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Cavey v. Mach Trucking LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland

September 29, 2016

Debra Cavey, et al.
Mach Trucking LLC, et al.

         Dear Counsel:

         Pending before the Court are Defendants'; Mach Trucking LLC (“Mach Trucking”), Nghia Yan Mac (“Yan Mac”), and Thao Nguyen Mac (“Nguyen Mac”); Motions to Dismiss (ECF Nos. 9, 17).[1] The Motions are ripe for disposition, and no hearing is necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2016). For the reasons outlined below, the Court will grant the Motions.

         This is an automobile tort case arising out of a collision in Anne Arundel County, Maryland between a tractor trailer operated by Yan Mac and an automobile driven by Plaintiff Debra Cavey. On March 16, 2013, Mrs. Cavey was driving behind Yan Mac's tractor trailer when the tractor trailer stopped, causing Mrs. Cavey and other drivers behind her to stop their vehicles. (Compl. ¶ 7, ECF No. 2). Mrs. Cavey alleges Yan Mac missed a turn. (See id. ¶ 8).

         As Mrs. Cavey waited for the tractor trailer to continue forward, it began backing toward her vehicle. (Id. ¶ 7). Mrs. Cavey attempted to elude the tractor trailer, but she could not drive backward because there were other cars behind her. (Id.). Mrs. Cavey sounded her horn, but the tractor trailer did not stop, and she was unable to exit her vehicle before the impact. (Id.). The tractor trailer's rear underride guard, also known as the “ICC bar, ” began crushing the hood and fenders of Mrs. Cavey's vehicle. (Id. ¶ 8). As the ICC bar moved closer to the passenger compartment, it shattered the windshield and activated an air bag. (Id.). Because Mrs. Cavey was sounding her horn when the air bag deployed, the air bag fractured her left wrist. (Id.). The force of the tractor trailer pushed Mrs. Cavey's car backward by approximately 120 feet, and the tractor trailer did not stop until it had backed far enough to execute the turn Yan Mac had missed. (Id.). Mrs. Cavey sustained multiple injuries and underwent surgery for her fractured wrist. (Id.).

         In March 2016, Mrs. Cavey and her husband, Plaintiff Kent Cavey, sued Defendants in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Maryland, raising five claims: (1) negligent infliction of physical pain and suffering (Count I); (2) negligent infliction of fear (Count II); (3) intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count III); (4) lost wages and benefits (Count IV); and (5) punitive damages (Count V). (ECF No. 2). On May 6, 2016, Defendants removed the case to this court under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1441 (2012). (ECF No. 1). Mach Trucking and Yan Mac filed a Motion to Dismiss on May 18, 2016. (ECF No. 9). Nguyen Mac filed a separate Motion to Dismiss on August 24, 2016. (ECF No. 17). Both Motions are fully briefed.

         “The purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is to test the sufficiency of a complaint, ” not to “resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243-44 (4th Cir. 1999) (quoting Republican Party v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992)). A complaint fails to state a claim if it does not contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), or does not “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).

         A claim is facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Though the plaintiff is not required to forecast evidence to prove the elements of the claim, the complaint must allege sufficient facts to establish each element. Goss v. Bank of Am., N.A., 917 F.Supp.2d 445, 449 (D.Md. 2013) (quoting Walters v. McMahen, 684 F.3d 435, 439 (4th Cir. 2012)), aff'd sub nom., Goss v. Bank of Am., NA, 546 F.App'x 165 (4th Cir. 2013).

         In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must examine the complaint as a whole, consider the factual allegations in the complaint as true, and construe the factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Lambeth v. Bd. of Comm'rs of Davidson Cty., 407 F.3d 266, 268 (4th Cir. 2005) (citing Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)). But, the court need not accept unsupported or conclusory factual allegations devoid of any reference to actual events, United Black Firefighters v. Hirst, 604 F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir. 1979), or legal conclusions couched as factual allegations, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         Generally, the Court does not consider extrinsic evidence at the 12(b)(6) stage. Chesapeake Bay Found., Inc. v. Severstal Sparrows Point, LLC, 794 F.Supp.2d 602, 611 (D.Md. 2011). The Court, however, may consider documents attached to the complaint, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c), as well as those attached to the motion to dismiss, so long as they are integral to and explicitly relied on in the complaint and their authenticity is not challenged, Am. Chiropractic Ass'n v. Trigon Healthcare, Inc., 367 F.3d 212, 234 (4th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). Additionally, the Court does not consider allegations asserted for the first time in a brief opposing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. See Zachair, Ltd. v. Driggs, 965 F.Supp. 741, 748 n.4 (D.Md. 1997) (explaining that a plaintiff is “bound by the allegations contained in its complaint and cannot, through the use of motion briefs, amend the complaint”), aff'd, 141 F.3d 1162 (4th Cir. 1998).

         Mach Trucking and Yan Mac's Motion to Dismiss

         Mach Trucking and Yan Mac argue Mr. and Mrs. Cavey (the “Caveys”) fail to state a claim for punitive damages. The Court agrees.

         Originally, to recover punitive damages under Maryland law, [2] a plaintiff only had to prove “that the defendant was guilty of ‘gross negligence, ' which was defined as a ‘wanton or reckless disregard for human life.'” Owens-Illinois, Inc. v. Zenobia, 601 A.2d 633, 650 (Md. 1992) (quoting Smith v. Gray Concrete Pipe Co., 297 A.2d 721, 731 (Md. 1972), overruled by Zenobia, 601 A.2d 633)). In Zenobia, however, the Maryland Court of Appeals overruled Smith and heightened the standard for recovering punitive damages. Under Zenobia, a plaintiff must demonstrate the tortfeasor acted with actual malice, meaning the “defendant's conduct was characterized by evil motive, intent to injure, ill will, or fraud.” Id. at 652. A defendant acts with actual malice when he engages in “knowing and deliberate wrongdoing.” Ellerin v. Fairfax Sav., F.S.B., 652 A.2d 1117, 1123 (Md. 1995). After Zenobia, punitive damages are reserved for “punishing the most heinous of intentional torts and tortfeasors.” Beall v. Holloway-Johnson, 130 A.3d 406, 419 (Md. 2016). A plaintiff must prove the basis for punitive damages by clear and convincing evidence. Zenobia, 601 A.2d at 657.

         There is insufficient evidence to establish actual malice when a plaintiff relies on only the egregious circumstances surrounding a tort. See Beall v. Holloway-Johnson, 130 A.3d 406, 422 (Md. 2016). In Beall, a police officer struck and killed a motorcyclist after pursuing the motorcyclist for suspicion of a crime. 130 A.3d at 411-12. The Maryland Court of Appeals concluded that evidence of egregious circumstances-that the officer saw the motorcyclist's brake lights but did not apply his brakes before rear-ending the motorcyclist and killing him- did not support an inference of actual malice because there was no evidence the officer specifically intended to injure or harm the motorcyclist. Beall, 130 A.3d at 422.

         The Caveys allege Defendants' actual malice toward them was “evidenced by the wanton and grossly negligent” conduct Yan Mach exhibited when he crashed into Mrs. Cavey's vehicle. (Compl. ¶ 13). While the Court need not accept the Caveys' legal conclusions that Yan Mac was wantonly and grossly negligent, these allegations, on their face, suggest that the Caveys overlook that wantonly or grossly negligent conduct is no longer sufficient to prove an entitlement to punitive damages. See Zenobia, 601 A.2d at 654 ...

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