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Clovis v. J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia, Clarksburg

September 20, 2019

SHEILA A. CLOVIS, Administratrix of the Estate of JEFFREY ALLEN CLOVIS, deceased, Plaintiff,
v.
J.B. HUNT TRANSPORT, INC., An Arkansas Corporation, or any Assignee, lessee, transferee, or Any Owner of the 2015 International Tractor-trailer driven by the Defendant, Theodore Timothy Hill, Jr., and THEODORE TIMOTHY HILL, JR., Defendants, And J.B. HUNT TRANSPORT, INC., Third-party Plaintiff,
v.
RYDER TRUCK RENTAL, INC. and M.R. LOGISTICS, LLC, Third-party Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING RYDER TRUCK RENTAL, INC.’S MOTION TO DISMISS THIRD PARTY COMPLAINT [DKT. NO. 27]

          THOMAS S. KLEEH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is Third-Party Defendant Ryder Truck Rental, Inc.’s Motion to Dismiss Third Party Complaint [Dkt. No. 27]. Third-Party Plaintiffs, J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc. and Theodore Timothy Hill, Jr., have filed their response in opposition [Dkt. No. 49] with Third-Party Defendant having replied to same [Dkt. No. 55]. With the matter fully briefed, the motion is ripe for decision. For the reasons discussed herein, the Court GRANTS the motion to dismiss [Dkt. No. 27].

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff Shelia A. Clovis, Administratrix of the Estate of Jeffrey Allen Clovis, filed her Complaint asserting a Wrongful Death claim under West Virginia Code § 55-7-6 on July 11, 2018 in the Circuit Court of Monongalia County, West Virginia [Dkt. No. 1-1]. The Complaint named J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc. and Theodore Timothy Hill, Jr. as Defendants asserting claims for negligence, respondeat superior and punitive damages. Defendants removed the matter to United States District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia on July 30, 2018, asserting diversity of citizenship jurisdiction [Dkt. No. 1].

         On November 1, 2018, Defendant J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc. timely filed its Motion for Leave to File Third-Party Complaint. Judge Irene M. Keeley granted that motion on November 2, 2018 [Dkt. No. 18] and the Third-Party Complaint was filed on November 5, 2018 [Dkt. No. 19]. This matter was transferred to United States District Court Judge Thomas S. Kleeh on December 1, 2018 [Dkt. No. 21]. Third-Party Defendant M.R. Logistics, Inc. answered the Third-Party Complaint on December 19, 2018 [Dkt. No. 24] while Third-Party Defendant Ryder Truck Rentals, Inc. filed its Motion to Dismiss as well as its Answer the same day [Dkt. No. 26]. On December 27, 2018, Defendants and Third-Party Plaintiffs J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc. and Theodore Timothy Hill, Jr. filed their Notice of Fault pursuant W.Va. Code § 55-7-13d asserting Matthew Burlakoff, M.R. Logistics, LLC and/or Ryder Truck Rentals, Inc. are wholly or partially at fault for the events described in the Complaint [Dkt. No. 35].

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         According to the Complaint, [1] early in the morning of August 9, 2016, Defendant Theodore Timothy Hill, Jr. was driving a 2015 International Oklahoma registered tractor-trailer owned by Defendant J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc. (“J.B. Hunt”) [Dkt. No. 1-1 at ¶5]. Hill was traveling north on Interstate 79 in Monongalia County, West Virginia [Id.]. In the same area, Matthew Burlakoff was operating a Freightliner 2013 Cascadia owned by Third-Party Defendant Ryder Truck Rentals, Inc. (“Ryder”) and leased to Mr. Burlakoff’s employer, M.R. Logistics, Inc. [Id. at ¶6]. That vehicle was experiencing mechanical difficulties which ultimately caused the Freightliner to come to a stop on the right side of the road [Id. at ¶7]. Mr. Burlakoff contacted Summers Towing Company (“Summers”) of Morgantown for a tow of both the tractor and the trailer [Id.]. While awaiting assistance from Summers, Mr. Burlakoff set out orange reflective triangles in the road way of the interstate [Id.].

         Eventually, two wreckers arrived from Summers including one truck driven by the decedent Mr. Clovis [Dkt. No. 1-1 at ¶¶8-9]. He parked his tow truck immediately behind the trailer with his lights flashing [Id. at ¶9]. Both the trailer (owned by Ryder and leased by M.R. Logistics) and tow truck had all appropriate reflective tapes and its white color reflected the flashing lights from Mr. Clovis’ truck along with the orange triangles on the road [Id.]. Notwithstanding these safety measures, without warning, Defendant Hill “negligently, carelessly and in reckless and wanton disregard of the vehicles and persons on the roadway at that time slammed and crashed into the rear of the Clovis tow truck, propelling and driving it forward into the right rear bumper of the Ryder tractor, causing it to fly off the roadway onto the embankment to the east of Interstate 79” [Id. at ¶12]. Mr. Clovis was tragically instantly killed as a result of the collision and was thrown from his tow truck [Id.].

         J.B. Hunt’s Third-Party Complaint alleges the Freightliner was experiencing “mechanical difficulties” on August 8-9, 2016 [Dkt. No. 19 at ¶7]. Those difficulties are alleged to include “low coolant” and “very low coolant” warnings [Id. at ¶8]. Those warnings caused the vehicle to lose power and shut down at least 4 times [Id. at ¶9-10]. Mr. Burlakoff allegedly shut off the vehicle and/or pressed a reset button in order to continue driving; however, the reset button will only work 4 times before the vehicle shuts down completely [Id. at ¶10-11]. After the vehicle was “reset” the fourth time, it came to a stop “at a more dangerous section of roadway than it was when the first warning occurred” [Id. at ¶13]. “The tractor and trailer stopped partially blocking one interstate lane, in violation of West Virginia Statutes”[2] [Id. at ¶15]. According to the Third-Party Complaint, the Freightliner had been to a Ryder facility on July 25, 2016 for maintenance [Id. at ¶17]. J.B. Hunt alleges Ryder “failed to make it road worthy which caused it to shut down in the early morning hours of August 9, 201[6]”[3] [Id. at ¶18].

         The two-count Third-Party Complaint asserts one claim against Ryder for “negligence.” J.B. Hunt alleges Ryder had a duty to maintain the tractor unit in a reasonably safe condition and a duty to maintain the tractor unit to ensure it would not break down on public roadways and endanger the public [Dkt. No. 19 at ¶20-21]. J.B. Hunt alleges Ryder did not maintain the vehicle in a reasonably safe condition and, as a proximate result, the vehicle broke down on a public roadway “where the accident occurred causing or contributing to the death of Plaintiff’s decedent” [Id. at ¶22-24]. The Third-Party Complaint does not allege Ryder’s actions caused J.B. Hunt or Mr. Hill any damages. Instead, Third-Party Defendants “demand judgment against Ryder Truck Rentals, Inc. . . . for an amount to be determined by a jury” [Id. at Prayer for Relief].

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure only requires a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Despite the liberal standard Rule 8 imposes, Rule 12(b)(6) allows a defendant to move for dismissal upon the ground that a complaint does not “state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” In ruling on a motion to dismiss, a court “must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint.” Anderson v. Sara Lee Corp., 508 F.3d 181, 188 (4th Cir. 2007) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)). A court is “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986).

         A court should dismiss a complaint if it does not contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Plausibility exists “when the plaintiff pleads 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). A motion to dismiss “does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 942, 952 (4th Cir. 1992).

         IV. ...


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