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Stringer v. Smith Transportation Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division

March 16, 2016

KEESHA STRINGER, PLAINTIFF
v.
SMITH TRANSPORTATION, INC. and JOHNIE STEIN, DEFENDANTS
v.
ANTONIO PATTERSON, THIRD PARTY DEFENDANT ANTONIO PATTERSON, PLAINTIFF
v.
JOHN H. STEIN JR., LARRY W. WINKLER, and SMITH TRANSPORTATION, INC., DEFENDANTS

ORDER

Kristine G. Baker, United States District Judge

On August 27, 2015, the Court entered an Order consolidating Antonio Patterson v. John H. Stein, et al., Case No. 3:15-CV-00207-JLH with this action. Before these cases were consolidated, separate defendant Larry W. Winkler, who was not named as a defendant in this case prior to consolidation, filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff Antonio Patterson’s claims against him. Antonio Patterson v. John H. Stein, et al., Case No. 3:15-CV-00207-JLH (Dkt. No. 3). His motion remains pending at this time. Mr. Patterson did not respond to Mr. Winkler’s motion, and the time to do so has passed. For the following reasons, the Court grants the motion to dismiss.

I. Background

The following alleged facts are taken from Mr. Patterson’s complaint, which was filed prior to the consolidation of these cases. Antonio Patterson v. John H. Stein, et al., Case No. 3:15-CV-00207-JLH (Dkt. No. 2). This case arises out of a traffic accident that occurred on or around December 6, 2013. Mr. Patterson claims that he was a passenger in a car that came to a rest on Highway 55 North because of ice on the road. According to Mr. Patterson, the car was hit by a 2009 Freightliner Cascadia driven by separate defendant John H. Stein, Jr., who was acting in the course of his employment by separate defendant Smith Transportation, Inc. Mr. Patterson, who was outside of the car when the accident occurred, alleges that he was injured when he had to throw himself out of the way to avoid the collision.

Mr. Patterson seeks damages from Mr. Stein, Mr. Winkler, and Smith Transportation, Inc. He claims that Mr. Winkler is a resident and citizen of Missouri, and that he owned the 2009 Freightliner Cascadia that was involved in the accident. Mr. Patterson does not allege that Mr. Winkler is affiliated with Smith Transportation, and he does not include any allegations regarding the relationship between Mr. Winkler and Mr. Stein, other than that Mr. Winkler owned the vehicle that Mr. Stein was driving when the accident occurred. He does not claim that Mr. Winkler has any additional contacts with the state of Arkansas, other than through his ownership of the 2009 Freightliner Cascadia.

II. Standard of Review

Mr. Winkler moves to dismiss Mr. Patterson’s complaint against him pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) and 12(b)(6). To survive a 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, “a plaintiff must plead ‘sufficient facts to support a reasonable inference that the defendant[ ] can be subjected to jurisdiction within the state.’” Creative Calling Sols., Inc. v. LF Beauty Ltd., 799 F.3d 975, 979 (8th Cir. 2015) (alteration in original) (quoting K-V Pharm. Co. v. J. Uriach & CIA, S.A., 648 F.3d 588, 591-92 (8th Cir.2011)). As for a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), 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 is facially plausible “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “While a complaint attacked by a [Federal] Rule [of Civil Procedure] 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff’s obligation to provide the ‘grounds’ of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief’ requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (alteration in original) (citations omitted). “[T]he complaint must contain facts which state a claim as a matter of law and must not be conclusory.” Briehl v. General Motors Corp., 172 F.3d 623, 627 (8th Cir. 1999). “When ruling on a motion to dismiss, the district court must accept the allegations contained in the complaint as true and all reasonable inferences from the complaint must be drawn in favor of the nonmoving party.” Young v. City of St. Charles, 244 F.3d 623, 627 (8th Cir. 2001).

III. Discussion

Mr. Winkler argues that Mr. Johnson failed to include sufficient factual allegations in his complaint to state a claim against him or to establish that this Court has personal jurisdiction over him.

A. Failure To State A Claim

In his complaint, Mr. Johnson alleges that Mr. Winkler is liable for his injuries because he owned the 2009 Freightliner Cascadia involved in the accident. Mr. Winkler argues that alleging mere ownership of the vehicle is not enough to state a valid claim, and that “in order to hold Winkler liable for the accident, Plaintiff would at least have to allege that some relationship existed between Winkler and Stein such that Winkler could be held vicariously liable for the actions of Stein.” Antonio Patterson v. John H. Stein, et al., Case No. 3:15-CV-00207-JLH (Dkt. No. 4, at 3). As Mr. Patterson’s complaint does not include any factual allegations pertaining to the relationship between Mr. Winkler and Mr. Stein, Mr. Winkler argues that he “has failed to provide any factual basis to show that Winkler owed a duty; how such duty was breached; and how any such breach is proximately related to Plaintiff’s damages.” Antonio Patterson v. John H. Stein, et al., Case No. 3:15-CV-00207-JLH (Dkt. No. 4, at 3).

The Court finds that Mr. Patterson failed to state a claim against Mr. Winkler. Mr. Patterson alleges that Mr. Winkler owned the vehicle involved in the accident causing his injuries. Even if that allegation is true, this fact alone does not establish a claim for relief against him. See Brown v. Truck Connections Int'l, Inc., 526 F.Supp.2d 920, 922-23 (E.D. Ark. 2007) (finding under Arkansas law that the owner of a commercial vehicle was not liable for injuries resulting from an accident involving the vehicle, because the driver was not an employee of the vehicle owner). Mr. Patterson failed to allege that Mr. Winkler employed Mr. Stein, permitted him to use the vehicle, or even knew that Mr. Stein would be driving the vehicle. As mere ownership of a vehicle does not establish liability, and Mr. Patterson’s claims against Mr. Winkler rely solely on his alleged ownership of the 2009 Freightliner Cascadia, the Court finds that he failed to state a claim against Mr. Winkler.

B. Failure To Establish Personal Jurisdiction

Mr. Winkler also argues that Mr. Patterson’s claims against him should be dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction because the complaint does not contain sufficient facts that would support a reasonable inference that Mr. Winkler can be subjected to jurisdiction within Arkansas. Antonio ...


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