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Coran v. Gino Development, Inc.

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois

July 30, 2019

MICHAEL W. CORAN, Plaintiff,
v.
GINO DEVELOPMENT, INC., a California corporation, and MENARD INC., a Wisconsin corporation, Individually and d/b/a MENARDS, Defendants.

          ORDER AND OPINION

          James E. Shadid United States District Judge.

         Now before the Court are the following:

• Defendant Menard's Motion (Doc. 13) to Dismiss and Certify Manufacturer, and Plaintiff's Response (Doc. 16);
• Defendant Gino Development's Motion (Doc. 14) to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, and Plaintiff's Response (Doc. 15); and
• Plaintiff's Motion (Doc. 17) to Amend/Correct Complaint, and Defendants' Responses (Docs. 19, 20).

         For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion (Doc. 17) to Amend/Correct Complaint is GRANTED; Defendant Menard's Motion (Doc. 13) to Dismiss and Certify Manufacturer is GRANTED as to Count 4 (negligence) and Count 6 (implied warranty) and DENIED as to Count 5 (strict liability); and Defendant Gino Development's Motion (Doc. 14) to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim is GRANTED as to Count 1 (negligence) and Count 3 (implied warranty) and DENIED as to Count 2 (strict liability).

         Background

         Plaintiff initially filed this action against Defendants Gino Development, Inc. (“Gino”) and Menard, Inc. (“Menards”) on February 13, 2019 in the Circuit Court of McLean County, Illinois. Doc. 1-1; see also Coran v. Gino Development, Inc., No. 2019-L-18 (McLean Cnty. Cir. Ct. Feb. 3, 2019). On April 3, 2019, Defendants removed the action to the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois under 28 U.S.C. § 1441 based on the diverse citizenship of the parties. Doc. 1; 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The original complaint asserted six causes of action against Defendants. Count 1 alleged negligence against Gino; Count 2 alleged strict liability against Gino; Count 3 alleged a breach of implied UCC warranty against Gino; Count 4 alleged negligence against Menards; Count 5 alleged strict liability against Mendards; and Count 6 alleged a breach of implied UCC warranty against Menards. See generally Doc. 1-1. Following removal to this District Court, the named Defendants entered their appearances, certified the manufacturer of the allegedly defective product, and moved to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint. See Doc. 12 (affidavit certifying manufacturer); Docs. 13, 14 (motions to dismiss).

         In his original complaint, Plaintiff alleged that he purchased a “Tool Shop 10 pc. Hole Saw Set” (hereinafter, the “hole saw”) from a Menards store in Normal, Illinois. Doc. 1-1, at 3. It appears that Menards purchased the hole saw from Defendant Gino. Plaintiff further alleged in his complaint that on February 13, 2017, he used the hole saw to drill a hole in a piece of wood in a manner consistent with the written instructions and warnings on the package. Id. While Plaintiff was operating the hole saw, his hand came into contact with the spinning blades of the saw after the drill was disengaged, causing Plaintiff to sustain severe laceration injuries to his hand. Id. at 4. Plaintiff asserted that a portion of the hole saw attached to the mandrel became deformed during its use, causing the hole saw to continue to spin after the drill was disengaged.

         Plaintiff alleged that Gino was negligent for failing to provide a hole saw of sufficient strength, durability, dimensions and material to prevent it from spinning after the drill was disengaged and to prevent it from deforming during proper use, failing to perform Rockwell hardness testing on the hole saw; distributing a hole saw of insufficient Rockwell hardness; failing to warn of the risk of deformity of the hole saw; and failing to warn of the risk of the hole saw spinning after the drill was disengaged. Id.

         Plaintiff also alleged that Gino was strictly liable for selling the hole saw in an unreasonably dangerous condition because it failed to perform in the manner reasonably to be expected in light of the hole saw's nature and intended function, and because the dangers outweighed the utilities of the saw. Id. at 5-6.

         With respect to the implied warranty claim, Plaintiff alleged that Gino impliedly warrantied the hole saw was of merchantable quality under the Uniform Commercial Code, and breached that implied warranty by selling a saw that was not of merchantable quality. Id. at 6-7. Plaintiff brings materially similar claims against Menards. Id. at 8-13. Plaintiff did not name the actual manufacturer of the hole saw in his original complaint.

         On April 22, 2019, Defendants filed Motions to Dismiss. Docs. 13, 14. In Defendant Gino's Motion to Dismiss, it argues that Plaintiff's negligence claim (Count 1), strict liability claim (Count 2), and breach of implied UCC warranty claim (Count 3) should be dismissed for failure to state a claim and further argues that Plaintiff's strict liability claim against Gino must be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) and the Illinois Seller's Exception, 735 ILCS 5/2-621(a)-(b). Doc. 14.

         In Defendant Menards' Motion to Dismiss, Menards indicates that it has certified the identity of the manufacturer of the hole saw as Hangzhou Uni-Hosen Electromechanical Tools Co., Ltd. (“Hangzhou”), and similarly asks the Court to dismiss the strict liability claim against it pursuant to the Illinois Seller's Exception. Doc. 13. Defendant Menards did not move to dismiss the remaining claims against it at the time it filed its Motion to Dismiss. But see Doc. 20, at 2 (Menards' Response to Plaintiff's Motion to Amend, seeking to join Defendant Gino's Motion to Dismiss as to all Counts).

