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Leach v. Conoco Phillips Co.

August 6, 2008


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


A. Procedural and Factual Background

In February 2006, while employed by Washington Group and working at the Conoco Phillips refinery in Wood River, Illinois, Dale Leach sustained injuries from the collapse of a ladder. The ladder, manufactured by Bauer Corporation, allegedly splintered and buckled beneath Dale, who fell from it to the ground.

In January 2008, Dale and his wife Kaye Leach ("Plaintiffs") filed suit in the Circuit Court of Madison County, Illinois naming Conoco Phillips as the sole defendant and naming Bauer as a respondent in discovery, a special category of non-party authorized by Illinois statute.*fn1

Plaintiffs' state court complaint alleged that Conoco Phillips negligently failed to maintain the ladder in a safe condition, failed to inspect the ladder, and allowed Dale to use the ladder in an unsafe condition. The complaint contained a loss of consortium claim by Kaye against Conoco Phillips. The complaint also asked that Bauer -- named as a "respondent in discovery" -- participate in discovery in the case, since Bauer might have information regarding additional defendants to be named in the suit. See Doc. 2-3, p. 5.

Conoco Phillips removed the action to this Court on February 29, 2008 and filed an amended removal notice two weeks later. On threshold review, the undersigned Judge determined that this Court enjoys subject matter jurisdiction under the federal diversity statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

Two months after the case was removed to this District Court, Plaintiffs amended their complaint, for the first time naming Bauer as a defendant. Count 1 of the amended complaint is a negligence claim against Conoco Phillips. Count 2 is a loss of consortium claim against Conoco Phillips. Count 3 purports to state a products liability claim against Bauer, alleging that Bauer breached its duty to Dale by manufacturing and selling a ladder that was unreasonably dangerous and defective. Count 4 is a loss of consortium claim by Kaye Leach against Bauer.

Conoco Phillips answered the amended complaint on May 19, 2008. Bauer moved for judgment on the pleadings or, alternatively, for dismissal from the lawsuit. That motion was fully briefed as of July 15, 2008, and the Court now rules thereon as follows.

B. Applicable Legal Standards

Bauer seeks dismissal of Counts 3 and 4 of the amended complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)(failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted) or, alternatively, judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c).

Dismissal is warranted under Rule 12(b)(6) if the complaint fails to set forth "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, -- U.S.--, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007); EEOC v. Concentra Health Services, Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007). In making this assessment, the District Court accepts as true all well-pled factual allegations and draws all reasonable inferences in plaintiff's favor. St. John's United Church of Christ v. City of Chicago, -- F.3d --, 2007 WL 2669403, *7 (7th Cir. 2007), cert. denied, 128 S.Ct. 2431 (2008); Pisciotta v. Old National Bancorp, 499 F.3d 629 (7th Cir. 2007).

The complaint must give the defendant fair notice of what the suit is about and the ground on which it rests. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002); Mosely v. Board of Education of City of Chicago, 434 F.3d 527, 533 (7th Cir. 2006).

Similarly, in evaluating a complaint under Rule 12(c),*fn2 the Court takes the facts alleged therein as true and, drawing reasonable inferences in plaintiff's favor, asks whether the complaint (1) gives the defendant fair notice of the grounds upon which the claim rests and (2) raises the plaintiff's right to relief above the speculative level. Pisciotta v. Old Nat. Bancorp, 499 F.3d 629, 633 (7th Cir. 2007), quoted in Grammar v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., -- F.3d --, 2008 WL 2821910, *1 (7th Cir. July 18, 2008). ARule 12(c) motion should be granted "[o]nly when it appears beyond a doubt that the plaintiff cannot prove any facts to support a claim for relief and there are no material issues of fact to be resolved." Moss v Martin, 473 F.3d 694, 698 (7th Cir. 2007).

The motion under consideration here proceeds from the premise that Plaintiffs filed their claims against Bauer after the statute of limitations ran. As a general rule, because the statute of limitations is a defense, a plaintiff need not anticipate and refute it in his complaint.United States Gypsum Co. v. Indiana Gas Co., 350 F.3d 623, 626-28 (7th Cir. 2003). Accord Mosely, 434 F.3d at 533 (in discussing dismissal for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, Seventh ...

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