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Hargis v. American Optical Corp.

March 27, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gilbert, District Judge


This matter comes before the Court on motions to dismiss (Docs. 4, 11) filed by defendant 3M Company (3M) and defendant American Optical Corporation (American Optical). The plaintiff, Dwight Hargis (Hargis), has responded to defendants' motions (Docs. 24, 25). For the following reasons, these motions will be DENIED.*fn1

I. Introduction

Hargis filed this action in the Circuit Court for the Twentieth Judicial Circuit, Randolph County, Illinois on September 22, 2006, asserting claims for negligence and strict liability against all defendants. 3M removed this action with the consent of the defendants that had then been served, American Optical and Mine Safety Appliances Co., on November 6, 2006. (Doc. 3). The day it removed the case, 3M moved to dismiss the complaint. Eight days later, American Optical filed its motion to dismiss.

Hargis worked as a coal miner at the Ziegler/Old Ben Coal Mine in Coulterville, Illinois from 1975 to September 24, 2004. His employer provided him with "respiratory protection products" that "were designed, manufactured, marketed, promoted, distributed and/or sold by," as relevant to these motions, 3M and American Optical. (Compl. Ct. 1, ¶¶3, 4). Despite his use of these products, Hargis "was exposed to, and inhaled, ingested or otherwise absorbed coal, rock, sand or other particulate dust." (Compl. Ct. 1, ¶9). His exposure to these materials caused him "to develop a coal mining respiratory disease." (Id.).

II. Standard

When reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, this Court must accept all allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Moranski v. General Motors Corp., 433 F.3d 537, 539 (7th Cir. 2005); Holman v. Indiana, 211 F.3d 399, 402 (7th Cir. 2000). It 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. McDonald v. Household Intern., Inc., 425 F.3d 424, 428 (7th Cir. 2005). A motion to dismiss should not be granted 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). A plaintiff can, however, plead himself out of court by including allegations of fact in the complaint which demonstrate he is not entitled to relief. Bartholet v. Reishauer A.G. (Zurich), 953 F.2d 1073, 1078 (7th Cir. 1992).

III. Analysis

A. 3M's Motion

i. Statute of Limitations

3M first argues that Hargis's claims are barred by the applicable statute of limitations, 735 ILCS 5/13-202, which requires those asserting tort claims for personal injury to file suit "within 2 years after the cause of action accrued." 735 ILCS 5/13-202. Generally, a cause of action for personal injury accrues when the plaintiff suffers the injury. Hollander v. Brown, 457 F.3d 688, 692 (7th Cir. 2006). In an effort to avoid the harsh consequences of a strict application of this rule, courts apply the discovery rule when an injury has an "insidious onset." Id. at 692-93. Under the discovery rule, the limitations period starts to run when the plaintiff "knows or reasonably should know of his injury and also knows or reasonably should know that it was wrongfully caused." See, e.g., Parks v. Kownacki, 737 N.E.2d 287, 294 (Ill. 2000).

3M maintains that Hargis's failure to allege his specific condition, the date of diagnosis, or when he learned of the causal link between its actions and his injury means "there are [sic] no set of facts which would bring his suit within the relevant statute of limitations and his case must be dismissed." (3M's Mem. Supp. Mtn. Dis. at 3). To the contrary, however, any number of factual scenarios could justify relief consistent with the complaint. Suppose Hargis's doctor diagnosed pneumoconiosis on September 1, 2006. If Hargis could show that his particular strand of the disease had an insidious onset, then his filing of the complaint three weeks later would have been timely. Thus, it is clear 3M really complains of Hargis's failure to plead sufficient facts for it to determine whether his claims are time-barred. The Seventh Circuit has repeatedly held that a plaintiff does not have this obligation. See, e.g., Hollander, 457 F.3d at 691 n.1; Doe v. GTE Corp., 347 F.3d 655, 657 (7th Cir. 2003). Basing a 12(b)(6) dismissal on an affirmative defense is only appropriate when the validity of the defense is apparent from the complaint itself "and unmistakable, so that the suit is fairly describable as frivolous." Walker v. Thompson, 288 F.3d 1005, 1010 (7th Cir. 2002). In the instant case, Hargis has not pleaded facts showing unmistakably that he cannot recover. Accordingly, this argument fails.

ii. Failure to State a Claim, Count I

3M claims Hargis has failed to state a cause of action for negligence in Count I because he failed to plead the relevant standard of care, the nature of his injury, when his injury occurred or when he became aware of the causal connection between his injury and its conduct. To state a cause of action for negligence under Illinois law, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant owed him a duty, that the defendant breached that duty, and that he incurred injuries proximately caused by the breach. Chandler v. Illinois Cent. R.R. Co., 798 N.E.2d 724, 728 (Ill. 2003). In his complaint, Hargis alleges that 3M had a "duty to exercise reasonable care and ...

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