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Murison v. Bevan

June 25, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Susan E. Cox


This is a diversity civil action for personal injuries of the plaintiff David Murison, and for loss of consortium by his wife Linda Murison (collectively referred to as the "plaintiffs"), resulting from a collision when their vehicle was allegedly struck by a semi-tractor trailer. The trailer was operated by the defendant Jerry Bevan ("Bevan"), who was employed by the defendant Hirschbach Motor Lines, Inc. ("Hirschbach"). The complaint alleges negligence on the part of both defendants in Count I and willful and wanton entrustment by Hirschbach in Count II. Presently before this Court is Hirschbach's motion to dismiss Count II pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the following reasons, Hirschbach's motion is denied.

I. Background*fn1

On March 27, 2006 the plaintiffs were driving down Illinois Route 64 in Carol Stream, Illinois. At approximately 1:34 p.m., Bevan rear-ended the plaintiffs' vehicle in a semi-tractor trailer, at or near the intersection of Route 64 and Kuhn Road. As a result of the collision, plaintiff

David Murison sustained injuries to his back, neck, shoulders, and knees. At the time Bevan was employed by Hirschbach as a truck driver and was acting within the course and scope of his employment with Hirschbach.

In their complaint, the plaintiffs allege that Bevan has been previously involved in various traffic incidents, including collisions, and incurred tickets for the traffic violations. The plaintiffs claim that Hirschbach was aware of these violations and collisions and, therefore, knew or should have known that Bevan was incompetent, inexperienced, and/or reckless truck driver. Despite this knowledge, the plaintiffs contend that Hirschbach entrusted its truck to Bevan on and before March 27, 2006.

On December 21, 2006 the plaintiffs filed a one-count complaint on a theory of negligence against both defendants. In their answer the defendants admitted that Bevan acted within the scope of his employment with Hirschbach but denied all allegations of negligence. The plaintiffs then filed a First Amended Complaint which added a negligent entrustment count against Hirschbach in its capacity as Bevan's employer. This count was subsequently dismissed, and the plaintiffs re-pleaded the same allegations as a willful and wanton entrustment count in a Second Amended Complaint. The defendants answered again admitting employment relationship but denying allegations of Bevan's negligence at the time of the collision. In addition, Hirschbach filed a present motion to dismiss Count II for willful and wanton entrustment.

II. Standard for Motion to Dismiss

The purpose of a motion to dismiss is to test the sufficiency of the compliant, not to decide the merits of the case.*fn2 In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the court takes all well-pleaded allegations of the complaint as true, drawing all inferences in favor of the plaintiff.*fn3 It is undisputed that federal procedural law will govern procedural aspects of this motion while Illinois substantive law will apply to the substantive issues of the willful and wanton entrustment cause of action.*fn4

III. Analysis

The issue here is whether the plaintiffs' willful and wanton entrustment allegations in Count II of the complaint fall short of the requirements outlined in the recent Supreme Court's decision in Bell Atlantic v. Twombly.*fn5 The plaintiffs maintain that under Bahrenburg v. AT & T Broadband LLC Count II is sufficient to overcome Hirschbach's motion.*fn6 However, in holding that the "bald allegation" that the defendant's willful and wanton conduct caused the plaintiff's injury is sufficient to survive the motion to dismiss, the court relied on a former pleading standard that is now abrogated by Bell Atlantic.*fn7 Therefore, since the Bahrenburg court relied on the pre-Bell Atlantic precedents, this Court agrees with Hirschbach that Bahrenburg is not controlling.*fn8

The Court now turns to the analysis of the present federal pleading standard. Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that a complaint contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief."*fn9 The Bell Atlantic decision reinterpreted this Rule, stating that this short and plain statement must be enough "to give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests."*fn10 The Court explained that "the plaintiff's obligation to provide the "grounds" of his "entitlement to relief" requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of the cause of action will not do."*fn11 Instead, the Court required that the allegations "raise a right to relief above the speculative level."*fn12 Although it does not mean "heightened fact pleading of specifics," it does mean that the complaint must contain "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face."*fn13

The defendants' counsel contended at the oral argument that while under the notice pleading standard this complaint would have been sufficient, Bell Atlantic imposed a higher pleading standard upon plaintiffs. This position, however, is at odds with the case law in this circuit. In its most recent decision on the sufficiency of the pleading at the motion to dismiss stage of litigation, the Seventh Circuit held that "[a]lthough the opinion contains some language that could be read to suggest otherwise, the Court in Bell Atlantic made clear that it did not, in fact, supplant the basic notice-pleading standard."*fn14 The court concluded that "notice-pleading is still all that is required" because a plaintiff still must provide only enough detail to give the defendant fair notice of the claim and its grounds, and show that the relief is plausible.*fn15

Thus, the Seventh Circuit has consistently stated that Bell Atlantic established only two necessary elements or "easy-to-clear hurdles" for a complaint in federal court: (1) the complaint must state the claim in sufficient detail to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests; and (2) the allegations must show that it is plausible, rather than merely speculative, that the plaintiff is entitled to relief.*fn16 The Court now turns to the analysis ...

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