendant, Kenny
Clay, and denied a motion to remand the matter to state
Plaintiffs allege that Mr. Johnson was employed by Pinnacle
at the Pinnacle Mining Preparation Plant. SNAC, then known as
Cliffs North American Coal, LLC, owned Pinnacle. Seneca is
currently the owner of SNAC. Cliffs was the owner of Cliffs
North American Coal, LLC, at the time of the events alleged
in the amended complaint. One or more Defendants decided to
replace a large pipeline in the prep plant. The pipeline was
attached to a steel beam approximately ten feet above the
floor. On June 21, 2015, a foreman instructed Mr. Johnson to
use a cutting torch to sever the metal bands attaching the
pipeline to the beam. The scissors lift was inoperable, and
so the foreman instructed workers to create a work platform
by placing a wooden pallet onto the lifting forks of a
forklift. The foreman oversaw and directed Mr. Johnson in the
task of cutting the metal bands to remove the pipeline. Mr.
Johnson stood on the pallet and was lifted to the steel beam,
but realized that if he cut the bands holding the pipeline
from his position, the pipeline would fall on him. He
therefore climbed onto the steel beam to cut the bands from
above, rather than below, the pipeline.
unmarked plastic delivery line containing flammable alcohol
was attached to the steel beam in the area where Mr. Johnson
was cutting. Sparks or debris from the cutting torch hit the
alcohol delivery line, causing an explosion and fire. The
explosion startled Mr. Johnson, and he fell from the steel
beam. He was not wearing a harness or fall protection. Mr.
Johnson suffered a broken ankle and other injuries. He claims
medical expenses totaling $144, 274.52, loss of income and
loss of future earning potential, physical pain and
disability, loss of enjoyment of life, mental anguish and
emotional distress. Ms. Johnson asserts loss of consortium.
Johnson asserts a claim of deliberate intent against all of
the Defendants, alleging that they did not have a training
and inspection program to ensure safety around hazardous
materials. He alleges that the Defendants violated various
regulations regarding safe access to workplaces, welding or
cutting near combustible materials, safety when working with
a danger of falling, correcting imminent dangers, and
examining working areas for hazardous conditions. He further
alleges that the Defendants knew of the dangerous conditions
and willfully exposed him to danger, and attempted to cover
up their violations after his accident.
Johnson further asserts a claim against all of the Defendants
for maintaining an unsafe workplace and negligence. He
asserts that each Defendant "controlled, operated and
managed the activities at [the Pinnacle plant] including the
processing of coal, the design, construction, maintenance,
and care of the plant, the premises and the machinery
therein, the budget, and the safety and training for the
personnel." (Am. Compl. at ¶ 30.) In doing so, Mr.
Johnson alleges that the Defendants disregarded safety
regulations and failed to maintain a reasonably safe place to
work, resulting in his accident and injuries.
Defendant has filed a motion to dismiss. The motions are
fully briefed and ripe for ruling.
motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a
complaint. Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 192
(4th Cir. 2009); Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d
298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008). "[T]he legal sufficiency of a
complaint is measured by whether it meets the standard stated
in Rule 8 [of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure]
(providing general rules of pleading) . . . and Rule 12(b)(6)
(requiring that a complaint state a claim upon which relief
can be granted.)" Id. Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a pleading must contain
"a short and plain statement of the claim showing that
the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P.
reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure
to state a claim, the Court must "accept as true all of
the factual allegations contained in the complaint."
Erikson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007). The Court
must also "draw[ ] all reasonable factual inferences
from those facts in the plaintiffs favor." Edwards
v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999).
However, statements of bare legal conclusions "are not
entitled to the assumption of truth" and are
insufficient to state a claim. Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). Furthermore, the Court need not
"accept as true unwarranted inferences, unreasonable
conclusions, or arguments." E. Shore Mkts., v. J.D.
Assocs. Ltd. P 'ship, 213 F.3d 175, 180 (4th Cir.
2000). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause
of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not
suffice... [because courts] 'are not bound to accept as
true a legal conclusion couched as a factual
allegation.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678
(quoting Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
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.'"
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly,
550 U.S. at 570.) In other words, this "plausibility
standard requires a plaintiff to demonstrate more than 'a
sheer possibility that a defendant has acted
unlawfully.'" Francis v. Giacomelli, 588
F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009) (quoting Twombly, 550
U.S. at 570.) In the complaint, a plaintiff must
"articulate facts, when accepted as true, that
'show' that the plaintiff has stated a claim
entitling him to relief." Francis, 588 F.3d at
193 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557.)
"Determining whether a complaint states [on its face] a
plausible claim for relief [which ...