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Richardet v. Murdale True Value

October 22, 2008


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


A. Introduction

This lawsuit arises from a January 2007 vehicular collision that occurred on the Illinois "side" of a bridge spanning the Ohio River between Illinois and Kentucky. Kenneth Richardet and Virginia Sturm were driving separate cars, both traveling north on U.S. Interstate 24. Kevin Harrison, driving a truck owned by Murdale True Value, also was headed east on Route 24. He approached a line of stopped vehicles, collided with Virginia's car, and Virginia's car then struck Kenneth's car.

Virginia, Kenneth and their spouses (collectively, "Plaintiffs") filed a personal injury suit in this Court in May 2007, invoking subject matter jurisdiction under the federal diversity statute, 28 U.S.C. 1332.

On threshold review, the Court solicited additional information regarding citizenship, which confirmed that the parties were completely diverse and the amount in controversy supported the exercise of jurisdiction.

The case is set for trial March 9, 2009, with a final pretrial conference February 27, 2009. The dispositive motion deadline has elapsed. One dispositive motion has been filed and fully briefed: Defendant Murdale's July 18, 2008 "Motion to Dismiss Count IX of Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint for Failure to State a Claim upon which Relief Can Be Granted" (Doc. 33). For the reasons stated below, the Court denies that motion.

B. Analysis

Analysis begins with Plaintiffs' July 1, 2008 amended complaint (Doc. 28, "the complaint"). Both Defendants answered the complaint, admitting that venue and subject matter jurisdiction are proper in this Court (see Docs. 31, 32). Defendant Murdale, though, moved to dismiss the ninth and final count of the complaint.

Counts I through VIII allege various negligent acts by Harrison in driving the truck (e.g., failing to keep a proper lookout, failing to swerve, slow down or otherwise avoid the accident, etc.) and by Murdale (e.g., failing to maintain the brakes on the truck, permitting its employee -- Harrison -- to operate the truck without rear brakes, etc.). Count IX alleges a spoliation of evidence claim against Murdale. More specifically, Count IX alleges the following.

After the accident, Murdale had its truck towed to Dave's Auto Body for inspection. Murdale then directed Dave's Auto Body to destroy the truck without retaining any diagrams or drawings of the truck and without preparing any memoranda or reports containing the results of the inspection (see Doc. 28, p. 22). Murdale produced the manager of Dave's Auto Body -- Robert Finster -- for deposition. Finster (who had not been disclosed in discovery previously) testified that his inspection lead him to believe that the truck brakes failed due to a stress fracture in a backing plate, a fracture which developed over a short period of time. At the time of the inspection, Murdale knew that the collision in question had resulted in personal injuries and knew that the truck's defective brakes would be at issue in a potential lawsuit resulting from the collision. Murdale had an obligation to preserve the truck or at least the components of the braking system. Murdale breached that obligation, ordering the destruction of the truck and leaving Plaintiffs no ability to effectively rebut Murdale's contentions as to the cause of the brake failure. This breach warrants the Court prohibiting Murdale from arguing that the failure of the braking system was spontaneous, sudden or unpredictable.

Murdale moves to dismiss Count IX of the complaint, because "plaintiffs have not alleged Murdale acted in bad faith in having the truck destroyed," and "the undisputed testimony in this case establishes Murdale did not act in bad faith," so "plaintiffs have failed to state a claim for spoliation" (Doc. 33, p. 1).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) governs dismissal for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. 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).*fn1

In deciding whether a complaint passes muster under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must accept as true all well-pled factual allegations and draw in plaintiff's favor all reasonable inferences. St. John's United Church of Christ v. City of Chicago, 402 F.3d 616, 625 (7th Cir. 2007), cert. denied, 128 S.Ct. 2431 (2008); Pisciotta v. Old National Bancorp, 499 F.3d 629 (7th Cir. 2007). See also Village of DePue, Illinois v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 537 F.3d 775, 782 (7th Cir. 2008).

However, surviving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion "requires more than labels and conclusions;" the allegations must raise a right to relief above the purely "speculative level." Bell Atlantic, 127 S. Ct at 1965. And a plaintiff can plead himself out of court by alleging, in his complaint, facts revealing that he ...

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