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Goodall v. Chrysler Inc.

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Springfield Division

September 14, 2017

SHELLEY GOODALL, Plaintiff,
v.
CHRYSLER, INC., Defendant.

          OPINION

          SUE E. MYERSCOUGH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) or, Alternatively, to Transfer Venue Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1412 (d/e 12). For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion is DENIED IN PART and GRANTED IN PART. Defendant's Motion to Dismiss is DENIED. Defendant's Motion to Transfer Venue is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On August 11, 2016, Plaintiff Shelley Goodall filed the Complaint in this case (d/e 1) against Defendant FCA U.S. LLC[1] for personal injury. On October 11, 2016, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) or, Alternatively, to Transfer Venue Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1412 (d/e [12]) (hereinafter Motion to Dismiss or Transfer). Defendant moves to dismiss the Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that Plaintiffs claim is barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Defendant alternatively seeks to transfer this matter to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, for referral to the Bankruptcy Court in that District. On October 27, 2016, Plaintiff filed a document that the Court considers to be Plaintiffs Response to the Motion to Dismiss or Transfer. (d/e [13]). On November 14, 2016 (d/e [16]), and December 27, 2016 (d/e [17]), Plaintiff made filings with supplemental exhibits. The Court presumes that these filings amend Plaintiffs Response to the Motion to Dismiss or Transfer, as both seem to reference the Motion to Dismiss or Transfer. (d/e [16] (stating it is “responding to the defendants [sic] response and their plea for a dismissal . . . .”)) (d/e [17] (filing supplemental information on talc powder, which Defendant stated was in the airbag in its Motion to Dismiss or Transfer)). On March 23, 2017, Defendant filed, with leave of this Court, its Reply to Plaintiffs Response (d/e [22]). On April 4, 2017, Plaintiff filed what the Court considers to be a surreply to Defendant's Reply (d/e [24]). Although Plaintiff did not seek leave of the Court to file her surreply as required, the Court ALLOWS Plaintiffs surreply.

         The following information is taken from the allegations in and the exhibits attached to the Complaint, which the Court must accept as true when ruling on a motion to dismiss. Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1081 (7th Cir. 2008).

         On January 1, 2009, Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle accident in which the side of her vehicle was struck by another vehicle. A letter from Chrysler to Plaintiff[2] attached to the Complaint indicates that Plaintiffs vehicle involved in the accident was a 1996 Chrysler Sebring. Plaintiffs airbag tore open and sprayed her with chemicals, which caused burns on her face, neck, chest, and scalp, damage to her airways, glaucoma in both eyes, spots on the left side of her brain which caused a “mini stroke, ” blood pressure problems, rashing, and scarring.

         Plaintiff requested Defendant to provide her with “the MSDS sheet, ” which is seemingly a reference to a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for the airbag at issue. Plaintiff received an MSDS for the Mopar Airbag Inflator Module Assy-Driver Air Bag (Mar. 29, 2005) in 2016. See Third Attachment to the Complaint (d/e [1]) at 10.

         Plaintiff claims that if she had the MSDS at the time of the accident, the doctors treating her injuries may have been able to provide better care.

         Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages for bodily harm, emotional harm, pain and suffering, loss of income, loss of enjoyment of life, and property damage. Plaintiff also seeks punitive damages.

         II. JURISDICTION

         This Court has subject matter jurisdiction based on the diversity of the parties and because the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). Plaintiff is a citizen of Illinois, while Defendant is a citizen of Michigan. See Compl. at 1. In addition, the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000 exclusive of interest and costs because the Plaintiff seeks $1, 000, 000, 000 in compensatory damages. Compl. at 7.

         III. MOTION TO DISMISS

         A. LEGAL STANDARD

         When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court construes the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accepting all well-pleaded allegations as true and construing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiffs favor. Tamayo, 526 F.3d at 1081 (7th Cir. 2008). However, the complaint must set forth facts that plausibly demonstrate a claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (“To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”). Plausibility means alleging factual content that allows the court to reasonably infer that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. Id.

         A court addressing a motion to dismiss may consider certain documents in addition to the complaint. First, the court may consider any exhibits attached to the Complaint. See Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 10(c) (“A copy of a written instrument that is an exhibit to a pleading is a part of the pleading for all purposes.”); Moranski v. General Motors Corp., 433 F.3d 537, 539 (7th Cir. 2005) (“Any written instrument attached to the complaint is considered part of the complaint.”); Beam v. IPCO Corp., 838 F.2d 242, 244 (7th Cir. 1988) (exhibits attached to the complaint are incorporated into the pleading for purpose of Rule 12(b) motion).

