United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, New Albany Division
NANCY D. HUFF, Plaintiff,
WALMART STORES, INC., WESTERN EXPRESS, INC., Defendants.
ORDER ON WESTERN EXPRESS, INC.'S MOTION TO
Baker United States Magistrate Judge.
Supreme Court's rulings in Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), have seemingly prompted an
increase in the volume of motions to dismiss defendants
filed. Under the cover of this high Court
precedent, defendants attack complaints as implausible and
conclusory, hoping to bring the litigation to an end before
it really gets started. At times, however, these motions are
more akin to tilting at windmills than a thoughtful
case at hand, Defendant Western Express, Inc. has likewise
fallen victim to the allure of an easy way out by filing a
motion to dismiss based on Twombly and
Iqbal. Ultimately, Twombly and
Iqbal ask two questions of the complaint: 1) does it
assert a legal conclusion without supporting facts, and 2) is
it plausible? Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79 (discussing
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544). Western Express does not
focus on whether Plaintiff Nancy Huff's amended complaint
is plausible. Instead, it asserts factual arguments and
argues that the complaint is “conclusory and
sketchy.” [Filing No. 39, at ECF p. 6.] The
Court denies Western Express's motion [Filing No.
38] because Huff pleaded sufficient facts in support of
her negligence claims to put Western Express on notice, and
Western Express's factual arguments are inappropriate for
a motion to dismiss.
brings a personal injury suit against Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
and Western Express alleging their negligence caused her to
be injured while opening the door on a semi-trailer. Huff
alleges she was at a Wal-Mart store to assist a Western
Express employee with-over-the road driving and trailer
connection. According to Huff, while she was opening the door
to Western Express's trailer, it unexpectedly swung open,
hitting her in the face and causing extensive injuries. Huff
claims the reason the door unexpectedly swung open was that
the door was left under tension. Huff asserts negligence
claims against both Wal-Mart and Western Express alleging
they each had a duty to ensure that the trailer was not left
state a claim for relief, the pleading must contain “a
short and plain statement of the claim showing that the
pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P.
8(a)(2). By 1981, the Seventh Circuit had established
that “conclusory allegations unsupported by any factual
assertions will not withstand a motion to dismiss.”
Briscoe v. LaHue, 663 F.2d 713, 723 (7th Cir. 1981).
Still, Western Express cites Twombly and
Iqbal to argue that the Court should dismiss
Huff's claims against it because they are
conclusory. In both Twombly and
Iqbal, the Court began by outlining the elements of
the claims that the respective plaintiffs had to prove to
successfully prosecute their cases. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 675-77 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 553- 54). In
each case, the Court found that the plaintiffs had attempted
to establish their respective claims by merely stating the
legal standard they were required to meet. Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 680; Twombly, 550 U.S. at 565.
Twombly plaintiffs asserted that the defendants
“entered into a contract, combination or conspiracy to
prevent competitive entry into their . . . markets and ha[d]
agreed not to compete with one another.”
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 565. This allegation
essentially repeats the standard from § 1 of the Sherman
Act, which prohibits “restraints [on competition]
effected by a contract, combination, or conspiracy.”
Id. at 553 (quoting Copperweld Corp. v.
Independence Tube Corp., 467 U.S. 752, 775 (1984)). The
Court held that without additional facts alleged in support,
this bare legal conclusion did not satisfy the Rule
8 pleading standard. Id. at 565.
Court held in Iqbal that the plaintiff would have to
show that the defendants “acted with discriminatory
purpose, ” i.e. intentionally. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 676. The Court clarified that, in a discrimination-based
Bivens action, intent means “undertaking a
course of action because of, not merely in spite of, [the
action's] adverse effects upon an identifiable
group.” Id. at 676-77 (internal quotation
marks omitted). The Court rejected Iqbal's pleading that
the defendants “‘knew of, condoned, and willfully
and maliciously agreed to subject [him]' to harsh
conditions of confinement ‘as a matter of policy,
solely on account of [his] religion, race, and/or national
origin and for no legitimate penological interest.”
Id. at 680. Though the plaintiff did not
mirror the standard as precisely as the plaintiffs in
Twombly, the Court found that his pleading merely
presented the legal standard as if it were a fact.
addition to relying on Twombly and Iqbal,
Western Express quotes Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574,
581 (7th Cir. 2011), which held “some factual
allegations will be so sketchy or implausible that they fail
to provide sufficient notice to the defendants of the
plaintiff's claim.” Western Express does not
develop an argument that Huff's claims are implausible,
instead arguing Huff's allegations are “conclusory
and sketchy.” [Filing No. 39, at ECF p. 6.]
Even so, the Court does not find it implausible that a
trailer's owner would retain control over the trailer
while it was parked on another's property.
Express argues that Huff's complaint is conclusory
because ownership is a legal conclusion and Huff asserts
Western Express owns the trailer at issue. The Court
struggles to comprehend how this statement resembles the
conclusory statements in Twombly and Iqbal.
Huff did not allege “the defendant had a duty, breached
that duty, and caused me injury” with nothing more.
Ownership is not an element of negligence, so whether it is a
legal conclusion is immaterial because it is not the legal
standard that Huff must satisfy for her claim to succeed.
Express suggests that Huff should have alleged more
identifying information. For example, Huff could have alleged
that she saw a Western Express logo on the truck. Yet Huff
provided plenty of information to put Western Express on
notice. She alleged she was helping a specific Western
Express employee, on a specific date, in a specific town, at
a specific store. [Filing No. 28, at ECF pp. 2-3,
¶¶ 12-14, 19, and 20.] Huff's complaint
could have benefited from a few more details tying the
trailer to Western Express. But perhaps Huff was too
distracted by getting hit in the face with a trailer door to
look for a logo. Simply put, Huff has met her pleading burden
to advance to discovery, where she can gain additional
information about the trailer at issue. If Western Express
has evidence that it does not own the trailer at issue, the
proper dispositive motion to file, if any, would be a motion
for summary judgment under Rule 56.
Express next argues that Huff's amended complaint fails
because Huff alleges that both Western Express and Wal-Mart
had exclusive control over the trailer. Pleading in the
alternative is a common practice, and plaintiffs may allege
that multiple defendants had exclusive control. Such pleading
is expected when, as here, the plaintiff purports to rely on
a res ipsa loquitur theory, which would require the
defendants-not the plaintiff-to show which of them had