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Poling v. Wise Services Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

November 20, 2019

CHARLES DENNIS POLING, Plaintiff,
v.
WISE SERVICES, INC., a foreign for profit corporation and RHYS WADE WILLIAMS, an individual, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT WISE SERVICES, INC.'S MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFF'S AMENDED COMPLAINT

          FREDERICK P. STAMP, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Background

         The plaintiff, Charles Dennis Poling (“Poling”), filed an amended complaint against Wise Services, Inc. (“Wise”) and Rhys Wade Williams (“Williams”). ECF No. 29. In his amended complaint, plaintiff Poling alleges that defendant Williams was an employee of defendant Wise, and was working for defendant Wise when he rear-ended a vehicle in which plaintiff Poling was a guest passenger. Id. at 2. Plaintiff Poling alleges that defendant Williams futilely attempted to separate the two vehicles after the accident and subsequently left the scene of the accident in violation of West Virginia law. Id. at 3. Plaintiff Poling further asserts that defendant Wise has a habit of allowing employees to use company vehicles for personal use and that defendant Williams believed he had permission to use the vehicle involved in the accident. Id. Plaintiff Poling asserts that both defendants Wise and Williams were negligent and states that as a direct and proximate result of the defendants' negligence, he sustained serious bodily injury. Id.

         Defendant Wise filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff Poling's amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (ECF No. 30) and a memorandum in support of the motion (ECF No. 30-1). In support of the motion to dismiss, defendant Wise first asserts that defendant Williams stole defendant Wise's vehicle, attaching a criminal complaint, docket and journal entry, and Ohio Uniform Incident Report. Id. at 5; ECF No. 30-2. Second, defendant Wise asserts that plaintiff Poling's complaint does not provide sufficient facts that would support a right to recover based on general negligence or negligent supervision. Id. at 6-7. Specifically, defendant Wise states that plaintiff Poling has not pleaded sufficient facts that would demonstrate that it should have known about defendant Williams' “propensity” to steal its vehicle, which is a necessary element to either a claim for negligence or negligent supervision. Id. at 7-8. Third, defendant Wise contends that West Virginia Code § 17C-14-1 does not give rise to a cause of action because: (1) that code section was repealed in 2018 (citing Curran v. Owens, 15 W.Va. 208 (1879)); and (2) even if the code section is applicable, there is no affirmative duty set forth in the code section that requires doors to be locked or an affirmative duty related to access to a vehicle. Id. at 9-10. Fourth, defendant Wise asserts that plaintiff Poling's claim for negligent entrustment fails as a matter of law since defendant Williams' criminal plea demonstrates that defendant Wise did not entrust a vehicle to defendant Williams. Id. at 10. Fifth, defendant Wise contends that defendant Williams' criminal and negligent acts are intervening acts which break the chain of causation and relieve defendant Wise of liability. Id. at 10. Specifically, defendant Wise cites West Virginia v. Fidelity & Casualty Co., 263 F.Supp. 88 (S.D. W.Va. 1967), for support that stealing a car, regardless of whether the ignition is unlocked and/or the keys are in the switch, relieves the owner of liability since the theft is an intervening cause. Id. at 12. The defendant also cites Yourtree v. Hubbard, 196 W.Va. 683, 474 S.E.2d 613 (1996), for support that a willful, malicious, or criminal act breaks the chain of causation. Id.

