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Dolter v. Keene's Transfer

August 5, 2008

MICHAEL DOLTER, PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF CATHIE ANN DOLTER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KEENE'S TRANSFER, INC., MARION BEATY, SCHNEIDER NATIONAL CARRIERS, INC., SCHNEIDER NATIONAL BULK CARRIERS, INC., SCHNEIDER NATIONAL LEASING, INC., AFJ, LLC, FLYING J, INC., D/B/A "FLYING J TRAVEL PLAZA", DEAN OLDENKAMP, BEKINS VAN LINES, LLC AND UNKNOWN ENTITIES, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Now before the Court are the motions to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) filed by defendants Schneider National Leasing, Inc. (Doc. 9), Schneider National Bulk Carriers, Inc. (Doc. 10) and Schneider National Carriers, Inc. (Doc. 11) (collectively, the "Schneider defendants"). The plaintiff has responded to the motions (Docs. 40, 41 & 42), and the Schneider defendants have filed a joint reply to those responses (Doc. 47).

I. Dismissal Standard

When reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court accepts as true all allegations in the complaint. Erickson v. Pardus, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007)). To avoid dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, a complaint 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). In Bell Atlantic, the Supreme Court held that this requirement is satisfied if the complaint (1) describes the claim in sufficient detail to give the defendant "'fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests,'" Bell Atl., 127 S.Ct. at 1964 (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)), and (2) contains factual allegations that plausibly suggest the plaintiff has a right to relief "above the speculative level," Bell Atl., 127 S.Ct. at 1965.

In Bell Atlantic, the Supreme Court rejected Conley v. Gibson's more expansive interpretation of Rule 8(a)(2) that "a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief," Conley, 355 U.S. at 45-46. Bell Atlantic, 127 S.Ct. at 1968; EEOC v. Concentra Health Servs., 496 F.3d 773, 777 (7th Cir. 2007). Now "it is not enough for a complaint to avoid foreclosing possible bases for relief; it must actually suggest that the plaintiff has a right to relief . . . by providing allegations that 'raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'" Concentra Health Servs., 496 F.3d at 777 (quoting Bell Atl., 127 S.Ct. at 1965).

Nevertheless, Bell Atlantic did not do away with the liberal federal notice pleading standard. Airborne Beepers & Video, Inc. v. AT&T Mobility LLC, 499 F.3d 663, 667 (7th Cir. 2007) (citing Erickson v. Pardus, 127 S.Ct. 2197 (2007)). A complaint still need not contain detailed factual allegations, Bell Atl., 127 S.Ct. at 1964, and it remains true that "[a]ny district judge (for that matter, any defendant) tempted to write 'this complaint is deficient because it does not contain . . .' should stop and think: What rule of law requires a complaint to contain that allegation?" Doe v. Smith, 429 F.3d 706, 708 (7th Cir. 2005) (emphasis in original). Nevertheless, a complaint must contain "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atlantic, 127 S.Ct. at 1965. If the factual detail of a complaint is "so sketchy that the complaint does not provide the type of notice of the claim to which the defendant is entitled under Rule 8," it is subject to dismissal. Airborne Beepers, 499 F.3d at 667.

II. Alleged Facts

The allegations in the complaint establish the following relevant facts for the purposes of this motion.

Around 6 p.m. on January 21, 2008, Cathie Ann Dolter and plaintiff Michael Dolter, her husband, visited the Flying J Plaza truck stop in Granite City, Illinois. While Cathie Ann Dolter was walking across the parking lot she was struck from behind by a tractor-trailer driven by defendant Marion Beaty ("Beaty"). She died several hours later.

The truck tractor Beaty was driving was licensed to defendant Keene Transfer, Inc. ("Keene") and was towing a trailer owned by one of the Schneider defendants but leased to Keene. At the time, each of the Schneider defendants was engaged in the business of interstate trucking and shipment. Beaty was a Keene employee and was acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the accident.

Dolter filed this lawsuit against a variety of entities, including Beaty, Keene and the Schneider defendants. He alleges the Schneider defendants are liable for Beaty's negligence because each of them was a "statutory employer" of Beaty and had a duty to control leased equipment operated for its benefit. The plaintiff also alleges Beaty was acting as an agent for the Schneider defendants. The Schneider defendants ask the Court to dismiss the claims against them on the grounds that they are barred by 49 U.S.C. § 30106(a) and that the complaint fails to state a claim based on statutory employment.

III. Analysis

All parties agree that 49 U.S.C. § 30106(a)*fn1 bars liability based solely on the fact that the Schneider defendants owned the trailer hauled by the rig involved in the accident. However, Dolter argues that the Schneider defendants ...


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