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Tolen v. Honeywell International

November 15, 2006

JENNIFER TOLEN, PERSONALLY, AND AS NATURAL PARENT OF TWO DECEASED UNBORN CHILDREN, AS CUSTODIAL NATURAL PARENT AND NEXT FRIEND OF LUKUS GRIFFIN, AS CUSTODIAL NATURAL PARENT AND NEXT FRIEND OF DELILLIAN SHELBY JEAN GRIFFIN, AND AS CUSTODIAL NATURAL PARENT AND NEXT FRIEND OF JAMES JERALD GRIFFIN V, AND JAMES JERALD GRIFFIN IV, PERSONALLY, AND AS PARENT OF TWO DECEASED UNBORN CHILDREN, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
HONEYWELL INTERNATIONAL, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Phil Gilbert District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter comes before the Court on defendant Honeywell International Inc.'s ("Honeywell") motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, motion for a more definite statement (Doc. 10). Honeywell seeks to dismiss the claims of plaintiffs Jennifer Tolen ("Tolen") and James Jerald Griffin IV ("Griffin") for strict liability (Counts V & XXV), negligence per se (Count I & XXI) and battery (Counts II & XXII). Tolen and Griffin have responded to the motion (Doc. 12), and Honeywell has replied to that response (Doc. 13).

I. Standard for Dismissal

When reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court accepts all allegations as true and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Brown v. Budz, 398 F.3d 904, 908 (7th Cir. 2005); Holman v. Indiana, 211 F.3d 399, 402 (7th Cir. 2000). The Court should not grant a motion to dismiss unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff cannot prove his claim under any set of facts consistent with the complaint. Brown, 398 F.3d at 908-09; Holman, 211 F.3d at 405. "[I]f it is possible to hypothesize a set of facts, consistent with the complaint, that would entitle the plaintiff to relief, dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is inappropriate." Brown, 398 F.3d at 909 (internal quotations omitted); see Kolupa v. Roselle Park Dist., 438 F.3d 713, 715 (7th Cir. 2006).

Generally, courts will not grant a motion to dismiss merely because the complaint is vague or lacking in detail so long as it pleads "the bare minimum facts necessary to put the defendant on notice of the claim so that he can file an answer." Higgs v. Carver, 286 F.3d 437, 439 (7th Cir. 2002); see Kolupa, 438 F.3d at 714-15; Brown, 398 F.3d at 908. A complaint does not fail to state a claim merely because it does not set forth a complete and convincing picture of the alleged wrongdoing. Bennett v. Schmidt, 153 F.3d 516, 518 (7th Cir. 1998); American Nurses' Ass'n v. Illinois, 783 F.2d 716, 727 (7th Cir. 1986). Nor must it allege all, or any, of the facts logically entailed by the claim. Kolupa, 438 F.3d at 714-15; Higgs, 286 F.3d at 439; Bennett, 153 F.3d at 518; American Nurses', 783 F.2d at 727. Nonetheless, the complaint must provide a short and plain statement of the claim sufficient to fairly put the defendant on notice of the claim and its basis. Leatherman v. Tarrant Co. Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 168 (1993); Brown, 398 F.3d at 908; see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a).

II. Facts

The allegations in the Complaint, and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, establish the following facts.

At the time of the events giving rise to this case, Honeywell operated a nuclear fuel processing plant in Metropolis, Illinois. At the plant, Honeywell converted natural uranium ore to uranium hexaflouride ("UF6") for use in nuclear power plants. It was the only plant of its kind in the nation, and it was subject to extensive regulation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. It was located near a residential area in which Tolen and Griffin lived.

On December 22, 2003, Honeywell began reconfiguring part of its plant to permit a change in operations. During the reconfiguration, UF6 gas became overpressurized, resulting in a release of a UF6 gas mixture from the piping system into the plant building, through the building's windows and vents to the outside. The release occurred while the plant's effluent control system was also shut down for the reconfiguration. When Honeywell learned of the release, it then connected the leaking system to the ash dust collector, which vented the UF6 gas mixture 85 feet above ground level.

Wind carried the UF6 gas mixture to the home of Tolen, who was pregnant with twins at the time, and Griffin, the father of the unborn twins, where both were exposed to the gas mixture. One week later, Tolen miscarried both twins.

Several weeks later at a public meeting, Tolen and Griffin learned that Honeywell had previously released UF6 gas from the plant numerous times in 2002 and 2003. This information led them to conclude that the releases were responsible for the 2002 premature birth and the subsequent disabilities of Tolen and Griffin's son Lukus Griffin ("Lukus").

On December 21, 2005, Tolen, Griffin, Lukus and the unborn twins filed this lawsuit. The claims of Lukus and the unborn twins have been voluntarily dismissed, leaving only the claims of Tolen and Griffin. They allege claims for negligence (Counts I & XXI), battery (Counts II & XXII), wrongful death of the miscarried twins (Counts III & XXIII), nuisance (Counts IV & XXIV) and strict liability for an inherently dangerous activity (Counts V & XXV). In the pending motion to dismiss, Honeywell asks the Court to dismiss the claims for strict liability, negligence per se and battery

III. Analysis

The Court addresses each of Honeywell's requests for ...


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