         Second, the court may consider the plaintiff's response to a motion to dismiss and other statements and materials that are referenced in the complaint and that are essential to the plaintiff's claims. Heng v. Heavner, Beyers & Mihlar, LLC, 849 F.3d 348, 353-54 (7th Cir. 2017) (finding that a court may, when ruling on a motion to dismiss, consider materials or elaborations in a plaintiff's trial brief or response to a motion to dismiss consistent with the pleadings); Gutierrez v. Peters, 111 F.3d 1364, 1367 n.1 (7th Cir. 1997) (finding that a court may consider facts submitted in a pro se plaintiff's brief opposing a motion to dismiss when the facts are consistent with the allegations in the complaint). A plaintiff opposing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss “may submit materials outside the pleadings to illustrate the facts the party expects to be able to prove.” Geinosky v. City of Chi., 675 F.3d 743, 745 n.1 (7th Cir. 2012).

         Finally, the court may consider information that is subject to judicial notice. Ennenga v. Starns, 677 F.3d 766, 773-74 (7th Cir. 2012) (a court may take judicial notice of matters within the public record that are not subject to reasonable dispute without converting a pending motion into a motion for summary judgment.

         In deciding on the Motion to Dismiss or Transfer, the Court will consider the exhibits to the Complaint-the two letters from Chrysler to Plaintiff and the MSDS. The Court will also consider Plaintiff's statements in her Response to the Motion to Dismiss or Transfer that are consistent with the Complaint.

         The Court will not consider Plaintiff's numerous other filings and their exhibits (d/e [16] and [17]). Plaintiff attached to d/e [16] numerous articles and scientific resources on sodium azide, potassium nitrate, and the dangers of airbag chemicals to human health. Plaintiff also attached a customer service summary for a leather cleaner service, and a workers compensation accident report. None of these materials are referenced in the Complaint, nor are they essential to Plaintiffs claims. The Court accordingly will not consider these documents. Plaintiff also attached several photographs of what the Court presumes to be the vehicle at issue and Plaintiff after the accident. While the accident and the ensuing harm to Plaintiff are the subject of the Complaint, the photographs are extraneous to Plaintiffs claims. The Court will not consider them at this stage.

         Plaintiff also attached various medical records and the accident report to d/e [16]. The accident report contains facts that Plaintiff will need to prove in order to prevail on her claims. The medical records substantiate Plaintiffs descriptions of her injuries and her prayers for damages. The Court will accordingly consider the accident report and the medical records attached to d/e [16].

         B. ANALYSIS

         1. The present action is governed by the Illinois statute of limitations for personal injury claims.

         Although the Complaint does not state the particular cause of action under which Plaintiff asserts Defendant's liability, Plaintiff claims that Defendant is liable to her for the personal injuries she sustained from chemicals that sprayed onto her from her airbag. The Court must therefore apply state law regarding the statute of limitations for personal injury claims, including corresponding tolling rules. Jenkins v. Village of Maywood, 506 F.3d 622, 623-24 (7th Cir. 2007) (“Because no federal statute of limitations governs, federal courts routinely measure the timeliness of federal civil rights suits by state law. . . . Federal courts using state limitations periods thus apply the state's coordinate tolling rules as well.”) (internal quotation marks omitted). Therefore, Plaintiff's claims are limited by Illinois' two-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims. See 735 ILCS § 5/13-202 (2016) (“Actions for damages for an injury to the person . . . shall be commenced within 2 years next after the cause of action accrued . . . .”).

         The Complaint alleges Defendant is liable for injuries Plaintiff sustained from a motor vehicle accident that occurred on January 1, 2009. The Complaint, filed on August 11, 2016, was therefore filed approximately seven-and-a-half years after the accident. The expiration of the applicable statute of limitations is an affirmative defense. Chi. Bldg. Design, P.C. v. Mongolian House, Inc., 770 F.3d 610, 613 (7th Cir. 2014). Although a plaintiff is not required to plead facts in the complaint to anticipate and defeat affirmative defenses, dismissal is appropriate where the complaint sets out sufficient facts to establish the statute of limitations affirmative defense. United States v. Lewis, 411 F.3d 838, 842 (7th Cir. 2005) (Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal appropriate where complaint “plainly reveals that an action is untimely under the governing statute of limitations.”); see also Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 579 (7th Cir. 2009) (several of plaintiffs claims were properly dismissed at 12(b)(6) stage as time-barred by the statute of limitations because the relevant dates were set forth unambiguously in the complaint).

         Because the Complaint establishes that it was filed five-and-a-half years after the two-year anniversary of the accident giving rise to this case, dismissal is appropriate unless a tolling doctrine applies. Indep. Trust Corp. v. Stewart Info. Servs. Corp., 665 F.3d 930, 935 (7th Cir. 2012) (when ruling on a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss based on the statute of limitations defense, the court shall consider ...


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