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Arrington v. Monsanto Chemcial

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Eastern Division

April 5, 2018

CARL R. ARRINGTON, Plaintiff,
v.
MONSANTO CHEMICAL, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          KARON OWEN BOWDRE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the court on Defendant Monsanto Chemical's “Motion to Dismiss.” (Doc. 8). Plaintiff Arrington, pro se, filed this case against Monsanto, alleging Monsanto contaminated the drinking water in the Anniston, Alabama area, which caused him to develop Leukemia. Monsanto filed a motion to dismiss Mr. Arrington's claims pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), asserting that Alabama's statute of limitations bars his claims. Monsanto further argues that Mr. Arrington's claims are time-barred even if the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 preempts Alabama law and provides a later commencement date for the limitations period.

         Because the court finds that it is not apparent from the face of the complaint that Mr. Arrington's claims are untimely, the court concludes that Monsanto's motion to dismiss is due to be DENIED.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Mr. Arrington is a United States Army veteran who was stationed at Fort McClellan in Anniston, Alabama for “several months.” His complaint does not specify when he was stationed there, only that the fort “was recognized as an active duty military base from January 1, 1935 to May 20, 1999.” (Doc. 1 at 8).

         In 2003, Monsanto Chemical, and its spinoff company, Solutia, settled a lawsuit brought by more than 20, 000 residents of Anniston, Alabama for claims that Monsanto had contaminated that area's drinking water with polychlorinated biphenyls, which are toxic to the human body. (Id.) Mr. Arrington asserts that he consumed much of the contaminated water while living in the Anniston area as a soldier, and the chemicals caused him to develop Leukemia years later. (Id.).

         Mr. Arrington learned of the 2003 settlement between Monsanto and the Anniston residents in May 2017. (Id.). He filed this suit on September 15, 2017.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss attacks the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Generally, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require only that the complaint provide “‘a short and plain statement of the claim' that will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)). A plaintiff must provide the grounds of her entitlement, but Rule 8 generally does not require “detailed factual allegations.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 47). It does, however, “demand[ ] more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Pleadings that contain nothing more than “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” do not meet Rule 8 standards nor do pleadings suffice that are based merely upon “labels or conclusions” or “naked assertions” without supporting factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557.

         The Supreme Court explained that “[t]o 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.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting and explaining its decision in Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). To be plausible on its face, the claim must contain enough facts that “allow[ ] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Although “[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, '” the complaint must demonstrate “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. “Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). If the court determines that well-pleaded facts, accepted as true, do not state a claim that is plausible, the claim must be dismissed. Id.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Monsanto argues that Alabama's statute of limitations for claims involving exposure to hazardous chemicals bars Mr. Arrington's claims because the statute required him to bring those claims within two years of his last exposure to the chemicals. Monsanto further argues that Mr. Arrington's claims are time-barred even if CERCLA's federally required commencement date applies to extend the limitations period because Mr. Arrington reasonably should have known that Monsanto's alleged contamination caused or contributed to his personal injuries more than two years before he filed this lawsuit.

         The court first recognizes that “[a] statute of limitations bar is an affirmative defense, and . . . plaintiffs are not required to negate an affirmative defense in their complaint.” La Grasta v. First Union Securities, Inc., 358 F.3d 840, 845 (11th Cir. 2004) (internal quotation marks omitted). Also, “a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal on statute of limitations grounds is appropriate only if it is apparent from the face of the complaint that the claim is time-barred.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). Therefore, a statute of limitations defense is generally not appropriate for evaluation on a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). McMillian v. AMC Mortg. Services, Inc., 560 F.Supp. 1210, 1213 (S.D. Ala. 2008).

         Because this court sits in diversity, Alabama substantive law, including the statute of limitations, presumptively governs these proceedings. SeeMississippi Valley Title Ins. Co. v. Thompson,802 F.3d 1248, 1251 n.2 (11th Cir. 2015). Alabama law imposes a two-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims. Ala. Code § 6-2-38(1). The two-year period begins to run as to toxic substance exposure claims “only when there has occurred a manifest, present injury.” Griffin v. Unocal Corp.,990 So.2d 291, 293 (Ala. 2008) (quoting and adopting as its opinion the reasoning in Justice Harwood's dissent in Cline v. Ashland, Inc., 970 So.2d 755, 773 (Ala. 2007)). An injury is manifest when it “has ...


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