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Zuanich v. Hankook Tire America Corp.

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

December 20, 2018

KAREN ELIZABETH ZUANICH, AUGUST A. ZUANICH, Plaintiffs,
v.
HANKOOK TIRE AMERICA CORPORATION, HANKOOK TIRE CO., LTD., and ENTERPRISE LEASING COMPANY-SOUTH CENTRAL, LLC, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          W. KEITH WATKINS CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This is a products liability action arising under Alabama law. Plaintiff Karen Elizabeth Zuanich suffered injuries in a single-car accident when a tire blew on the leased vehicle she was driving. Zuanich and her husband, August A. Zuanich, brought claims of negligence, wantonness, Alabama Extended Manufacturer's Liability Doctrine (AEMLD), breach of express and implied warranty, fraud, loss of consortium, and others, against Hankook Tire America Corp., Hankook Tire Co. (collectively, “Hankook”), [1] and Enterprise Leasing Co. (“Enterprise”). The first amended complaint does not specifically allege which defendant(s) played which role, merely stating that the tire “was manufactured and distributed by Hankook and/or Enterprise.” (Doc. # 27, at 8.)

         Hankook Tire America filed an answer to the original complaint, (Doc. # 12), and Enterprise filed a motion to dismiss, (Doc. # 13). Plaintiffs then filed a first amended complaint that dropped a nonexistent party from the case. (Doc. # 27.) The court accordingly denied Enterprise's first motion to dismiss as moot and ordered Enterprise to respond to the first amended complaint, (Doc. # 34.), which it did by filing the motion to dismiss currently under submission, (Doc. # 35). Hankook Tire Company, a Korean business, has not yet been served, (Doc. # 30.), and has thus not filed anything in the case. Hankook Tire America answered the original complaint but has not responded to the first amended complaint.

         Before the court is Defendant Enterprise's motion to dismiss itself from Plaintiffs' first amended complaint. (Doc. # 35.) Enterprise seeks dismissal of the claims against it because, it argues, according to the “innocent seller” law, Enterprise was “merely a conduit” of the allegedly defective tire and thus “not subject to Alabama's products liability statute.” Ala. Code § 6-5-521. Enterprise further appears to argue that, since “all [c]ounts asserted against Enterprise arise out of, and relate to, an alleged[ly] defective Hankook tire, ” all the claims against it fail as a matter of law because of its innocent-seller defense. (Doc. # 35, at 3.) Alternatively, Enterprise seeks a more definite statement under Rule 12(e) for “any claims purportedly based upon some legal theory other than products liability.” (Doc. # 35, at 5.) The court will save Enterprise's innocent-seller argument for another day, however, because the first amended complaint is due to be dismissed as noncompliant with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure tests the sufficiency of the complaint against Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. Rule 8 provides that the complaint must include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). When evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must take the facts alleged in the complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Resnick v. AvMed, Inc., 693 F.3d 1317, 1321-22 (11th Cir. 2012). However, the court need not accept mere legal conclusions as true. Id. at 1325.

         To survive a 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (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.” Id. Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is also permitted “when on the basis of a dispositive issue of law, no construction of the factual allegations will support the cause of action.” Marshall Cty. Bd. of Educ. v. Marshall Cty. Gas Dist., 992 F.2d 1171, 1174 (11th Cir. 1993); see also Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326-27 (1989) (explaining that the rule allows a court “to dismiss a claim on the basis of a dispositive issue of law”).

         II.DISCUSSION

         A. Plaintiffs' complaint, which contains elements of a shotgun pleading, must be repleaded.

         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). Each allegation in the complaint “must be simple, concise, and direct.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(d)(1). The complaint must also “state [the plaintiff's] claims . . . in numbered paragraphs, each limited as far as practicable to a single set of circumstances.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(b).

The purpose of [Rule 8(a)(2) and Rule 10(b)] is self-evident, to require the pleader to present his claims discretely and succinctly, so that [ ] his adversary can discern what he is claiming and frame a responsive pleading, the court can determine which facts support which claims and whether the plaintiff has stated any claims upon which relief can be granted, and, at trial, the court can determine that evidence which is relevant and that which is not.

Weiland v. Palm Beach Cty. Sheriff's Office, 792 F.3d 1313, 1320 (11th Cir. 2015) (quoting T.D.S. Inc. v. Shelby Mut. Ins. Co., 760 F.2d 1520, 1544 n.14 (11th Cir. 1985) (Tjoflat, J., dissenting)); see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (holding that the purpose of Rule 8(a)(2) is to “give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests” (cleaned up)).

         “Complaints that violate either Rule 8(a)(2) or Rule 10(b), or both, are often disparagingly referred to as ‘shotgun pleadings, '” and have been uniformly rejected by the Eleventh Circuit. Weiland, 792 F.3d at 1320. There are four types of shotgun pleadings: (1) pleadings that “contain[ ] multiple counts where each count adopts the allegations of all preceding counts, causing each successive count to carry all that came before and the last count to be a combination of the entire complaint”; (2) pleadings that are “guilty of the venial sin of being replete with conclusory, vague, and immaterial facts not obviously connected to any particular cause of action”; (3) pleadings that “commit[ ] the sin of not separating into a different count each cause of action or claim for relief; and (4) pleadings that commit “the relatively rare sin of asserting multiple claims against multiple defendants without specifying which of the defendants are responsible for which acts or omissions, or which of the defendants the claim is brought against.” Id. at 1321.

         Plaintiffs' first amended complaint contains elements of a type-one and a type-four shotgun complaint. The first amended complaint falls into the first category because each of the twenty counts adopts and re-alleges every preceding allegation, filling each count with allegations that are not relevant to that particular count. This court has warned against such a practice:

Rote and repeated incorporations by reference fill each count “with factual allegations that could not possibly be material to that specific count, ” flouting the Rule 10(b) requirement to plead separate claims in separate counts. Magluta v. Samples, 256 F.3d 1282, 1284 (11th Cir. 2001). It is not enough to “clearly incorporate[ ] all ‘facts' ple[aded] in the amended complaint]” . . . as Plaintiff has done; rather the supporting facts must be pleaded in the count asserting the cause of action. See Wagner v. First Horizon Pharm. Corp., 464 F.3d 1273, 1280 (11th Cir. 2006).

McCall v. Bank of Am., N.A., No. 2:16-CV-184-WKW, 2016 WL 5402748, at *2 (M.D. Ala. Sep. 26, 2016). Plaintiffs recite the elements of each claim only to re-allege those elements by reference in successive, unrelated counts. Some of the counts are brought against both Enterprise and Hankook, while others are brought against only Hankook; yet, the incorporation-by-reference paragraphs fill counts asserted against only ...


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