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Schwaninger v. Hyundai Motor Co.

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

June 29, 2017

JANET SCHWANINGER, Plaintiff,
v.
HYUNDAI MOTOR COMPANY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          J. PHIL GILBERT, DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on the motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) filed by defendant Hyundai Mobis Co., Ltd. (“Hyundai Mobis”) (Doc. 161). Hyundai Mobis argues that plaintiff Janet Schwaninger has sued it beyond the statute of limitations and that she has failed to state a claim against it. Schwaninger has responded to the motion (Doc. 165), and Hyundai Mobis has replied to that response (Doc. 168).

         I. Background

         Schwaninger brings this suit in her capacity as administrator of the estate of Elizabeth Schaaf, her deceased granddaughter. Schaaf died as the result of injuries she suffered in a rollover traffic accident on August 6, 2013, on Interstate 70 in Colorado. At the time of the accident, Schaaf was a passenger in the front seat of a 2007 Hyundai Accent.

         Schwaninger alleges that Hyundai Mobis, a South Korean corporation, and/or related Hyundai subsidiaries “designed, tested, engineered, approved, manufactured, assembled, supplied, marketed, distributed, and sold front passenger side airbag systems and their components for incorporation into Hyundai Accent vehicles.” First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 42, 43. She believes the airbags were defective and caused Schaaf's injuries and subsequent death. First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 141-170. Schwaninger sues Hyundai Mobis for strict products liability (Count VII) and negligence (Count VIII).

         Hyundai Mobis believes Schwaninger filed this suit too late because she did not name Hyundai Mobis as a defendant until the First Amended Complaint, which she filed on August 10, 2015, after the expiration of the two-year statute of limitations period. Schwaninger contends her late complaint relates back to the original Complaint, filed August 4, 2015, so is timely.

         Hyundai Mobis also argues that Schwaninger has failed to plead sufficient facts to state a claim against it. Schwaninger believes her factual pleading is sufficient.

         II. Standard For Dismissal

         When reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court accepts as true all allegations in the complaint. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (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). 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 and (2) plausibly suggests that the plaintiff has a right to relief above a speculative level. Bell Atl., 550 U.S. at 555; see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); EEOC v. Concentra Health Servs., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Bell Atl., 550 U.S. at 556). Hyundai Mobis challenges the sufficiency of Schwaninger's factual pleading under this standard.

         This fairly lenient pleading standard, however, will not prevent dismissal of a complaint that pleads too much. A case can be dismissed because a complaint pleads facts establishing that the defendant is entitled to prevail. Bennett v. Schmidt, 153 F.3d 516, 519 (7th Cir. 1998); Soo Line R.R. v. St. Louis S.W. Ry. Co., 125 F.3d 481, 483 (7th Cir. 1997); see Hecker v. Deere & Co., 556 F.3d 575, 588 (7th Cir. 2009) (dismissal appropriate when party pleads facts establishing defense to his claim). This is what Hyundai Mobis claims Schwaninger has done with respect to the statute of limitations.

         The Court notes, as a preliminary matter, that both parties have attached to their filings matters outside the pleadings. When such material is presented in connection with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court may treat the motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment or it may exclude the additional material from consideration. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d). In this case, the Court declines to consider the additional materials and will consider this motion as it was captioned, under Rule 12(b)(6), without consideration of the additional materials.

         III. Analysis

         A. Statute of Limitations

         Hyundai Mobis argues that Schwaninger has pled facts showing that her claim against it was brought beyond the statute of limitations and that it does not relate back to the timely filing of the original complaint. Schwaninger concedes that her original, timely filed complaint does not name Hyundai Mobis as a defendant, but argues that her First Amended Complaint, which names Hyundai Mobis, relates back to her original pleading.

         Both parties agree that Illinois law provides the appropriate limitations period, two years from the time of Schaaf's injury and death on August 6, 2013. See 740 ILCS 180/2 (wrongful death); 735 ILCS 5/13-202 (personal injury); 735 ILCS 5/13-209(a) (survival action). They also agree that Schwaninger's Complaint, which was filed on August 4, 2015, was timely. The Complaint named as defendants, among others, Hyundai Motor Company, Hyundai Motor America, Hyundai America Technical Center, Inc., Hyundai Corporation (USA), and Hyundai Eng America, Inc. as the “Hyundai Defendants.” The Complaint alleges the Hyundai Defendants were liable because they “designed, tested, engineered, approved, manufactured, assembled, supplied, marketed, distributed, and sold the Hyundai Accent and its components, ” Compl. ¶ 10, including the car in which Schaaf was riding at the time of the accident. One of the aspects of the Accent that was alleged to be defective was the passenger side airbag system. Compl. ¶ 35(g). The Complaint also specifically named as defendants Key Safety Systems, Inc. and Key Automotive of Florida, Inc. (the “Key Defendants”) as the “Airbag Defendants, ” and sought to hold them liable because they “designed, tested, engineered, approved, manufactured, assembled, supplied, marketed, distributed, and sold front passenger side airbag systems and ...


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