         On May 6, 2019, while the Defendants' Motions to Dismiss remained pending, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Leave to File First Amended Complaint at Law and Add Additional Defendant. Doc. 17. Therein, Plaintiff asks to amend his complaint to add Hangzhou as a Defendant. Plaintiff attached his proposed Amended Complaint as an exhibit to his Motion. See Doc. 17-4. In his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff realleges the negligence, strict liability, and implied warranty claims against Defendants Gino and Menards, and asserts new negligence, strict liability, and implied warranty claims (Counts 7, 8, and 9, respectively) against the manufacturer, Hangzhou. Doc. 17-4, at 12-18.

         Both Gino and Menards filed Responses to Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File First Amended Complaint at Law and Add Additional Defendant. Docs. 19, 20. Gino asserts in its Response that the same arguments raised in its prior Motion to Dismiss apply equally to the allegations in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, and thus “revives” its prior Motion. Doc. 19. Menards similarly asserts in its Response that it “revives” its prior Motion to Dismiss because the same arguments raised in its prior Motion to Dismiss apply equally to the allegations in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. Further, Menards now asks to join Defendant Gino's Motion to Dismiss in full, asserting that the counts against each Defendant are identical, and “in the interest of judicial economy, Menard[s] moves for dismissal for failure to state a cause of action.” Doc. 20, at 2. This Order follows.

         Legal Standard

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) challenges whether a complaint sufficiently states a claim upon which relief may be granted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The Court accepts well-pleaded allegations in a complaint as true and draws all permissible inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Bible v. United Student Aid Funds, Inc., 799 F.3d 633, 639 (7th Cir. 2015). To survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must describe the claim in sufficient detail to put defendants on notice as to the nature of the claim and its bases, and it must plausibly suggest that the plaintiff has a right to relief. Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A complaint need not allege specific facts, but it may not rest entirely on conclusory statements or empty recitations of the elements of the cause of action. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         Discussion

         1. Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File First Amended Complaint at Law and Add Additional Defendant (Doc. 17)

         Plaintiff seeks leave to file an amended complaint adding new negligence, strict liability, and implied warranty claims (Counts 7, 8, and 9, respectively) against the manufacturer, Hangzhou. See Doc. 17-4, at 12-18. Rule 15 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs amendment of pleadings. Plaintiff does not allege that he may amend his complaint as a matter of right, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1), so his proposed amendments to the complaint require leave of court. Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). However, Rule 15 sets forth a liberal standard-“The Court should freely give leave when justice so requires.” Id. Here, Plaintiff's proposed Amended Complaint seeks to add as a Defendant the manufacturer of the allegedly defective product based on certification by Defendants Gino and Menards that Hangzhou is indeed the manufacturer of the hole saw. Plaintiff's proposed amendment is also timely, as it was filed just over a month after this case was removed to federal court. Finally, Defendants Gino and Menards will suffer no prejudice from the proposed amendment, as they have indicated that the arguments set forth in their prior Motions to Dismiss apply equally to the claims in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. Accordingly, the Court grants Plaintiff's Motion (Doc. 17) for Leave to File First Amended Complaint at Law and Add Additional Defendant. Plaintiff shall effect service upon Defendant Hangzhou in accordance with the applicable federal rules. The Clerk is directed to file the exhibit containing Plaintiff's proposed Amended Complaint (Doc. 17-4) on the docket as a separate document.

         2. Motions to Dismiss by Defendants Gino and Menards

         Next, the Court turns to the Motions to Dismiss filed by Gino and Menards. Docs. 13, 14. The Court will first address the Defendants' common contention that dismissal of the strict liability counts is appropriate under Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Illinois statute governing products liability actions, which the Court will hereinafter refer to as the “Illinois Distributor Statute.” 735 ILCS 5/2-621.

         a. The Illinois Distributor Statute

         Plaintiff's Amended Complaint includes claims of strict liability against Hangzhou, the manufacturer of the hole saw, Gino, the distributor, and Menards, the retailer. In Illinois, 735 ILCS 5/2-621 governs the liability of non-manufactures in strict liability actions. “Although the Distributor Statute falls within the Illinois Code of Civil Procedure, federal courts must apply the rule because, under the test articulated by Hanna v. Plumer, its application implicates ‘the twin aims of the Erie rule: discouragement of forum-shopping and avoidance of inequitable administration of the laws.' ” Whelchel v. Briggs & Stratton Corp., 850 F.Supp.2d 926, 932 (S.D. Ill. 2012). The Illinois Distributor Statute provides, in relevant part:

(a) In any product liability action based on any theory or doctrine commenced or maintained against a defendant or defendants other than the manufacturer, that party shall upon answering or otherwise pleading file an affidavit certifying the correct identity of the manufacturer of the product allegedly causing injury, death or damage. The commencement of a product liability action based on any theory or doctrine against such defendant or defendants shall toll the applicable statute of limitation and statute of repose relative to the defendant or defendants for purposes of asserting a strict liability in tort cause of action.
(b) Once the plaintiff has filed a complaint against the manufacturer or manufacturers, and the manufacturer or manufacturers have or are required to have answered or otherwise pleaded, the court shall order the dismissal of a product liability action based on any theory or doctrine against the certifying defendant or defendants, provided the certifying defendant or defendants are not within the categories set forth in subsection (c) of this Section.…
The plaintiff may at any time subsequent to the dismissal move to vacate the order of dismissal and reinstate the certifying defendant or defendants, provided plaintiff can show one or more of the following:
(1) That the applicable period of statute of limitation or statute of repose bars the assertion of a cause of action against the manufacturer or manufacturers of the product ...

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