         Plaintiff Poling filed a response in opposition to defendant Wise's motion to dismiss. ECF No. 31. In his response, plaintiff Poling first states that while defendant Williams has pleaded guilty, he may have had legitimate affirmative defenses to the charges. Id. at 4. Specifically, plaintiff Poling asserts that “[i]t is a well established unwritten rule in the criminal defense bar that a client should almost always take a misdemeanor plea when his or her client is facing a felony which could incarcerate their client for substantial amount of time, especially when the prosecution is offering a deal that does not involve jail time and a minimum fine.” Id. Plaintiff Poling seeks formal discovery in order to determine how defendant Williams came into possession of defendant Wise's vehicle. Id. Second, plaintiff Poling states that defendant Williams' guilty plea is irrelevant to the issue of whether defendant Wise was negligent. Id. at 4. Third, plaintiff Poling asserts that defendant Wise violated West Virginia Code § 17C-14-1 since defendant Wise allegedly has a “careless and negligent habit of allowing truck keys to be easily accessed by employees.” Id. at 5. Plaintiff Poling states that discovery must be conducted in order to determine how defendant Williams came into possession of the truck keys or how he was able to drive the truck off of defendant Wise's property. Id. Fourth, plaintiff Poling asserts that Curran v. Owens was superseded by West Virginia Code § 2-2-8, and that West Virginia Code § 17C-14-1 was in effect at the time that defendant Williams used defendant Wise's vehicle. Id. at 6. Fifth, plaintiff Poling maintains that defendant Wise negligently entrusted the vehicle to defendant Williams and that defendant Williams' negligence was foreseeable. Id. at 7. Plaintiff Poling then distinguishes Fidelity, stating that the court in Fidelity specifically noted that two separate acts occurred (i.e. a theft and a high speed chase) to alleviate the defendant from liability, and that the facts here do not indicate that defendant Williams was being pursued by the police, but that he failed to see the vehicle in which the plaintiff was a passenger. Id. at 8-9. Moreover, plaintiff Poling distinguishes Yourtree, stating that in that case, the plaintiff was one of the people responsible for the theft of the vehicle and, that here, the plaintiff was not responsible for the theft of defendant Wise's vehicle. Id. at 9.

         Defendant Wise then filed a reply. ECF No. 32. In its reply, defendant Wise first states that defendant Williams' criminal plea is relevant to this matter since it establishes, as a matter of law, that he stole the company vehicle. Id. at 2-3. Second, defendant Wise asserts that plaintiff Poling's claim for negligent entrustment fails as a matter of law given defendant Williams' plea. Id. at 3. Third, defendant Wise states that plaintiff Poling's claims for negligence and negligent supervision fail as a matter of law since the plaintiff has not provided sufficient facts to address the necessary elements of the causes of action. Id. at 3. Specifically, defendant Wise states that there are no facts that would demonstrate that it should have known about defendant Williams' propensity to steal its vehicle. Id. at 3-4. Fourth, defendant Wise contends that West Virginia Code § 17C-14-1 does not give rise to a cause of action based upon the allegations in the complaint because: (1) that code section was repealed in 2018; (2) Curren v. Owens is good law and West Virginia Code § 2-2-8 is a savings statute applicable to only criminal laws; and (3) even if the statute applied in this case, plaintiff Poling has failed to plead any facts that establish that defendant Wise violated any of the statute's requirements. Id. at 4-6. Fifth, defendant Wise states that defendant Williams' criminal act breaks the chain of causation. Id. at 6-7.

         For the reasons stated below, this Court grants defendant Wise's motion to dismiss the plaintiff's amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (ECF No. 30).

         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. Consumeraffairs.com, 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, 556 U.S. 662, 677 (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).

         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 its 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, 556 U.S. at 677). 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. This Court Takes Judicial Notice of the Certified Copies of the Criminal Complaint, the Docket and Journal Entry Pertaining to That Criminal Action and the Ohio Uniform Incident Report. However, Such Materials Are Not Conclusive Evidence of Defendant Williams' Guilt.

         Federal Rule of Evidence 201 states that a “court may judicially notice a fact that is not subject to reasonable dispute because it . . . can be accurately and readily determined from sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned.” Fed.R.Evid. 201(b)(2). “The court . . . must take judicial notice if a party requests it and the court is supplied with the necessary information.” Id. at 201(c)(2). Matters of public record may be judicially noticed. See Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. ...


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